Let’s Walk Together, You and I
By Greg Horner
Let’s walk together
you and I:
shoulder to shoulder
side by side.
we’ll realise the courage
to open our hearts
to all that we encounter
on this journey
Wherever we go,
whatever we do,
whoever we meet,
whatever we say,
let’s do so with love.
Laugh or cry,
sing or whisper,
dance or walk,
let’s do so with love.
let us share of ourselves:
express from the heart,
be open to all,
the judge of none –
no good or bad,
no right or wrong,
no friend or foe.
Without seeking profit or fearing loss,
all barriers fall
as we give and receive
in transactions of love.
When we share in this joy
come rain, sun, wind, or snow,
fair weather or storm,
no clouds of illusion can obscure The Way
as we walk together
happy and free.
It matters not, if we ever meet –
we don’t need the presence of the body;
just the presence of mind – a stillness within that’s empty of thought;
for it’s this that allows hearts to open
and bring us together,
We shall know one another
not from sight or memories past,
with their judgements: praises and blame,
but from intuitively knowing
that in this moment
we both walk the path with hearts open.
Be it for an instant or a day,
until death or beyond,
we will know the truth of the other,
we will know the truth of the self:
that there’s no difference between you and I –
all things connect,
a closed heart just doesn’t know that.
Who you are and who I am, it really just doesn’t matter:
you, could be I, them, or us,
walk on two legs or four,
fly or crawl on your belly,
move or always be still,
an animal, vegetable, or mineral.
Because, in truth,
there is no you,
there is no I, them, or us:
all is One,
One is all –
all is life.
So, let us open our hearts,
move forward in love,
all walking together
as the One we are.
Observation of Love
By Greg Horner
what do you see?
Is your perception confined to the shore,
or does it plunge deeply from within
to enlighten the depths of life’s ocean floor? Look in the mirror;
who do you see?
Is it the face of the name of the body,
the mask of the actor in the play of fear,
who hides pain behind tasks, laughs, and their career?
Or is it the truth of thyself –
the immaculate conception
of love? Look into your eyes,
the windows of truth.
Is it you looking in, is it you looking out, or is observer and subject as one?
Answer that question not with the mind,
for it’s narrow in view, shallow, and vain,
but follow the breath to the stillness inside
while holding the gaze of yourself without pride.Clarity comes from within;
so look – from where do you see?
We behold not of the eye or the view;
the reality of sight is held in the heart,
the home of truth looking out.Look deeply, and answers will come.
Be patient, and all will reveal.
Open your heart, and with love it will fill;
and with love, truth will be clear.Thoughts and emotions are confusing and deluding –
stuck in the sufferings and the pleasures of the past,
inspired by old battles, whether victorious or outcast.
This seeking of delight
and avoidance of sorrow,
creates confounded desires –
hopes of a happier tomorrow.So, when you focus within, what do you see;
the transparency and peace of truth
or the blur and commotion of thoughts and emotion?
If it’s the latter, silence this inner chatter
by embracing this moment
to step outside time;
to the bliss
beyond the clock bell’s chime.Be here
conscious of what is
within and without….
naming or shaming, desiring or reviling.Mind,
becomes empty and still.
released and on their way.
with depth and clarity.Love inside is projected out
and all before is bathed in light –
love from within,
love in sight.
This Place is Oh So Beautiful
by Greg Horner
This place is oh so beautiful
This place is oh so still
This place is full yet empty
Held gently from within
Ascension without escape
Quiet amongst the din
This place is what we seek
Yet seeking does impede
It just has to be allowed
For the soul to be freed
This place says it all
Yet doesn’t speak a word
The purity of silence
Where everything is heard
This place is beyond description
When identified it’s lost
Open to not knowing
Letting go is the only cost
This place transcends thought
In the stillness of mind
Is totality, alone
This place created all
Yet never will exist
A centre without boundary
Harmony to balance heave and list
This place is within
And all that is without
With barriers having fallen
Of love there is no doubt
This place is the light of presence
The clarity of here and now
Awareness of what is
The embodiment of Tao
This place is Oneness
Where all is born and death embraced
And with loving peace, suffering is replaced
This place so often eludes us
Even though it’s always there
Emotions and thoughts in turmoil
Turns bliss into despair
This place is then obscured
Clouds before the sun
Trapping us in turmoil
Light forgotten as darkness descends upon
This place returns to view
Through awareness of each moment
Meditative steps and breath
Clearing the mind of all encroachment
This place is truth
Where rejection is known by none
Just open your heart
To be this place of One
This place just is
It’s who we are
So inner joy
Is never far
Humility Came Knocking
by Greg Horner
Humility came knocking
I didn’t expect her call
Perched upon my pedestal
Too high to fall
I wants to be special
Different to you
Richer or poorer
More powerful or meek
The most honest or deceitful
The cleverest or the fool
Blinded by illusions of difference and pride
It matters not the story I tells
For all I wants is to stand apart
Hiding behind walls
Obscuring the heart
This arrogance deludes us
It fools us
We create masks that smile and pout
While in the shadows below
Lies the pain and suffering
Then projected out
I’s deception of separation is the seed of all war
I fights I
Pain fights pain
In the wars of domination
And material gain
Is the time to face this darkness
To look within
And end this madness
Is still and quiet
Beneath the din
Of the ignorance of separation
The original sin
by Greg Horner
As I stood before my favourite tree,
I asked what guidance,
She had for me.
A fallen leaf was offered.
I took the hint and looked around.
Saw nature’s colours,
Yellows, reds, greens and browns.
Summer has gone,
Autumn is here,
Winter is on the way.
But winter will last,
Only ‘til spring,
As the wheel of life keeps turning.
Everything changing from moment to moment,
In the cycle of birth to death.
Birth to death,
The perpetual change in this world of form.
And so it is for us.
We’re born and we die,
Then we’re born and we die,
As the cycle of lifetimes keeps turning.
From birth to death,
Death to birth.
Over and over again.
Our essence lives on.
It isn’t subject to death,
For the essence of us is the essence of all.
It’s the hub,
Around which all things turn.
The stillness at the centre of the wheel of life,
Is the truth of our very being.
The outer wheel turns,
But its centre stays still.
No conflict or fear,
Is the reality at the core of us all.
Let us awake from the dream of the outer,
And focus attention within.
Look to the centre,
The truth of your being,
And know stillness and peace,
In all seasons.
I give thanks to my sister the tree.
Freedom From Suffering
by Greg Horner
“The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.” Adam Smith(1723-1790), philosopher and economist.
The short version: We can free ourselves from suffering in any moment by becoming aware of the witness within. The witness is mindful, still, and changeless. It is the calm, peaceful spaciousness of our true nature, and to perceive life through its eyes, we just have to be aware of what we are doing, whilst we are doing it.
The longer version: When we identify with our thoughts and emotions, there is no gap between us and them, and so we become them – “I am anxious.” The witness creates space between our awareness and the experiences of life, whether the experience is our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and / or actions. This space is the gap that allows us to realise that the experience is not who we are, and therefore we stop identifying with it – “I am aware of anxiety”, but it is not who I am! The anxiety (or any other form of suffering) isn’t denied or suppressed, it just isn’t identified with – it’s observed, witnessed.
The witness doesn’t name, identify, label, judge, condemn, seek change, or react in any way – it observes and accepts – it just witnesses. It is not thinking, it is just observing. There is no attachment, no aversion, no fear, no anger, no greed, and no envy. The witness is serenely detached from the world around it.
When we become aware of the witness, the fuel of our attention is denied to any thoughts and emotions that are causing us to suffer. Without fuel, the story of the mind disconnects from the emotion of the body, and consequently, the disturbance (the suffering) leaves us. After a lifetime of becoming overwhelmed by emotions and thoughts, disconnecting from them and connecting with the witness takes practice, effort, and time. It’s much easier to become aware of the witness when we’re sitting quietly, than it is when we’re busy, or caught up in emotion. But with practice, we become increasingly aware of the peace of the witness and less at the mercy of disturbing thoughts and emotions, whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
To experience the witness, try the following: Close your eyes and relax, and for a few breaths focus your attention on the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils. Really put your attention into the nose: What can you feel? What sensations are you aware of? Perhaps the air going in is cooler than the air going out. Maybe it tickles a little. Then, with a relaxed focus, follow the breath as the air moves through the body. Be aware of the body’s movement as the breath enters and then leaves. What effect does breathing have on the head, neck, shoulders, chest and stomach? Really experience your breathing. If the mind starts thinking of other things, bring your focus back to the breath. If necessary, it may help you to remain focused if you say silently to yourself during each breath, “I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out”. Become aware of that which is observing the process. Just as we observe events that are external to the body, we can also observe what’s happening within it and to it – in this instance the breath and the movement of the body. You may also observe that your mind stops thinking (or at least slows down a bit), and you will hopefully experience a lovely peaceful, calm, spaciousness – which is the world of the inner witness.
We can learn to experience life through the eyes of the witness at all times, completely mindful of whatever we are doing without being side tracked by thoughts or emotions. When I have a drink from the cup next to me, I can do so without even taking my eyes off the computer screen. The whole process of picking up the cup and having a drink can be done with peripheral vision, while I continue to read over what I have written. I am not really aware of the process of drinking, although my ability to multi-task is clearly unquestionable!
