Short quote from Jung on alchemical studies

A lovely quote from Carl Jung describing one of his patient’s awakening and his subsequent acceptance:
Out of evil, much good has come to me. By keeping quiet, repressing nothing, remaining attentive, and by accepting reality – taking things as they are, and not as I wanted them to be – by doing all this, unusual knowledge has come to me, and unusual powers as well, such as I could never have imagined before.
I always thought that when we accepted things they overpowered us in some way or other. This turns out not to be true at all, and it is only by accepting them that one can assume and attitude towards them.
So now I intend to play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad, sun and shadow forever alternating, and, in this way, also accepting my own nature with its positive and negative sides. Thus everything becomes more alive to me.
What a fool I was! How I tried to force everything to go according to way I thought it ought to.”
an ex patient of C. G. Jung (Alchemical Studies, pg 47)

Conscious parenting: When the going gets tough

Anyone that has kids knows that parenting can be really challenging. However, like most suffering in life, it’s workable and can be transformed with the right mind set of conscious parenting. I find that parenting still pushes my psychological limits but I do have a workable strategy that I want to share. The key is to change my attitude to the situation.

Conscious parenting - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Even simple things like a child’s bedtime can be a challenge as a parent. Take my youngest of 6 years as an example.  His routine involves, cleaning his teeth, changing for bed, an upside down ride which is me carrying him upside by his legs to kiss his sister good night, a story in bed and then some kisses and cuddles. Simple enough on paper. However, the critical challenge around bedtime is that everyone is tired, for my part, a single parent, I have been busy with them for 12 hours and would really like the quiet time of the evening to arrive, to arrive as soon as possible. It is that mindset that causes the problems.

There was a time when I would try to rush this routine so I could get to the ‘me time’ quicker. This led to me feeling tense, objections from my boy and to a general feeling of suffering in myself, the feeling that “I just did not want to be doing it”. There is a better way though. A more conscious approach to parenting uses acceptance, concentration and mindfulness of the now to bring peace into these moments. How does it work?

Firstly, I surrender to the moment and give away the desire for anything other than what is taking place. I drop that desire to get to the ‘me time’ and instead put all of my awareness into the tasks at hand. In essence, I align myself with events rather than aligning myself in opposition to them.

Conscious parenting - AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Mindfulness then becomes important once I have made that mental commitment to let go of my desires in this moment and to concentrate. Mindfulness at this point involves not judging what takes place but instead witnessing it more fully. This allows me to look at my boy more fully, suddenly I might see his face, his eyes, his smile, I sometimes see his tiredness, his fatigue and grumpiness, this allows me to feel compassion to his state of being and to feel love. While engaged in the task, I try to engage with them fully, for example I might read his story with gusto rather than as a chore, I might really look at the pictures in the book too, I just try to concentrate on the task and not to let my mind wish it were elsewhere. This approach is very nourishing for me and also for him.

A great inspiration in this attitude for me comes from the “Three questions” short story by Leo Tolstoy (spoilers of this story incoming) and I often find the answer to these three questions come to my mind when I find myself in an objectionable moment. The story involves a King seeking answers to three questions, namely 1) What is the most important moment? Now, it’s the only moment we can influence, 2) What is the most important thing in life? The thing you are doing, in the case of a child’s bedtime it is the child himself and 3) What is most important to do? To care, to care for the moment and the person, to love. So that’s my approach to parenting when it gets tough. It’s really liberating to feel a stressful moment collapse into something more peaceful. It’s like suddenly finding myself in the eye of a hurricane.

Its not something I always remember to practice, I am no saint nor Buddha, but when I do remember it brings about a transformation of the situation. Suddenly the situation becomes more alive, more pleasant, more peaceful. I hope others find this approach useful. It’s really nothing particularly special. It just an application of acceptance and mindfulness practice into everyday life, someone of my personal art of living well.

Mindfulness and overthinking abstraction

Abstraction is a fundamental part of human thought and conscious, something we use throughout our work, our studies and our daily life. Most people exist in a world of abstraction, so what is it? and why do we do it?

Abstraction is a fundamental part of human thought and consciousness, something we use throughout our work, our studies and our daily life.  Most people exist in a world of abstraction, so what is it? and why do we do it?