However, if I give my full attention to having a drink – if I become fully aware of it – the experience is transformed. I really see the mug for the first time. I watch as my arm moves toward it. As my hand closes around the mug I can feel its temperature and texture. The movement towards my mouth is surprisingly complex – the shoulder, elbow, wrist and fingers all move interdependently in various directions, simultaneously and harmoniously. Despite the physical complexity of the process, all I have to consciously do is move the mug towards my mouth. Until I tried drinking this way, I had never noticed what a physically complicated and amazing process having a drink is. There is a completely different quality to the experience when my awareness is that of the inner witness as it observes the process. The witness is not the hand, the fingers or the arm, any more than it is the mug. Nor is it that which consumes the drink! The experience of the witness is separate from all that is physical, and has a spacious quality that is blissful. It’s nice, really nice.
We can listen, look, touch, taste, smell, and feel with the awareness of the witness; while we’re eating, walking, listening to music, preparing food, watching TV, going to the toilet, or whatever. The more we practice, the more mindful, and therefore peaceful, we will be in our daily lives. Incessant thinking and emotional disturbance will diminish as we learn to watch, rather than being taken over by them; and our awareness of the still, calm reality of our true nature will expand. Situations that would have triggered an unpleasant emotional reaction (suffering) in the past, no longer do so. Well, some of them don’t – it‘s a process and takes time, so be patient with yourself!
Going with the flow
by Greg Horner
“We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.” Emmeline Pankhurst, (1858 – 1928). Suffragette
The short version: Wake up to the expectations of others that have conditioned your view of life, and step out of the struggle of the egoic flow of society. Go within, still your mind, listen to your heart, and flow with the love of life to wherever it takes you.
The longer version: We could say that there are two main flows in life: The first is the flow of the society or culture that we live in; where ‘flow’ refers to the accepted standards and norms of that society. What expectations do the various segments of the population, such as family, friends, and the wider community, have of the individual? How are we expected to behave? What are we expected to do? How are we expected to live our lives?
It is, of course, up to us whether we adhere to the expectations of others, but the pressures to conform (many of which are unconscious) can be considerable. We are conditioned from birth to comply with the expectations of our parents, immediate family, social groups, and those of the wider society. We are a social animal, and are generally reliant on others for our physical, economic and social needs. We, therefore, have a deep rooted fear of being ostracised by our community. In traditional societies, to be excluded could mean death, as there was no longer protection from enemies, no assistance with obtaining food, nor help when injured or ill. So the importance of being socially accepted is deep within our psyche, and not being accepted, of not being part of the crowd, can unconsciously ignite fears of being unable to survive.
The second flow is the natural flow of life, the movement of yin and yang as it maintains balance in this world of opposites. This flow, is the energetic expression of the perfection that is life – the divinity within all. To be attuned to this, is to move in harmony with life. It is to be present in the moment, accepting, and open to all possibilities. When we flow with life, we are aware of our true nature – our divine nature.
Through spiritual practise, our awareness expands into the flow of life, and the gap between the expectations of society and the path of our heart, is likely to grow wider. The flow of society and the flow of life tend to run contra to one another –the masculine dominated, capitalist mantra of “I want more,” is not compatible with the deeper, inner knowing of “there is no more; this moment is all there is.” The expectations of society, are that we work, make money, buy things, have children, buy things, prepare the children to live in the same way, buy things, retire, buy things, and then die. And, in one way or another, we are all pretty much expected to follow this path, and may be frowned upon or ostracised if we do not.
To flow with life doesn’t mean fighting against the flow of society, just don’t go blindly with it, and gently circumnavigate its obstacles. To navigate your way through this world, open to the beauty and knowing of the flow within, never mind public opinion. We all have to make money, but it doesn’t have to be our god. Nice things can be appreciated and enjoyed, and then put down and forgotten. Embrace the world and enjoy its treasures, but know that true happiness comes from allowing and embracing the flow of life within you.
The society mantra of “I want to be successful”, whatever it is that success means to the individual, could be shortened by the spiritual seeker to “I want to be.” For the master who has transcended the ’I’, there is nothing to want, and so all that is left is ’to be’. For them there is no mantra, there just is.
Each time one of us steps out of the flow of society, even for a moment, the energy behind the unconsciousness of the masses is altered. By aligning with the flow of life, we align with love, and so by becoming aware of our true nature (love), we bring the awareness of love to the unconscious grasping of society. This is of benefit to everyone and everything.
How does your garden grow?
by Julie Wise
“The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness in to our awareness” Lao Tzu.
As I look at all the growth and beauty around ourselves at this time of year I am reminded
that the conditions in which a seed is planted will determine the way it grows. Some flowers grow with twisted stems if the wind has injured them in their early life, some grow with marks or blemishes on their petals caused by the cold biting rain; some grow squat and strong determined to hold on to life, some grow tall and weak because they have been too protected and have had too much sun. All of this seems to me to demonstrate that the conditions in which we grow will influence us and the way we express ourselves in life.
However unlike the flower we can choose to change the way we express ourselves, we can choose to become more understanding, gentle, kind, we can choose to let go of our anger and bitterness towards the conditions of our childhood and see the gifts within it. In China the Lotus flower grows in manure like water, its roots disappear into the murky depths, yet it is seen as one of the most beautiful flowers on the earth, and is very significant in Buddhist teachings and symbols. It could be said that the most beautiful flower needs some “shit”, (fertilizer) to grow. If we can view the difficult aspects of our childhood in this way then we can see the gifts it has given us.
The storms of life can make us strong. Think of the plant left for too long in the shelter of the greenhouse. Its stem grows leggy and weak, its flower is faded and there is a paleness in the stem. This flower has not experienced the difficulties of life which could have helped to make it stronger, more determined to shine, more squat in the stem, more able to stand up to the wind and rain.
In my work as a counsellor I sometimes meet people who have been so protected in life they cannot cope with conflict, or problems, they feel like this flower, weak and delicate. They don’t want to come out of the shelter of the greenhouse, yet life won’t leave them alone in there. This plant and this human have not realised their true potential. Unlike the plant the human can learn to strengthen; this can be done with a little help, a bit of kindness and a lot of patience! Given the right conditions the human can heal what is preventing them from displaying their beauty in the world.
On the other hand I have met people who have been so battered by life that they have become hardened and tough, like the plant trying to hold on in very little soil. This person can be afraid to let go of their hardness as they feel afraid that life will then crush and break them. Again given the right conditions this too can be healed so the person can start to trust and feel more secure in life.
The qualities we would be wise to develop in order for us to become closer to our true inner nature include honesty – particularly with ourselves; understanding – there are more points of view than mine; kindness – random acts of this enhance both others and our own lives; perseverance – we need to keep going and to keep trying to heal our old habits and patterns;humility – take yourself in to the garden and observe a simple blade of grass on a fresh green lawn. Know you are no greater than a single blade of grass, yet without it the lawn would not be the same; humour – it is healthy to be able to laugh at ourselves and not to take it all so seriously! Of all the conditions we need to help us grow the most important is love. For me love is like the sun, it shines down on us and we cannot but help grow towards it. When true unconditional love is offered we are like the flower whose petals just naturally unfold towards its warming light. We cannot do anything else. It is just natural.
We also have to remember we cannot force a flower to open, if we try to do this we destroy the very thing we are trying to create. If we pull the petals back in an attempt to make the flower open we are in danger of damaging it forever. This is true of humans too, acceptance and love are the sunlight that allow us to unfold at our own pace. Nothing in this world grows without the sunlight and everything grows in its own time. So try your best to cultivate the above qualities in your life and the perfume from your beautiful emanation will lighten and touch the whole world.
Food For Free
by Greg Horner
“Do not be afraid to go out on a limb … that’s where the fruit is.” Unknown.
Nature has come to life; its lush growth is full of birdsong, fragrance, and colour. As well as being beautiful and uplifting to behold, there is much of it that we can eat.
Humans have been gathering food since we first walked upon the earth. All we require is a field guide *(to be sure that what we are collecting isn’t poisonous or protected) and a bag to put the food in. With book and bag in hand, find a quiet lane or path, and it need only take a couple of minutes to collect a few goodies for your next meal. Much of it is delicious, unique in taste, and isn’t sold in the shops; and therefore adds interesting variety to the normal things that we eat.
Julie and I live in an area that isn’t particularly fertile; yet from the side of the road (and within one mile of our home) there are raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries for puddings; wild garlic, hawthorn leaves, dandelion, cow parsley, sweet cicely, and jack-by-the-hedge for salads; nettles and sorrel for soups; raspberry leaves, nettles, dandelion leaves and rose petals to dry and make teas; elderflowers and rosehips for cordials; and good-king-Henry as a vegetable.
I find gathering our own food very satisfying, and we can do as little or as much as our life style allows. It’s healthy, adds variety to our diet, and is kind to the earth. It also helps us to physically and spiritually reconnect with the natural world – to appreciate the abundance of nature and become more aware of all that Mother Earth provides for us.
Give thanks as you gather the harvest, and again when you eat it – be present and heartfelt as you collect and consume. When foraging, take just a little from each plant, so they continue to prosper; and leave some of the fruits and berries for our four legged and feathered friends. Apart from requiring food for their own nutritional requirements, the animals and birds will excrete the seeds elsewhere, and all of nature (including us) will benefit as new plants take root and grow. When we gather mindfully and considerately, we harmonise with nature (become part of the circle of life), rather than distorting it through selfish domination and greed, which is so often the case.
Growing your own food is easy, and the end result is delicious. It not only tastes better than shop bought, but it’s better for you. When a plant is grown personally, its chemical composition and energy content differs to commercially grown food. A seed planted by oneself, matures into a plant that knows what will be of most benefit to the person who planted it, and it provides the most appropriate nutrition that it can.
We buy mostly organic seed, or save our own from the previous crop. We have a small vegetable plot in the garden, a few fruit bushes, and a little plastic green house. We also use containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets. Some crops have worked and some haven’t. Even though we live in the hills, where the climate and soil aren’t the best for growing fruit and vegetables, we are delighted with the quantity and variety of food that we have been able to put on the table.
I wish the seeds and beans good luck as I plant them, and experience a real joy when the plants start to appear from beneath the soil. Their emergence from the earth is my favourite part of the whole process, along with the eating of course.
Even if you have no outside space, salads can be grown in window boxes and cherry tomatoes in hanging baskets. A small outside area allows all manner of produce to be grown in containers.
By blessing our food and eating it mindfully; by giving thanks to it and for it (whether it be animal or plant, bought, grown or gathered), we connect with the whole process that allowed it to find its way onto our plate – we connect with life, with love – and our awareness expands, and our heart opens.
*Reference: ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey. Second hand on Amazon for about £3, including p&p.
The Shadow self
by Greg Horner
“In all of us, even in good men, there is a lawless wild-beast nature, which peers out in sleep.” Socrates, (469 BC – 399 BC). Greek philosopher.
Whatever it is that we portray on the surface, underneath in the shadow is its opposite – a hidden aspect of the ego that lurks behind the masks of its outer, visible identity. Within the shadow of the outwardly cruel person is kindness and love, and in the shadow of the kind person (if the kindness is from the egoic self and not the true self) is cruelty.
The shadow is the ego’s unconscious reaction to a situation. We try to hide it, keep it in the dark, but at times it spews forth when we least expect it. It’s that which we suppress and would prefer that no-one else knew about but which insists on being heard. It’s when the masks are challenged that the cracks appear – the timid, submissive person exploding into a rage, the doting parent smacking their child, the vulnerability of the tough man, the generous person telling the beggar where to go.
The enlightened master has no shadow. They are completely self-aware, totally conscious – there is nothing hidden in the shadows of their unconscious, because they have no unconscious. All aspects of their shadow self have been brought from the dark of ignorance into the light of awareness – hence the term ‘enlightened’. They are a clear mirror, and should we be fortunate enough to meet one, whatever we see in them is just a reflection of our self. When we see fault in the master, those flaws are what need healing in us – we project our distortions onto the pure, clear mirror and they reflect straight back to us.
When we interact with other ordinary folk, we still project, but so do they. Our egoic distortions mingle with theirs, and so the reflection is unclear. However, when we take responsibility for our lives, we stop blaming the other and accept that, no matter what, any inner disturbance that we experience (such as fear, envy, irritation, or anger) is our responsibility, and that its revelation offers us an opportunity to observe it, investigate it, and heal it.
We have separate aspects to our lives, and it is this separation that we must end for us to know the loving peace of our true nature. The enlightened master is the same wherever they are, whatever they are doing – be they at home, work, on the bus, with family or friends, or anywhere else. The rest of us, however, behave differently depending on the outer circumstances. We are different with our parents than we are with our children, our partners, colleagues, friends, or the bank manager; we stand before each with a different version of the false, egoic self – a different mask.
Therefore, the circumstances that we find ourselves in will often determine the aspects of the shadow self that are revealed. Being in the presence of a parent who has been controlling and domineering since childhood, may unveil fear; whereas being cut up in traffic, may reveal anger.
For us to heal and become whole, the shadow has to be brought out of the darkness and in to the light, from the unconscious into the conscious, from unawareness into awareness. This is the journey that slowly leads us home to our natural state of enlightenment, where there is no shadow.
Life brings the circumstances and people into our lives (both pleasant and unpleasant) who are the most conducive for our healing at that time – if only we recognise them as such! Any mental or emotional disturbance (suffering) that we experience is the shadow rising within us, and is an opportunity to bring that shadow into the light of awareness. Try to observe the disturbance rather than become it. Expressing to ourself that “I am aware of anger”, isn’t identifying with the emotion but is taking responsibility for what we feel – which is necessary for healing. “You made me angry”, isn’t taking responsibility and is identifying with the emotion – it is believing that the emotion is who we are and that someone else is responsible for it, which is giving our power away and closing us to the potential for healing.
Try to sit quietly in contemplation and meditation on a daily basis. Observe what’s going on within yourself without seeking to change anything (either internally or externally) –impartial and nonjudgmental self-observation is all that is required to heal the illusions of the ego. Review your day at its end – our emotions, thoughts, words and actions reveal the shadow during the moments that the masks slipped. As we become more aware, we begin to realise what’s happening at the time that the shadow is revealing itself, which gives us the opportunity to observe and transform it in that moment.
As the different aspects of the shadow are revealed, cultivate a more balanced and positive way of being. If you were mean, practice generosity. If you were bossy, cultivate humility. When frustrated, work on being patient. If you become angry with someone, develop understanding and compassion. Over time the negative aspects will be replaced by the positive.
These types of meditation and mindfulness practices help us to identify our shadow self (and the rest of the ego), become free of its destructive influence, and bring us into alignment with the conscious, peaceful, loving nature of who we really are. Persistent, nonjudgmental observation of our inner experience of life, gradually dissolves the shadow and the masks that conceal it. Our awareness expands and the ego contracts, and we live a happier and more peaceful life, as love comes to the fore, and the fear, anger, greed, and other egoic constructs diminish.
by Greg Horner
“I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created.” Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, (1797 – 1851).
The ego (who we believe we are) creates different strategies for dealing with different situations – the experiences of life having conditioned it to perceive events in a certain way, and to then react to that perception automatically. This results in our thoughts, our emotions, and our actions being a kind of robotic (unconscious) reaction to the circumstances that we find ourselves in.
The greater our self-awareness, the more conscious we are. Therefore, as we become more aware, we become increasingly conscious of our response to situations and less governed by the automatic reaction, the habit and pattern, of the ego. In other words, we remain aware of what we are feeling, thinking and doing, and respond consciously to a situation rather than reacting to it from an unconscious, egoic mechanism that evolved long ago.
However, when we are ruled by the ego, our inner experience and outer reactions to life are dependent on external events. In a misguided attempt to be at ease (to feel safe), this causes us to unconsciously play a role that is dependent on the prevailing circumstances, and each role requires a mask – its own identity and way of behaving. ‘John the doting father’ wears a different mask when he’s with his daughter, than ‘John the tough no nonsense professional’ does with his subordinates. ‘John the hard working and diligent company man’ plays another role (with its corresponding mask) when speaking to his boss, and yet another as ‘one of the lads John’ having a laugh down the pub with his mates. A different mask is required for ‘gentle, considerate and caring John’ when talking to Sue, who he would like to take out. He isn’t ‘John the cheat’ as he’s divorced, and that wasn’t his fault. Besides, how could ‘spiritual John’ the yoga and meditation practitioner do anything bad? Not that his mates down the pub know anything about ‘spiritual John’. And on it goes.
Of course there are times when life requires that our behaviour is dependent upon the situation: if John negotiated with a hard-nosed supplier over a new contract as if he was talking to his three year old daughter, he is unlikely to achieve a good deal. The problem is that we identify with the roles that we play – at that moment, we unconsciously believe that the role is who we are. We are not aware that we are playing a role because the unconscious egoic habits and patterns have taken over, and are compelling us to perceive, experience, and behave in a particular way.
The dictionary defines a schizophrenic as a person who has contradictory elements. With the exception of the enlightened few, we all have contradictory elements, it’s just a question of degree – the schizophrenic is at the extreme of a scale that we all inhabit. It is John’s belief (largely unconsciously) that as a dad he has to behave in a certain way, as a boss in another, and as a friend in another. This creates contradiction and separation (‘John the dad’ is gentle and soft, ‘John the boss’ is tough and hard’), which causes inner conflict (suffering) because none of the roles are an authentic representation of our true nature.
We become very proficient and convincing in the roles that we play. We might appear confident and gregarious, when underneath we are fearful and want to go home – we convince ourselves, as well as others, that all is well when it is not. Layer upon layer of roll-play covers the inner disturbance, and culminates in the mask that we present – or hope that we present – in any given moment.
We are playing these roles and wearing our masks to protect the deep rooted insecurity, fear and vulnerability that our experiences and perceptions of life have created. The inner pain will continue to rule us, and we will keep living an existence of suffering and pretense, until we make the decision to take off the masks and face the disturbance they are attempting to hide.
So watch yourself: take note of the things you do, what you say, the emotions that you experience, and the thoughts that you have. Spend time alone in stillness and silence. Contemplate and meditate to create the space that allows that which the masks conceal to rise from the unconscious and into your awareness. When the inner disturbance does rise, try not to judge – or you’ll create another mask – just allow it and observe it impartially. This isn’t always easy, but when we witness ourselves in this way, we become more aware, and as we grow in awareness, the illusions and their masks fade away. As the illusions fade, suffering fades with them; truth comes to the fore and we experience the loving peace of our true, authentic nature.
by Greg Horner
“The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth.” Chief Seattle, (1786 – 1866). Suquamish chief.