Essentially abstraction is a reductionist approach as it looks to take away aspects of the object of consideration, specifically to take away their uniqueness. Unique things are concrete and specific. Abstractions are general and non-unique.  This is a central part of Buddhism and modern mindfulness practices.

over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Abstraction seeks commonalities between things so that things can be operated upon within our minds. As mind entities abstractions do not have a physical manifestation. In contrast concrete things have a physical manifestation. For example, the concept of a brick is abstract, whereas the realisation of an actual brick is unique and concrete.

over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Concepts are real in the mind, but not real in the physical world. Many spiritual practices such as meditation and mindfulness attempt to pull consciousness back from the abstract concepts, which they often claim is not alive since it only exists in the mind. Instead such practices try to bring conscious back to the uniqueness of the concrete things. If abstractions are reductionist then an opposite approach, mindfulness,  is expansive as it encompasses all of the thing in its entirety. Mindfulness encourages anti-abstraction, so that when we meet an object in the world, we do not see the abstraction but rather see the thing in its fullness. In doing so we move from a mode of thinking and unreality and back into a mode of open full perception and reality.

A real brick has a uniqueness that if I try to describe now I will unavoidably reduce. The only true way to know a concrete thing is to experience it, it’s unique texture arrangement, colour, flaws etc. however my ‘words’ already reduce the experience and are an abstraction.

Indeed, part of the problem with excessive abstraction stems from the need for communication. If every experience is unique, ‘how to we communicate this to each other?’  We have to abstract to speak and speaking and writing is always an abstraction of some level. Another part of over abstraction is that we perceive far too much for our brains to process everything individually.  Abstraction allows us to deal with things that we encounter in the world without having to really see them or think about them. We can pick up a pen and write without really thinking, in doing so we don’t need to focus on the pen or the paper but rather the words. This can be extended to the desk, the chair, the light, etc. Abstraction allows us to ignore the non-essential, it thus save us time and thought. It is perhaps for these reasons that human society has evolved massive repositories of abstractions, from language, semantics to domain concepts.

This is problematic though, as the abstract mode of existence becomes the only mode of existing for many people and as such they see a reduced world. When we go to the park, we see the abstract forms, labelled, compartmentalised and therefore reduced. When we stop and really look at the uniqueness of things, which takes more time, we see the world more fully, more clearly, more alive. Our world and our existence becomes alive. This however takes time, it also takes a conscious effort. The practice of mindfulness is about making this reconnection with real things and therefore a reconnection with reality

over abstraction and how to be mindful - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Easy satisfaction, don’t be the man with a ‘never satisfied’ attitude

 “I am easily satisfied”

What a beautiful statement for a human being, such a person must be very happy.

This week I witnessed someone seemingly unhappy at work; a man with a “never satisfied attitude”.  The background to this encounter was that he was a reviewer at a meeting, a senior figure from a major educational institution, he was highly opinionated, judgmental and above all rarely satisfied.  Witnessing him in action was enlightening for me, he frowned, he criticised, he reveled in being the bad guy and to an outside observer he seemed quite wretched. Although, I think he was actually enjoying himself in some sadistic manner, furthermore I believe he felt virtuous in executing his duty as judge.

So my question from this was:

‘why does western society, specifically the business environment, value people that are never satisfied?’

Why is it wrong to feel satisfied?  Look at what it means to be satisfied, it means being content, fulfilled, appeased.  All of these are lovely states of mind in which to dwell.  Conversely, unsatisfied is to be unfulfilled, unhappy, discontent.  Surely not a pleasant state.

Why then does society value people that are not fulfilled, people that are not satisfied.  I am sure we have all heard a person praised for having the ‘never satisfied’ mentality, those driven people, business leaders, winners, perfectionists who by definition must be unhappy. This world seems so backward in its thinking, a world where being satisfied, content and happy is not required but instead people who are unsatisfied, driven and basically unhappy are praised as having strong character.

Be content instead

Give me happiness and contentment anytime. Give me a world where someone comes into a working environment and says, ‘that’s lovely, everything is fine’.  Let’s face it though, you are not going to get far in business if you go around telling people how easily satisfied you are.  See how fast you can fail a job interview with a statement like “yes, I am easily content at work, I am satisfied quite easily”.