The food that we eat, comes from the earth.
The water that we drink, comes from the earth.
The cloth for our clothes, comes from the earth.
The materials that built our home, came from the earth.
The fuel that warms us and cooks our food, comes from the earth.
The electricity that provides us with power and light, comes from the earth.
All things come from the earth, and she gives them freely.
Each day we walk upon the earth, and when we die, our bodies will return to the earth.
We are entirely dependent upon the earth. She is our mother; respect her, walk gently upon her, and do not take more from her than you need. All of life is reliant upon her, and she is not an infinite resource.
Remember these things.
Acceptance and Responsibility
by Greg Horner
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.”
St. Francois de Sales, (1567-1622). Bishop of Geneva
We are suffering and living in a bad dream that we have yet to awaken from, but we will because it is our destiny. Our suffering is our own illusion, an egoic trait that we unconsciously cling to and inadvertently feed every day. We feed this illusion when we condemn either ourselves or others, because condemnation is food for the ego.
Our current mental and emotional state, and the circumstances of our life, are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong – they just are, and it’s nobody’s fault. We are where we are because we are where we are. Blame directed at either ourselves, others, or life, will only deepen our plight, because it adds to the egoic constructs that we have created. Blame fortifies the illusion of separation that is created by the ego; it is a lie that requires acceptance to transcend.
Acceptance harmonizes, it is an aspect of the oneness – of truth. Acceptance is neutral and does not judge; it is the surrendering of the ego. Acceptance allows us to experience life with clarity; it is living in the totality of the present moment. It is the transcendence of the problem solving mind, which is founded on non-acceptance – that something isn’t right and needs resolving before we can be happy.
“So be it” is a powerful statement that helps to cultivate acceptance. Try saying it to yourself when a situation arises that you find disturbing. Observe the non-accepting part of you that wants to be in control and to change what is. Acceptance means experiencing things as they are, and not trying to impose the ego’s agenda upon them. It is the art of being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Acceptance does not imply inaction. It means that, whether we act or not, our response comes from the impartiality and stillness of the inner witness (our innate inner knowing) rather than being a reaction from the illusions of the ego. Acceptance enables us to take responsibility – it allows us to respond. Acceptance offers us the opportunity to respond with awareness to the situation that presents itself, instead of reacting from the unconscious habits and patterns of the ego. When we are aware of our true inner state of peace and stillness, our response to situations is conscious.
This is taking responsibility. It is a blame free existence of living in the present moment, of being in harmony with life and of acting accordingly. It is freedom from the egoic self; it is a calmer, more peaceful and loving life.
It’s pouring with rain and you have to go out – “So be it“. Climb into your waterproofs or put up the umbrella. Step outside and listen to the sound of the rain as it dances on your hood or the brolly; delight as you splash through the puddles; feel gratitude that you have clean water to drink, to cook with and to bathe in – many millions of people do not. Nor do millions of people have adequate food because of a lack of rain. Enjoy the elements, they are beautiful. Many of us are obsessed with, and generally complain about the weather. It is one of the most amazing things about this part of the world. Thanks to our climate, every day is different; we can walk the same path 365 days a year and each time the sights, sounds, smells, and the feelings upon our body are different. It must be far more challenging to accept brilliant sunshine and a cloudless sky day in and dayout!
Observe yourself and others, and notice how often we talk about our own experiences as if they had happened to someone else. “You feel angry when someone pushes in the queue”. “You feel down when it rains”. “You feel proud when the children do well at school”. Swap the “you” for “I” and start owning your statements and experiences – take responsibility for what you say and do. “I feel angry when someone pushes in the queue”. “I feel down when it rains”. “I feel proud when the children do well at school”, and so on. Try it, and you will notice how it completely changes the way that you feel about what you have said.
It is important that we take responsibility for what we think, feel and do; not only for us as individuals, but for all of life. All is one, and so everything is connected – the web of life connects all things to all things. Our thoughts, feelings and actions go into the web and have an effect on the whole of creation. Separation is the illusion of the ego; the reality of life is that all is one – literally! The impact of our mood, even if we don’t say or do anything, not only has a palpable impact on those around us, but on all of life. To help cultivate a sense of responsibility, I found repeating the following affirmation every morning to be very effective, “I am responsible for my thoughts, I am responsible for my feelings, and I am responsible for my actions”. Express it from the heart and with conviction.
Through acceptance and responsibility we heal – we become more peaceful and loving. This change within us ripples out and touches all of life. Our contribution does not have to be a big gesture; every heart felt thought, feeling and action assists not only ourselves, but all of life everywhere.
Getting to Know Thyself
by Greg Horner
“Open your eyes, look within”
Bob Marley, Singer and Songwriter (1945 – 1981).
To know our true self, we have to know our false self, the ego, because it is the false self that we believe we are. What’s more, this belief is largely unconscious, so we don’t even know that we believe it. When we become aware of the unconscious, habitual patterns of the ego that govern our lives, we transcend them, and it is in this transcendence (together with practices that reveal our concealed divinity) that we open to the re-emergence of the true self and embody it.
It is by observing the inner disturbances of the mind and emotions that we gain awareness of, and then go beyond, the unconscious influence of the habits and patterns of the ego. In so doing, we move through the layers of illusion towards the loving, peaceful, compassionate and calm centre that is our true nature. As we approach this reality, we become increasingly aware of a more fulfilling, pleasant, and happy state of being.
However, it is not an easy journey. The egoic layers were established in an attempt to provide protection from what we perceived as a threatening world, and have culminated in our unconscious identity of today. This false self has much invested in its identity, and to protect its position of power, it will distract and disturb in an attempt to dissuade investigation of its delusionary nature.
By expanding our awareness through practices such as meditation, and by being present (mindful) during the day, we reveal the distorted and illusionary nature of this false, egoic self. Its pain, the suffering that is concealed in the unconscious, is revealed. Whether this be anxiety, depression, stress, anger, desire, fear, or whatever, it is not pleasant to witness and accept the dark, hidden aspects of the false self. But witness and accept them we must, because their transcendence – our healing – is dependent upon doing so.
These disturbances are within us, their causes having been cultivated throughout our lives from the time of our birth, and even before that. The distortions at their root are unconscious aspects of the false self, and lie dormant until something triggers them. Once woken, they seek to feed so that they may stay active and grow stronger. The emotion is fed by the mental story given to it by the mind, and in return, the emotion feeds the distortion of the mind. This process can become an unconscious feeding frenzy of mental and emotional disturbance that can be very difficult to break out of.
By becoming aware of ourselves, of how we feel, what we think, say and do throughout the day, we can heal and transcend this dysfunctional ‘stuff’, which is our only true burden in life. It takes effort, self-honesty, practice and patience, but is worth it, because the outcome is a more loving, calm and peaceful experience of life.
As this journey unfolds, our consciousness ascends the vertical axis of the cross, and the higher energies descend to meet it at the heart (as discussed last month). Our experience of this is a gradual reduction in the disturbing influence of the ego, and an increase in awareness of the wonder and beauty of truth. Our true self is beyond disturbance, it only knows peace. Therefore, everything but peace is an egoic construct, and is false (an illusion). In other words, any mental or emotional interference of our true nature of peace, is a distortion within us that seeks healing.
As we penetrate the layers of the ego, we get closer to the core of who we are – less driven by the outer layers of the false self, and more aware of the true self. The outer layers connect us with the outside world, and are all that most people are aware of – the consequence being that their experience of life is determined by the outer world, with little awareness of the inner. The centre is the core; it forms first, and from that the layers of the ego are added. As each layer is created by the challenges of life, our awareness moves further from the core, which gets increasingly obscured, and our life becomes more and more driven by the whim – the pull – of the energies of the outside world.
By expanding our awareness, we remove the false layers and become more aware of the core, and so less influenced by external events. The greater our awareness of the core, the closer we are to knowing our true self and the more we experience the peace, love, and joy of the oneness of life.
The layers of the ego are what we experience as inner disturbance or suffering, and are concealed by habits and patterns that distract us from the inner turmoil. Our habits and patterns prevent us from being still and having a quiet mind, because it is within the peace and stillness that we become aware of the pain of the ego. A daily meditation practice is paramount in creating the conditions required to allow us to become aware of the unconscious illusions that we hold. (A simple and effective practice is given below)
Moments will come when the fog clears and we experience the beautiful, complete, spaciousness of the core – the totality of love that lies beyond illusion, and is within us all – it is us all. Initially these experiences may only be fleeting, but there is no disguising them when they happen. In that moment the mind and the emotions are still and quiet. In that moment we step beyond separation and the confines of duality, and into the vastness of totality that is our true nature.
- Try to practice at the same time and place each day, when you are least likely to be disturbed. Twenty minutes duration is okay.
- Sit with a straight back, eyes closed, hands in your lap with both palms facing up and the right hand on top of the left. Put the tips of the thumbs together to form a circle within the thumbs.
- Breathe through the nose.
- Become aware of your breath with a relaxed focus at the point where the outside air first makes contact with the nostril.
- Keep your focus at that point throughout the whole breath.
- Just observe that point in the nostrils as the breath goes in and out.
- Breathe naturally – long, slow, and deep. No forcing, holding, or pushing.
- Relax as tensions drop away and you become aware of the present moment (which is beyond the realm of the ego).
- Notice the pause at the end of the inhale and again at the end of exhale.
- Notice the peace.
- When you realise that your focus has wandered, just come gently back to an awareness of the breath.
by Greg Horner
He who has not known himself has known nothing, but he who has known himself has at the same time already achieved knowledge about the depth of the all.” Jesus, Book of Thomas.
To know thyself has been known as the pathway of liberation from suffering for millennia. It is a truth that crosses religious divides, and has been taught throughout the ages by the great teachers from both East and West. It means to know the true self, not the false, egoic self, and is the ultimate purpose of humanity. It’s why we’re here, and to understand what it means is fundamental to our spiritual journey.
For consciousness to evolve it has to know itself. To this end it had to separate; it had to evolve from the blade of grass and the animal into the ‘I’ (‘I am separate’) consciousness of humanity, before regaining awareness of its true nature within the limitations of this material world. The aspect of consciousness that undertook this, us, had to lose awareness of its divine nature, so that it could consciously rediscover it. This is the journey to know thyself and it is the journey of humanity.
As with any trip, when we arrive at the destination we leave the form of transport, the method used to get there, behind. The transport for our transcendence of suffering is the ego. To ’know thyself’ means to know who we really are, which has the prerequisite of knowing who we are not, and we are not the ego – the false self that we identify with – mistakenly believe is who we are.
The separated identity of human consciousness, the ‘I’, is symbolised (and written) with a single line, which symbolically represents the vertical line of a cross. As we become more self-aware, we transform our animalistic survival energies into divine consciousness; and in so doing we ascend the vertical axis of the cross, the ‘I’. The horizontal line of the cross represents the duality of life, the opposites that create this material world (male and female, birth and death, light and dark, expansion and contraction, etc.).
As we ascend the vertical, there comes a point where duality (and, therefore, suffering) is transcended. That point is at the centre of the cross, the meeting place of the vertical and horizontal lines – it is at the heart chakra, the centre of love. If you put your arms out to the side, you will form that cross.
The false, egoic self (the ’I am…’) is an aspect of the journey of the vertical line. We could say that the bottom of the vertical is the animal nature, which is driven by instinct and desire, and is necessary for a species to survive. When propelled by this survival instinct, a person who has an urge, a desire, will blindly pursue it without looking deeper inside to discover its cause. We can remain trapped in this desire nature for thousands of lifetimes, but there comes a point when we realise that there is no fulfilment in living this way, and we seek a higher calling. It is then, through spiritual practise, self-awareness, and intent, that we begin our ascent of the ‘I’.
When this occurs, we make a conscious attempt to open our mind to the true potential of life. We try to see the multiplicity of perspectives that each situation comprises of, and start to move away from the black and white perception of right and wrong, good and bad, and so on. We seek to balance physically, mentally, and emotionally. For example, we learn to give and to receive – acts of selflessness and compassion are balanced with assertiveness and being true to one’s self.
Our perceptions of life, are a series of projections that are dependent on our level of self-awareness. When our awareness is only skin deep, we are driven by the demands of the ego (the lower nature), and we perceive the world through the eyes of delusion. As our awareness deepens, we become increasingly aware of our higher nature (the stillness, the love, and the peace at our core), and we view and experience life from that perspective. The deeper we go into ourselves, the higher we move up the vertical axis of the cross, the ‘I’, and the truer our perception of life.
As we lift up from the lower nature, the higher nature (divinity) descends. The higher is not external – it is within us, but has become obscured by egoic distortion. When the higher and lower meet at the centre of the cross, we live from the heart, and perceive life from the harmony and totality of the present moment.
This is the end of separation; we are one with life – we are whole. Just as the flower is at one with the divine, so too are we. But whereas the flower neither knows itself to be a flower, nor that it is of the divine, when we live from the heart, we are aware of both our humanity and our divinity. This is what is meant by heaven on earth, it is knowing thyself (who we really are), and is freedom in the true sense of the word.
Love, the reality of life
by Greg Horner
“Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same.” Helen Keller, (1880-1968). Author, political activist and lecturer.
We are divine; we always have been and we always will be. We were divine prior to conception, we were born divine, we are divine now, will die divine, and will remain divine as we continue our journey beyond that. Nothing can change our divinity, it’s just a shame that we’ve become unaware of it. But we will regain that awareness; during one lifetime or another, we will wake up and experience the truth of life again.
In the meantime, however, humanity is living in a nightmare of its own making. Our habits and patterns, our karma, and our refusal to wake up, fuels this nightmare, which seems increasingly real and inevitable. Now is the time to open our eyes to the reality of who we are. An intellectual understanding of our divinity is insufficient; we must consistently embrace it, experience it, and demonstrate it. Divinity is love, not love in the human sense, but the pure all-encompassing totality that is the oneness of life.
For most of us this love is incomprehensible. It is beyond us because it is beyond the ego, and we are presently trapped in egoic awareness. Our experience of ’love’ is that it is a bargaining – if we behave in an acceptable way (if we are good), then we receive the ‘love‘ of others. If we behave in a way that is unacceptable (if we are bad), their ‘love’ is withdrawn. And of course, we do exactly the same to the recipients of our ‘love‘. This is not love, it is a manipulative and controlling egoic distortion of truth. The reality is that we are held in love whatever. Love just is; it is the truth of life. It is life, we have just lost sight of that.
Humanity has obscured this truth of love to such an extent that our world has become consumed by greed, selfishness and war. Not just the war of armed conflict, but the rivalry and discord between countries, businesses, neighbours, friends, siblings, husbands and wives, parents and their children. But that doesn’t mean that love is not there, we are just unaware of it because of the egoic blindfold that most of us wear.
The conflict that is evident all around us, is there because of the conflict within us. This inner conflict, created by the ego, has brought into existence the false sense of reality that we experience in daily life. This is the nightmare, but we do have the choice to wake up and experience life for what it really is. The harmonious reality of love, bliss, peace, cannot be harmed; in our ignorance all that we hurt is ourselves.
To experience life in its true sense, we must become aware of our true nature, the nature of love; we must become aware of the interconnectedness and perfection of all of life. We must awaken, open our eyes, focus on the divine aspect, and consistently nurture our connection to it. Only love can heal. Only through awareness of our oneness with life, with love, can we free ourselves from the shackles of the egoic self, its suffering and pain.
Love cannot be intellectualized, or limited to laws or principals; it can only be known through experience. When we are in it, we are in it, and when we are not, we so want to be.There is no egoic identity in the state of love, just the purity of life housed in the physical form. True love is what leads to the death of the egoic self, and, therefore, within the ego there is a fear of love.
To wake up from the nightmare, and to know love, requires that we become conscious, that we become aware. It means observing our behaviour, our thoughts, emotions and actions; to become the be-er instead of the do-er. Busy non-stop lives are an avoidance, a cover of the turmoil within. The busyness is the sleep that allows the nightmare to exist. If we stop running and hiding from our own inner pain, and become aware of it by witnessing it through self- reflection, contemplation and meditation, we will quieten our frantic minds and distorted emotions, and reconnect with the true love that resides within us all.
Lost and found
by Greg Horner
“All the way to heaven is heaven.”Teresa of Avila, (1515 – 1582). Christian mystic.
Our journey began as the pure divine light of love, and, one day, when we remember who we really are, we will return to that totality. We came from unity into a world of duality, this world of form, and have become lost, separated from our home – the awareness of our true nature. It has become obscured by confusion and delusion over birth and death, body and soul, male and female, good and bad, love and hate, desire and aversion, and all the other dual aspects of the physical world; some of which are natural, others illusionary. In reality we are at one with all of life, but we have been pushed and pulled in so many directions that we perceive separation where there is none.
Humanity has experienced untold pain and suffering because of the misconceived belief that we are separate. War, slavery, oppression, exploitation, greed, anger, and hatred are evident throughout the world. They are the outer expressions of humanities collective inner anguish of living isolated, dualistic lives, when in truth our nature is singular and divine. Our lives are imbalanced because of our lack of awareness of this reality.
However, all is not lost, for our suffering is our salvation. It is because we suffer that we are driven to wake from the nightmare and to look for another way. We have lost sight of who we are, and are floundering in the dark as we grasp in all directions in a vain attempt to find our way.
We seek love, happiness, peace, joy, fulfilment and understanding, but where are they, and what are they? Mankind has left no stone unturned in our pursuit of these objectives. We have sought them in our relationships, in how we look, where we live, the god that we pray to, the job that we do, how much money we have, what we know, and the things we possess. We have sought answers from philosophers, scientists and preachers. We have climbed the highest mountains, reached the bottom of the deepest oceans and travelled in space; yet we still have not found what we are searching for.
According to Rumi, the thirteenth century mystic and poet, “What you really want is love’s confusing joy”. He was not speaking of love in the human sense, but of love in the true sense – the love that is the essence of life, the love that is the essence of us all. That which we seek is that which we are. To know this, to really know who we are, is the journey home to love, and to reach it requires that we open our hearts and walk with awareness.
The destination is common to us all, yet we each have our own path to tread – our odyssey is as individual as we are. Home is not a place, it is the inner knowing, gained through personal experience, that our true nature is at one with all of creation. To become aware of this, we must identify and dismantle the illusions of the ego. For it is those illusions that we believe to be truth, both in terms of our perception of life, and also our perception of ourselves. It is our belief in those illusions, that the ego is who we are, that is preventing us from experiencing a life that is truly peaceful, loving and happy.