Why does business value people who are never satisfied? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

 

Doesn’t that seem odd though?  Almost wrong?  Why is contentment just not valued? furthermore, almost seen as bad.  Our society is so geared towards criticism and dissatisfaction, it’s no wonder mental health problems are rising. Regardless, I choose to be easily satisfied in my life, I choose to be happy and content.

Easy satisfaction, don’t be the man with a ‘never satisfied’ attitude

 “I am easily satisfied”

What a beautiful statement for a human being, such a person must be very happy.

This week I witnessed someone seemingly unhappy at work; a man with a “never satisfied attitude”.  The background to this encounter was that he was a reviewer at a meeting, a senior figure from a major educational institution, he was highly opinionated, judgmental and above all rarely satisfied.  Witnessing him in action was enlightening for me, he frowned, he criticised, he reveled in being the bad guy and to an outside observer he seemed quite wretched. Although, I think he was actually enjoying himself in some sadistic manner, furthermore I believe he felt virtuous in executing his duty as judge.

So my question from this was:

‘why does western society, specifically the business environment, value people that are never satisfied?’

Why is it wrong to feel satisfied?  Look at what it means to be satisfied, it means being content, fulfilled, appeased.  All of these are lovely states of mind in which to dwell.  Conversely, unsatisfied is to be unfulfilled, unhappy, discontent.  Surely not a pleasant state.

Why then does society value people that are not fulfilled, people that are not satisfied.  I am sure we have all heard a person praised for having the ‘never satisfied’ mentality, those driven people, business leaders, winners, perfectionists who by definition must be unhappy. This world seems so backward in its thinking, a world where being satisfied, content and happy is not required but instead people who are unsatisfied, driven and basically unhappy are praised as having strong character.

Be content instead

Give me happiness and contentment anytime. Give me a world where someone comes into a working environment and says, ‘that’s lovely, everything is fine’.  Let’s face it though, you are not going to get far in business if you go around telling people how easily satisfied you are.  See how fast you can fail a job interview with a statement like “yes, I am easily content at work, I am satisfied quite easily”.

Why does business value people who are never satisfied? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

 

Doesn’t that seem odd though?  Almost wrong?  Why is contentment just not valued? furthermore, almost seen as bad.  Our society is so geared towards criticism and dissatisfaction, it’s no wonder mental health problems are rising. Regardless, I choose to be easily satisfied in my life, I choose to be happy and content.

5 tips for beginners meditation

The aim of these tips is to share some of my practical experience to perhaps help other beginners towards some very sublime meditations.

Before you read this, let me first say that I am a novice / beginner meditator.  I have been meditating for around 2-3 years, with some sizable breaks when life just got too busy.

My practice is 99% breath meditation, known as anapanasati  (inhalation and exhalation awareness).  Its a really simple practice – you just watch your breath very closely while counting the breaths.

1. You don’t have to sit on the floor

The meditation practices I first learnt involved sitting on the floor, crossed legged or some variant.   I have spent hours in this position and it’s taken many, many hours, far too many hours actually, to recognise that it’s not always the most conducive position for my meditation.

An issue I have is that crossed legged is often too painful for my body, notably my back and neck.  I find myself feeling that pain instead of concentrating on my breathing.  So… recently I noticed that some of the most ‘easy’ meditations (and I think easy is a good goal to have) came while sat on a chair, a park bench or something similar.   The key is to take away that struggle against any pain so as to enable a much more peaceful practice.

So reluctantly, I shook off my ego and that dogged determination to ‘not be a chair sitter’, and in doing so, I found some lovely meditation moments.

5 tips for meditation - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

Tip: Make sure the chair is fairly upright to avoid a slouch and associated lack of wakefulness.

2. Count with meaning

One really helpful technique in meditation is to count breaths, typically counting to 10 then starting over.  The technique goes like this,  “one“, an in breath, “one” an out breath, “two” an in breath, “two” an out breath, etc.  The idea is that having that focus stops your thoughts from wandering, and it does, somewhat, until it becomes mechanical.