The realization of truth transcends all duality; all things become one, including the journey, the destination and the self. This is the Tao, or the way, the only true reality, and it exists in its entirety in the present moment – it is always here now. To become aware of it, we just have to free ourselves of the egoic delusions that eclipse it.
There are teachings and signposts that can benefit us all, but they are not the way, they only point to it. No one can tell us what the truth of life is, nor can we know it from a book. The truth could be explained in one sentence, yet not understood from a hundred books – it can only be known through experience. The accumulation of knowledge is not the knowing of something, it is information about something. We have to eat the fruit to know its taste, there is no other way. We may share a common home, but the path to reach it is our own and we must walk it alone – we must experience the journey for ourselves.
Only those who consciously look within themselves are on the way to knowing the bliss of their true nature. For the journey in, is the path of self-discovery, an adventure like no other. It is the roller coaster to liberation, which lifts us out of the darkness of ignorance and into the light of awareness. It is the return to knowing the truth of who we are. It is freedom from suffering. It is the journey home to love, and each step that we take along it, opens us a little more to the still peace within, to a little more love and a little more joy, until one day, during one lifetime or another, love, peace and happiness become our permanent experience of life.
All of our relations
by Greg Horner
“In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true.” Gautama the Buddha (c. 500BC)
Everything that is within, upon and above the earth is a physical manifestation of the oneness that is life. The same life-force is behind all things. Everything, including us, is made of the same physical elements or particles; they are just arranged differently, depending on the energetic vibration of each manifestation. We are therefore related to all of creation, of which we are just one aspect. In truth there is nothing that separates us from anything else. All is one, all is divine.
As mankind imprisoned itself, denied its own freedom through the rise of the ego, it did all that it could to control and destroy that which was still free. Indigenous societies were eradicated, the wildernesses tamed and animals, including the wolf and the buffalo amongst many others, were hunted to near extinction.
When we observe that which is natural and free from the perspective of our inner witness and with the awareness of love, we become conscious of that which is natural and free within us. Heart-felt, nonjudgmental observation connects the observer with the observed and they merge to become one – we step beyond the ego and experience the truth of what we see and of who we are.
I find this easier to do with an aspect of the natural world than I do with a person. When people meet the interaction between them, whether it be verbal or non-verbal, is generally an egoic exchange. Our physical, mental and emotional energy bodies react in their habitual way as they perceive the stimulus received from the other person. Into the egoic cement mixer goes this bit of information and that bit of information; this is judged and that is judged. Out comes some sort of conclusion, which in one way or another other evaluates and categorizes the other. It is a complex mix of egoic distortions as we project our stuff onto the other and they project their stuff onto us. If the stuff mixes ok we get along, if it doesn’t we don’t.
It’s a different story when the ego meets an egoless manifestation of the oneness of life. Only we, the person, has any stuff to project; nothing comes back from the other, such as a bird or a tree. This makes it easier for us to observe from the stillness of the witness within, instead of the egoic mind, and to experience the true beauty of that which we observe. We can drop more easily beneath our egoic distortions, and with the help of nature, reach what is natural and free within us. This connection is a merging – the observer and the observed become one. Natural and free merges with natural and free.
We have a bird feeder fixed to the window of our house. It allows us to sit within a meter or so of many different species of birds as they come to feed. It is wonderful to be so close and to be able to see them in such detail. When a bird comes that I know the name of, say a sparrow, I name it as such. I see it and I label it as a sparrow. This is the ego taking pride in being able to label, judge, categorize, and thus file away what it sees. It is a subtle form of control.
The ego seeks to control, yet our true nature is freedom. The bird is a pure manifestation of the oneness of life, it is freedom. The ego fears freedom, because freedom means the demise of the ego and is therefore a threat. The ego is confinement, restriction, separation. It tries to destroy or control that which is free and in a state of oneness with life. It attempts to create separation within the oneness, which in truth cannot be separated – only through the eyes of the distorted ego. ‘Sparrow’ is a label, as ‘Greg’ is a label; just as ‘bird’ and ’person’ are labels. Ultimately all things are one; ultimately, there is no sparrow or Greg, there is no bird or person, there just is.
The extreme way to control the bird would be to kill it or put it in a cage. A much more subtle method is to name it. Of course the bird does not experience a loss of freedom when it is named, but the person naming it does. The person naming it separates themselves from the bird, from the oneness of life – I am Greg and that is a sparrow. I am seeing it through the knowledgeable eyes of the ego, not the knowing eyes of the heart.
When we observe without judgment from the heart, we become the loving witness, which doesn’t see the bird as separate; we experience the oneness of the observer and the observed – we experience truth, love, the divine. Whatever you might wish to call it, the experience is within and in that moment the sparrow ceases to be a sparrow or a bird, and I am no longer Greg or a person. We are no longer separate. I do not experience it as being outside me or within me. I am it, it is me. We are one and the same. This is not a subjective theory, it is a tangible experience.
If I do not know the name of the species, be it a bird, a tree, a flower, I find it much easier to connect with it from within. If I know its name it’s as though I can’t help myself but to name it. I then have to navigate past this egoic label to experience the truth. An intellectual understanding, knowledge, allows us to know about the tree, but it becomes a barrier to knowing the tree. ‘Knowing’ and ‘knowing about’ are two completely different things. Drop the knowledge and allow the experience; become the experience.
“What we are looking for is what is looking.” St Francis of Assisi, Christian Mystic, (1182-1226)
Observe as closely as you can an aspect of nature that you are drawn to. It could be a stone, a leaf, a flower, a bird, a handful of earth, a cat, a tree, a sea shell, whatever it is that you are attracted to. Really observe it and immerse yourself in it. Try not to label or judge, just be aware of all that you can. Study its shape, colour, texture and smell. If it moves, how does it move? What sounds does it make? If it’s something that you can touch or smell, try closing your eyes and putting all of your awareness into feeling and then smelling. Contemplate it deeply. When you feel ready bring your awareness within and look out from behind the eyes; this is the view of the inner witness. Be aware of how you are no longer going out to what you are observing, but are observing it from within. Experience the different quality of looking at something this way. Notice the quiet stillness of the witness and the change in the clarity of the observed. The witness observes without the incessant chatter of the egoic mind; it doesn’t judge, label or categorize, it just watches.
Now bring your awareness to the heart while still viewing from within and look with love. It’s as though the heart is observing through the eyes; it‘s the experience of the loving witness. Don’t worry if your vision becomes blurred, it will soon clear. Remain aware; when the mind takes your attention come back to the witness and the heart. Feel the experience of the connection. It is completely different to looking at something and ticking boxes with the mind – it’s this, it’s that; it’s brown, it’s green: I like it, I don’t like it and so on. Allow the illusionary barriers that separate you from that which you observe to fall away and become one; experience the totality. Don’t try to name or describe it, if you do the connection will break.
Expand on this practice – sit or walk in nature and view all that is before you as the loving witness. When the egoic mind comes in, return to the heart. Try it with something that you don’t like or fear. Next time there’s a spider in the house, put a glass over it and connect with it through love, rather than revulsion and fear. Bring heart-mind observation and presence increasingly into everyday life. Whether you’re chopping vegetables, watching TV, walking in town, sitting at the computer, they are all opportunities to practice being the loving witness in everyday life. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to hold this level of awareness when interacting with people, particularly those who bring up your stuff. Over time and with practice less effort will be required as you reprogram the pathways of the brain to operate in a new, more harmonious way.
Be the loving witness and experience nature and life with wonderment and joy; when you do you will experience the wonder and joy within you. To observe all of our relations through the inner witness and with the awareness of love is to become one with life, it is to experience the truth of life.
August :- This months awareness has been written by beloved partner Greg at a time when our lovely dog Cal, who died in May this year, was still with us. It is in memory of her and all that she taught us about love.
“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Can you remember having experienced the wonder of life? Have you, as an adult, been struck dumb and stopped dead in your tracks by the awesomeness of existence? One of the things that modern consciousness has lost is an awareness of the magnificence of nature, the absolute magical wonder of life. The child is open to the wonder of the caterpillar, the bird, the falling leaf; they are amazed at all they see. But as we mature into adulthood we close to this joy as the burdens of the ego envelop our sensitivity and obscure our connection, our oneness, with all of creation.
The ego creates itself as an island, it sees itself as separate from life, and yet if we take a little time to look everything is so obviously interconnected. Our very existence depends on an almost infinite number of variables. Consider all of the circumstances in the lives of each person in the long line of our ancestors, whose experiences have led, in many ways, to our experience of this life. Had that chain of predecessors been any different we would not be experiencing life in the form that we do today.
And what about the enormous array of variables that coincide to put our dinner on the table? Think of all the different aspects of the natural world that are involved in the growth of an apple. The sun, the weather, the seasons and everything else that influences the climate, the seed of the tree, the tree itself, the complex systems within the soil, the insect that pollinated the flower, which then became the fruit, etc, etc. When you really look into it, it becomes obvious that the degree of connectivity is mind boggling. That is because the degree of connectivity is total – everything is connected, literally. The mystics have been saying so for millennia and now science agrees, however the degree of interconnectedness of life is generally forgotten.
When we look a little deeper at life we become aware of its web. The web of life is comprised of all the different ties and connections that are between all things, including the karmas and aspects that each of us carries. All of these interrelationships are unfolding to a greater purpose, which is ultimately the expression of the divine in matter, which for us is the knowing of our true nature. It is the knowing of the oneness that allows us to see how everything that we do affects everything else and that everything else affects us.