So, what I find really helps is to focus on the task more keenly.  Try to pick out that absolute spot where the breath begins and ends, trying to nail it and count precisely that moment. Watching the ‘in’ breath begin, then attentively watching the breath closely for the exact moment that the ‘in’ breath stops.  Finding that spot precisely and with that precise moment then counting the breath, “one” and start to exhale.  Then again, back to attention, watching, waiting, sharp attention, to find that exact spot, then counting “two”.   So trying to really stay with the breath attentively watching.

For me, the act of really concentrating channels my attention and keeps that very clear focus on the breath.  It’s given me some very calm and sharply focused meditations.  It’s a wonderful moment to feel a very deep concentration on the breath that arises from concentration.

3. Sometimes it won’t work as you want

It won’t, its ju5 tips for meditation - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.comst won’t, you will think too much, you will get distracted, you will expect too much and it will just not happen.  That’s fine.  Meditation can be like that.  I like to think of the practice in these moments as really working on the technique.  Working on the breathing and the counting in the midst of thoughts and distractions, so its the basics of trying to keep focus that’s the technique.  A teacher once told me, ‘the mind is like a naughty puppy that needs to keep being brought back to sit down’.  Meditation can be like that, just accept it and keep bringing the puppy back to sit.  Every so often the puppy stays still.

4. You don’t need a perfect environment

I used to really struggle to find the right environment, too noisy, too windy, too cold, too warm, too smelly, too sunny, too cloudy, and so on. Time to wheel out the cliche, Just Do It!  I did, and I liked it. So try meditating in some public places, place which by definition are out of your control, it can be really quite pleasant. Yup, its noisy at times, its a bit wild, but really those issues are no worse to deal with than the wildness and noise of thoughts in the mind. So long as some basic conditions are met, such as bathroom needs, warm enough, then its workable. Obviously I am not advocating finding noisy places to spite yourself, but it does not need to be perfect to work out well. You will be surprised and what can happen if you sit down with low expectations and meditate.

5. Have very few expectations

Which brings me to the last tip and the simplest. Don’t expect much. In fact, really don’t expect meditation to go well or do anything.  It does not owe you anything just because you think it should or might. I would say more, but honestly, overthinking expectations is part of the problem.  Just sit, meditate, don’t expect anything, count, breath and accept whatever happens.  If you have this open attitude – then what ever happens is fine – and paradoxically its impossible for it not to be good, but don’t expect it!

You can’t have the sunset

The sublime

I like watching the sunset, I do it quite often. I am lucky enough to live near Greenwich park and admire its serene glide into the London cityscape.

People gather there, all sorts of people, from all places, young and old, couples and individuals, goths, meditators and prayers, tourists – even the odd urban ‘gansta’ is forced to dismount their bike and acquiesce to the moment.

And there we all stand, together, in peace, watching the sunset and we are all touched.

So what’s beautiful for me?

Beyond the obvious colours, for me the beauty of a sunset runs deep, its something we cannot have – we can only witness.  It brings delight and wonder, just watching as we cannot control it. It changes constantly and the world changes with it. It reveals an ungraspable transience – it passes quickly, we know it is going to end – its has impermanent beauty.  Each moment different.  And every evening original.  It brings out the interconnection of all things, it touches their uniqueness – the clouds, the wind, the temperature, the people, the feeling, they combine to make the scene.  It reveals reality.  So there I stand, often, in awe at the world.

Here is one such witness account from Greenwich park.  I truly hope you can enjoy the pleasure of this place too.

Sunset over Greenwich park - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.comSunset over Greenwich park - from the AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

HERE FAIR ELIZA, VIRGIN QUEEN FROM BUSINESS FREE,
ENJOY’D THE SCENE HEREOFT IN PENSIVE MOOD SHE STOOD
AND KINDLY PLAN’D FOR BRITAIN’S GOOD:
SO RECORD TELLS AND THIS BESIDE,
SUNG DITTIES TO THE SILVERTIDE
FULL WORTH SUCH HONOURS ART THOU STILL,
BELOV’D OF THOUSANDS, ONE TREE HILL
T.N. ONE TREE HILL, THE LONDON CHRONICLE MAY 25-27TH, 1784

HERE FAIR ELIZA, VIRGIN QUEEN FROM BUSINESS FREE, ENJOY'D THE SCENE HEREOFT IN PENSIVE MOOD SHE STOOD AND KINDLY PLAN'D FOR BRITAIN'S GOOD: SO RECORD TELLS AND THIS BESIDE, SUNG DITTIES TO THE SILVERTIDE FULL WORTH SUCH HONOURS ART THOU STILL, BELOV'D OF THOUSANDS, ONE TREE HILL T.N. ONE TREE HILL, THE LONDON CHRONICLE MAY 25-27TH, 1784

The coin

Do we really have free will? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com

So, I was reading something today that got me thinking about determinism and the question of free will, ‘do we really have it?’ It’s a fairly big debate with strong arguments from both the deterministic position and also those in favor of  indeterminism.  Where it has got interesting is the conflict between an indeterministic quantum world and the strictly deterministic large scale physical reality that we as human beings perceive.   Reductionist might argue that quantum  world governs all, which may well be true,  and would lead to an indeterministic view – but as human beings in this world we don’t perceive that and our lives appear well grounded in classical physics.   The classic physical reductionist heads towards determinism.   Interesting musing, but, reductionism not the aim of this post.

Now, my keen interest is Buddhism and psychology – they appear to assert that we are deterministic.  We are conditioned beings, our actions, beliefs, behaviour are the result of our history.  There is a kind of inevitability about living, we see our ‘supposed’ life choices through the channel of our narrow conditioning.  Even the choice to break a conditioning is in itself merely the manifestation of a series of conditions.   We might think we are choosing but really we just following an inevitable set of causality.  The Buddhist path embraces this, Buddhism is fundamentally pragmatic in its search towards liberation and freedom.  The forth noble truth, the path, is itself an attempt at reconditioning oneself to become freer.  The idea that if we think right, act right, we become right.  We become what we are doing.

However, individual conditioning gets a bit complex in the world as other individuals interact, enter the idea of non-duality.  Our conditioned subjective experience exists in the entangled set of other conditioned subjective experiences – other beings.  What others do in the world conditions me, what I do in the world conditions others, so we are not really separate but instead we exchange our mutual conditioning and so further mutually condition each other – we become what we are doing.

Our being then is perhaps a bit like one facet of the cohesive world of being, one super consciousness of determinism.  This takes another twist when we considered the historical input of conditioning.  We are conditioned by our parents, by past belief, theories, ontology, events and so forth and this spans all past time.  So perhaps any global super conciseness is in fact a super consciousness of conditioning that spans all of human existence.

So what has all this to do with anarchy?  I have a proposal.  It’s something I used to do when backpacking to determine whether to move on or stay put.  All you need is a coin.  My idea is to introduce some anarchy into your world by choosing two different actions, perhaps even conflicting and then tossing the coin and then acting on the result.

Say, you feel inclined to say ‘yes’ to a question?  Toss the coin, maybe you then say ‘No’.  Alright, this appears to be unconditioned randomness.  But, of course the outcome of the coin could have been predetermined conditions, the wind, the temperature, my energy levels, my conditioning in tossing coins, but for all practical purposes relevant to me, the outcome certainly appears random.  The fact I am tossing the coin is a result of my past conditions too.

What about the choice itself? Where does that come from, conditions.  Are we really choosing? Where do these decisions come from anyway?  If you try this throughout your day, I bet you don’t choose something that is inherently irrational to you well being, like jumping in front of a car, kissing your boss good morning on the lips or sticking your tongue into their ear.  The creation of the choice is conditioned, so sadly the experiment won’t generate unconditioned events per se, but nonetheless could prove a really interesting way to break the habituation of life.

So sadly, I think true indeterminism is largely impossible to manifest, randomness only gets us so far.  I don’t expect miracles, sure I might stick a pin into a country map to randomly determine where to travel? Well, most of its shitty and dull – so why do that?  Nonetheless its an interesting way to step out of habituation and to expand ones experience.  It might even help to break unproductive patterns in your life.

In a difficult spot? Try doing something random!  Take away the rational a bit and see what happens, it might explode your universe.

Do we really have free will? - from AnAccidentalAnarchist.com