Our thoughts might not be as obvious as our actions, but they are just as important. A loving thought that we have about someone, or something, goes out into the web that connects all things. That loving thought therefore affects the whole web, not just that which was the object of our focus. The same is true of all our thoughts, as well as our feelings and actions. We can enlighten the web with our love, compassion and peace, or we can darken it with anger, jealousy and greed. And so it is important to be aware of our state of being, not only for our own sake and for those close to us, but for all, absolutely all, of life.
When we are attached to something, or someone, we send a thread of energy out to the object of our attachment; we become energetically connected to it. That thread of energy isn’t just an aspect of the mind, it’s more real than a physical thread in this world – we just can’t see it with our eyes. Each desire that we have creates an energetic link with the object of desire, be it chocolate, alcohol, our beloved, our children, even our own image. Obviously our attachment to our family is stronger than it is to a bar of chocolate, and so the strength of the energetic link varies accordingly.
Attachment isn’t love, it‘s an aspect of the ego. Nor does having an attachment exclude love, it’s just different. Attachment is need, expectation, desire, want, the fear of loss. It is the holding on to something in the belief that it fulfils us or that it is part of who we are. An attachment is the opposite end of the dualistic pole to an aversion, which creates an energetic link to that which we have a distaste of. The stronger the aversion the more powerful the link.
If you would like to try to experience these links, sit up straight and close your eyes. Come to the breath and deepen into the inner awareness. When you feel ready take your awareness to somewhere around your solar plexus or belly button, which is where the attachment is likely to come from. Now think of someone of something that you feel very strongly connected to. You may feel something or see something in your mind‘s eye – sense it in whatever way is natural for you. There is no right or wrong, just observe whatever it is that you experience.
I’ve just tried it with Cal, our eldest dog who has cancer and probably isn’t going to be around for much longer. With my awareness in my stomach I feel sick and sad. I can see a bright thread with my inner vision, which goes from my belly to Cal, who I see lying down and unwell. When I move my attention to my heart I am aware of an expansion in it. I feel uplifted, there is a lot of light and I only see her eyes, which are bright and full of life. The first experience is attachment, the second is love. This is an experience of the hidden realms that can be done with all manner of things, including our aversions.
Deeper still into that which is hidden, is the awareness of the spirit in all things. To be able to see and respect the life force in the tree, the flower, the plant and the stone is to move closer to the truth of life, the truth of ourselves. The essence of the flower, its spirit, is the same as the essence of us, so to know the flower is to know thyself, thy true self. The flower is natural, the truth of us is natural; remove the egoic distortions and the reality of the flower and the reality of the person is the same. All is one, every-thing in matter is a manifestation of the same source.
Expanding our awareness allows us to know the interconnectedness that is beyond the solid, measurable world, and that all things respond, interact and change as a result of their connection with other things. Whether we are sitting on the bus or walking through the woods, something, somewhere has influenced us and we have influenced it. Therefore it is our responsibility to be more aware of that which is hidden and to emanate the energy of love as often as we can. Each moment of heart mind awareness sends love to all things, including all people.
As more of us experience this, humanity will move closer to a shift in consciousness, a shift that opens us all to love, compassion and peace, and which extinguishes the destructive egoic traits that currently burden humanity and the planet.
July:- ““When someone beats a rug, the blows are not against the rug, but against the dust in it.” Rumi
by Julie Wise
As we move away from the longest day and return to the coming darkness it is important to remember that the light and the dark are both aspects of The Divine. The sacred is in everything and everything that comes in to our lives has the hand of The Divine behind it. It is there to help us to know ourselves as the Divine creation that we are.
As part of our human experience we are “taught” how to be, conditioned to fit in to a certain culture, belief system, gender etc. This aspects of ourselves is our image self, a self we will go to great lengths to protect, and then feel “wounded or angry” if the image self is challenged. Yet it is only through these “challenges” that we can know the aspects of ourselves that we are unconscious of and have pushed in to the shadow. Life is continually showing us what we are denying. Oneness / light/ totality has no shadow, everything is in awareness and we are fully conscious. I remember when I was trekking in the Sinai desert and how that when the sun was at its zenith there was no shadow. When we are totally aligned with our true nature there is no shadow, we are at-one with all that is.
Most of our fear and struggle in life comes from this shadow. Yet if you really think about it, what is a shadow? It has no substance, it cannot harm you. It is a consequence of something standing between the sun and the earth. That is all our shadow self is, something that is standing between our true nature and its expression here on planet earth. As we become more aware we are less afraid of the shadows and the dark, because we can see that they only have the power that we give them. Through awareness we align more and more with our true nature so that the shadows are dissolved by the light of the soul.
So the process of life is to “wake up” and bring everything in to awareness. By doing this the shadow self and the image self, cease to have power over the real self, which can only be revealed through the harmonising and eventual transcending of duality. Ultimately there is no light or dark, just “isness”, which rests in the now, the eternal aspect outside of time.
The light and the dark are part of the Divine play in matter. We also hold the light and dark within us, and have to hold both aspects with awareness in order to know the Divine behind both. If we seek only the light we are not expanding our awareness into the damaged self, which has to be transcended in order to heal, and not cast a shadow. The truth of life is that peace is present even in the struggle, and to avoid our pain is to simply run from a shadow. In fact life will stop us from running at some point and help us to face our shadows in order to help us to know the peace in all things.The Sacred is always present, as is the peace, bliss, joy and love!
“No matter how fast you run, your shadow keeps up.
Only fully overhead sun diminishes your shadow.
But that shadow has been serving you.
What hurts you blesses you.
Darkness is your candle” Rumi
June:- “Leave behind your old self and take a leap of faith into the unknown, you will surely find out what you are truly capable of becoming!” Kemmy Nola
“Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open” Rumi
By Julie Wise
As I sit in the beautiful sunshine and listen to the cacophony of bird song I feel amazed by the constant change all around me. Everything is bursting into life and growing. Chicks are beginning to emerge from their nests into the big wide world and it reminds me of the need in life to sometimes take a leap of faith. A leap into the unknown, driven by an inner urge which the mind cannot understand or control. Whilst peace comes from acceptance, the paradox is that we also sometimes need the courage to take a leap of faith too!
While reflecting on this I was reminded of an experience I had years ago watching the tiny blue tit chicks in a garden nest box. The small nest had been plagued by a magpie that was constantly drawn to it and pecking at it when the parent birds were away looking for food. My then young children delighted in running down the garden screaming and waving their arms in an attempt to drive off the magpie and protect the vulnerable chicks.
The day inevitably came when the chicks grew strong enough to leave the nest. However I realised that there was still a scruffy, rather weedy looking chick left inside the box. Wow, how I identified with it, being the youngest of a large family and often regarded as “weedy” as a child! I felt my own fears of being in the world arise as I witnessed its precarious teetering on the edge of the nest box! As the chick perched on the edge, ready to take its very first flight, I witnessed its vulnerability and tremendous courage, which reminds me of the path that we all walk in life. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I swear I saw the tiny creature take a huge gulp as it launched itself into its maiden flight.
The chicks tiny wings flapped franticly, as in a rather inelegant fashion it left the nest box, unfortunately heading straight for the pond just below!! The chick opened its eyes and seemed to express a moment of panic, followed by increased flapping of its wings as it saw the still, deep water below. I was holding my breath and silently praying as the chick landed with a plop on the wooden decking which covered part of the pond. “Phew made it”, the relief in the air was tangible! I laughed as the little chick did a kind of victory dance and ran headlong across the decking and promptly dropped off into the hedge behind. This reminded me so perfectly of how I can get “full of myself” and lose all awareness, dignity and sense!!!!
I smiled as I heard the mother calling in the hedge above, realising she had witnessed the whole event from there. What a lesson the mother gave me about trusting my children in life and allowing them to make leaps of faith and even mistakes! Also of how we all have to grow up and learn to take responsibility for ourselves and our lives; which is a fundamental aspect of becoming more aware. It also reminded me of The Divine which is ever present, and of the silent witness, within, not without. How important it is to develop the ability to watch ourselves, without judgement, but with patient awareness in all our foolishness and unskillfulness; and to do so until we realise we are safe in the love of the eternal. We gradually have to come to the knowing that nothing in this world can harm who we really are. Nothing that we do can earn or lose favour with The Divine, nor can we add to it or take from it. It is the perfection behind all things including our own lives. So for this month remember to be courageous, make changes wisely if you need to, but also remember that whatever is in your life, wherever you are, is the perfect place that you need to be, right now, in order for you to move closer to your Divine nature. It may seem scary, but you will get there in the end, even if it is a little ungracefully!!!
May:- “Nature is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eyes, illumes his mind and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence.” Alfred Bernard Nobel
By Julie Wise
How magnificent is the natural world in all its guises and seasons. She has so much to teach us, to reveal to us, and to inspire in us. To sit for a while on a warm balmy spring day and observe the trees yielding to the gentle breeze, the birds preparing for the arrival of their young ones, without rush or haste, but with focus and perseverance. To see the flowers rejoice in the rain, and how they allow the sunshine to reveal their natural beauty. All of this teaches us so much about how we can live a more natural and less stressful life. To yield to the storms of life, knowing that they will pass and the sun will shine once again, especially if we remain alert to our own tendency to focus on the storm even when it has passed! To live our daily life without rushing and losing our centre, but to breathe, remain focused and aware and to be present in our doing. To know that the light within us is the true beauty of our existence, and that we create our own clouds through our own unskillfulness and negativity.
When I used to fly to teach in Belgium and Ireland I was always amazed that when we reached a certain height we rose above the clouds and the sun was always shining! No matter what the weather was doing below the sun was always radiant. Through this experience I came to know without doubt the truth of this natural phenomena. The light is always there, whatever is occurring in our lives, wherever my mind is, if I can come back to this simple fact I can start to experience life differently. To realise that it is my ignorance, distorted perceptions and attachments that prevent me from knowing the truth of this. If we lift ourselves up, focus on the Divine aspect within, breathe, smile and change our point of view, we will be lifted up to where the sun is always shinning. Not only that but we bring the memory of that light down in to our ordinary life and become a candle in the darkness. We become a different influence in the world, one of peace and love.
Osho says that meditation is a flower and compassion is its fragrance. Compassion can only come through meditation. Meditation is not concentration; life / existence, is so full, there are so many things co-existing and happening at the same time, to concentrate on just one, to exclude all others is too narrow. Meditation is not focus or concentration, but awareness. It is relaxation, you simply relax into yourself. The more you relax the more you open, the more flexible and receptive you become; then the truth can penetrate you. Meditation is a state of none-doing. Acceptance allows you to relax, to deny acceptance causes tension. Effort is not needed. You simply relax and accept, your breath will deepen naturally. As you relax more the breath will go deeper, then as you deepen you will become aware that the breath is a bridge between you and the whole. Just watch, without trying, simply relax and remain alert. For this month practise acceptance, of yourself and others. Learn to watch without judging and just like the flower you will begin to unfold in to your innate beauty.
April:- “My God if you but knew your beauty you would be a master piece unto yourself” Rumi
By Julie Wise
Within life there is an innate desire to grow and express itself. Just look at the magnificence of spring bursting forth before our very eyes. The urge, the impulse to grow and blossom is within us all. Even the hawthorn that lands on the rocky outcrop has this inner urge to flourish and bloom. As do the potatoes sprouting in your cupboard and the grass pushing up through your patio! It seems to me at this time of year all of life is demonstrating this urge by stretching upwards towards the light. Also each aspect is true to its own nature, the daffodil is not trying to be the crocus, nor the blackbird the thrush! Each glory of nature expresses its own beauty and uniqueness, without confusion or doubt!
We, humanity, have moved a long way from our “naturalness”, our true nature. We are conditioned to believe that we are meant to look, behave and think a certain way, rather than being aware of our own innate inner wisdom. However that wisdom is there inside us, as is that urge to express our own beauty and uniqueness. Given the right conditions we can all grow in to this true nature. No matter what the conditions of the past, you are the seed and the gardener of the present, so in this moment now you can choose to start to cultivate the “right” conditions for you own unfoldment.
Awareness and meditation are the soil in which your true self can take root. Alertness to your own unhealed aspect, and the taming of the mind will allow the stem of your being to grow within. Loving kindness and compassion towards yourself and others, will feed and restore your loving heart, allowing the fragrance of your kindness to touch the hearts of others. Deepening in to the breath will reveal the calm stillness, the beauty of which will attract the awe and yearning in others to know how they too can become this exquisite expression of life.
Unlike the flower or the tree, we can choose to change the conditions in which we grow. We can consciously feed ourselves with deeper understanding, acceptance, discipline and awareness. Once the life bursts forth from the seed it will make the most of the conditions in which it finds itself. You too can make the most of your life right now. Do not wait for the outer conditions to be right before you grow, it will never happen. Cultivate the inner conditions right now, today and every day.
“You were born with potential.
You were born with goodness and trust.
You were born with ideals and dreams.
You were born with greatness.
You were born with wings.
You are not meant for crawling, so don’t.
You have wings.
Learn to use them and fly.” Rumi
March:- I would like to start the March awareness with a poem by Hermann Hesse called
By Julie Wise
“An Ancient Buddha Decaying in a Japanese Forest Ravine”
“Long rain and cold nights of frost
unveil your shape, soft and work away.
Covered with moss, your face still shines serene.
Your half-closed eyes still reveal
your calm focus on eternity,
your tranquil yes to the changing over
into the formless void of the unlimited.
The slow withering features of your face
still speak of your noble mission,
but dampness, mud, and soil
are finishing the fate of form, completing its purpose.
Tomorrow, you will be root and rustling leaf.
Tomorrow, you will turn into water mirroring clear sky.
You will curl as ivy, grow as fern and algae,
become symbols of all transformation,
and show the eternal oneness behind all change.”
Everything in this world is subject to the law of impermanence; just observe the weather, your garden, your children, and your life for a few days – none of it stays the same. When we start to become aware of this impermanence we really begin to appreciate our lives and how precious each moment is. We come to realise that we have no time to waste and how fragile life is, and therefore to treasure it.
Not only does the external world demonstrate impermanence, but it reflects the changes of our inner world too. Our mind and emotions are constantly changing, causing inner disturbance and turmoil. There is nothing consistent about either of them.
It is fundamentally important that we recognise that which changes is not the truth of life, but that there is “the eternal oneness behind all change.” The more we connect with that oneness, through meditation, prayer, mindfulness and the expansion of awareness, the more we can accept the natural processes of change which are part of this existence. We are all the figure in the forest, subject to impermanence as our bodies’ age and decay. The more we identify with the body and our idea of who we are, the more we will experience change as suffering rather than a natural aspect of life on planet earth.
For this month try to surrender to the changes you cannot do anything about, and remember no matter whatever you feel and however strongly you feel it, it will pass!
Be aware that you are the eternal, still being behind all life. It has no agenda or need, but by its very nature is complete, whole, at peace and totally accepting of all that is! In that acceptance the possibility of true transformation exists!
by Julie Wise
This month I am trying to become more conscious of what am I creating in each moment. We are all creating all of the time, but unfortunately most of it is unconscious! We look at the wars, at the inequalities, the rigidity and judgments in the world and see ourselves and our lives as being separate from them. Yet everything is connected and we are all part of the oneness of life. “As above so below”, but also “as within so without!” Is there anyone of us who does not have an inner war, a battle between the different aspects of ourselves? We try to be “good”, but the “bad” always disturbs us! The greatest burden we have been given is this division within ourselves that makes whatever we choose a source of endless inner conflict! This division / conflict is a product of our conditioning and the rejection of our authentic self.
The inner war is reflected in all the outer wars in the world. We perpetuate our past hurts, pains, and abandonment, and continually create a life which manifests them! The irony in all this is that, we cannot find the answer or the peace in the mind that is the creator of our conflict. It moves from one perceived problem to another attempting to solve them in order to enable its existence. Just watch yourself, as soon as one thing is resolved another issue arises! As we become more aware, more “awake”, we start to move towards ending this inner war.
Through awareness we witness our own madness and how we perpetuate the inner conflict, how we keep creating it. This month I am trying to choose a different way. If we really want peace in the world it can only start with nurturing peace in ourselves and our everyday lives. We do this by consciously choosing a path of peace, by learning to step out of the divided mind. The first step is to see it, to become aware of it and to know it is not who you are. The next step is to tame it and change it. It is simply a learnt pattern! When your mind starts running like a wild horse, use your breath as a rope to contain it. (See January awareness) Then as you breathe in, say to yourself, “I choose peace”, as you breathe out, “I offer my peace to ……. (it could be a person / situation / the world). Practice for 10 to 15 minutes, and change what you are creating. This will begin to ripple out in to the rest of your life. Instead of creating the chaos of the unconscious, you begin to consciously create more peace in your life. True change for you, and true change for all of humanity begins inside. This is our responsibility and our gift.
By Julie Wise
signals the beginning of a new year, the letting go of the old and the welcoming in of the new. That which stands between the old and the new, the past and the future, is this moment now, the present. When we look back over 2013 we often look with emotion at the various events we have experienced. Our emotional body belongs to the past and we evoke memories which reinforces these emotions. The mind looks to the future and lays plans for 2014, our hopes and desires being the bedrock for these dreams. However, neither our past emotion nor our forward looking mind allows us to achieve a state of inner peace and joy. True peace and joy are only accessible in the present moment when we relinquish the past and remain open to an unknowable future. In the present moment, there is no plan. The present moment belongs to the “beginners mind”; which means putting aside our opinions, beliefs, reason, logic, and being open to “I don’t know”. In that state of not knowing you will experience the present moment. All the busy-ness of life cannot bring us fulfilment because it is always looking to the future, the next new phone, car, house, job, love; we fail to be with what we have now in our eternal quest for more. Yet all we need is right here, right now. Our sacred breath happens now. We cannot decide to breathe tomorrow or use yesterday’s breath today. The breath brings us to this moment now, and in this moment now is the peace, happiness and stillness we are all seeking in the outside world instead of the inner world. Why not try it, just for a few minutes, today. Stop and watch yourself breathing in and breathing out. Just be with your breath and you will let go of your busy mind and disturbing emotions. “I am breathing in” as you inhale and “I am breathing out” as you exhale, for 5 – 10 minutes. There is no need to change your breath, just watch and it will deepen naturally on its own. See how the mind becomes less busy and you feel more at ease. Make 2014 the year you decide to be with yourself, in this moment now, through the awareness of your breath; after all, without this breath who are you?!!!!