Overcoming ego (Expression or Mindfulness)

I’ve been struggling with two philosophies that I hold dear, that are seemingly in opposition to each other, namely, Gestalt Therapy and Mindfulness.  My initial impression was that the two are similar, but are they?

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Present moment consciousness suggests we become an observer of the process of thought, without engaging in it.  The exhibition of anger, tears and so forth should be witnessed but not engaged with, e.g.  ‘Oh, I feel angry, Oh I feel happy.’ notice but not engaged with.

Gestalt proposes a ‘here and now’ approach to life, touching what is present fully and making full contact with what is.  This all sounds very mindful.  Part of this approach can involve allowing a polarity of feeling to fully express, that is to explore fully the expanse of possibility that we have for a particular situation (gestalt = situation) or feeling, including expression of that feeling.  The expression bit doesn’t sound so mindful, I am picturing 1970’s therapy sessions, people throwing cushions around the room and screaming, flared trousers, moustaches, beards, shirts with collars for hand gliding. That approach doesn’t sit so well.

So, suddenly there appears this contrast to the practice of present moment consciousness and the gestalt therapeutic process.

Bringing these two aspects together

I think the difference in approach originates from differences in the useful quality of our zones of experience, e.g. the outer zone (trees, flowers, the wetness of the air, sounds) are all real and to be fully experienced, thus be very mindful of them.  The inner zone, e.g. my body sensations, breath, emotions are also all real and thus to be fully explored.  However, there is another zone, the middle zone which doesn’t really exists, we know this as ego.  A nice quote from a group with Fritz Perls (Gestalt founder) solves part of the problem for me.

The neurotic suffering is suffering in imagination, suffering in fantasy.  Someone calls you a son of a bitch, and you think you feel hurt.  There are no bruises, no actual injuries.  Its the ego, the vanity that has been hurt.  When you say you feel hurt, you feel vindictive and you want to hurt the other person.

Fritz Perls

Ego can act fast, often without a conscious process.  A feeling arises and we suddenly feel the need to express something.  Emotional understanding is about observing the feeling ‘oh, I feel angry’ and then ‘where does that come from?’  Going deeper, can we then investigate their sources and their fuel?  Why is there this need for a reaction? Whats actually taking place?  I don’t mean purely intellectualising, but witnessing the middle zone of awareness, the realm of fantasy, those stories that form our reaction to events.

This I think is the same mechanism as conscious aware process, e.g. shining a light onto a neurotic suffering.  However, much of a neurotic suffering is unconscious.  If we have consciousness then we have the power to witness whats taking place and transform it.

In gestalt some of the powerful expressions are about bringing awareness to the unconscious patterns of behaviour.   This could be something potentially powerful, shocking, explosive and challenging.  But, what comes after, is a knowing, a consciousness.  In Zen Buddhism they use a Keisaku  (a paddle to strike you on the back) to bring about awareness during meditation or a Katsu (a shout), both seemingly harsh expressions are about awareness.

So I don’t think that Gestalt and Mindfulness are so diverse.  I think the buddhist approach is to meditate on something to understand it, e.g. to engage with it fully ourselves internally.  The gestalt approach is similar although often involving outwards expression.   Both probably are appropriate means of understanding the middle zone and in doing so becoming less engaged with it and more engaged with ‘here and now’.

I suppose that raw expression can be problematic.  I am picturing a couple in a relationship having arguments again and again about the same stuff, this could represent a lack of processing or worse that something is still unconscious.  This could but a strain on the relationship if both parties are not invested in the process of unravelling unconsciousness, especially as each will be unconscious of different aspects of their ego, thus a large degree of love, patience and acceptance is required.  Meditation can be a more peaceful way, however, such a peaceful approach is not always possible without consciousness.   Sometimes, we are just gonna have to suffer!   As Eckhart Tolle said:

“The ego says, ‘I shouldn’t have to suffer,’ and that thought makes you suffer so much more. It is a distortion of the truth, which is always paradoxical. The truth is that you need to say yes to suffering before you can transcend it.”

Eckhart Tolle

I have a tendency to act quickly, to react, to become unconscious.  My goal then for this week.  To try to bring more consciousness of my process.  To feel but not to act so fast.

And after writing this, I feel, a peace.



Lenses, blindfolds and bondage

Do we really see, or do we see the image through the lens of the past, the lens of a theory or the lens of our expectations and future.  If we do, we miss the actuality and the uniqueness of the thing.

Oh, another relationship, oh another mean person, oh another utterance of ‘thank-you’, ‘hello’. Oh, its my husband, again.

Knowledge erects a wall; we see the knowledge not the object.  Wisdom is to see the uniqueness.

Perhaps an entry point to this mode of being, is to simply stop thinking and to trust the vicereal.  My practice for the day.  Stop thinking, start seeing.

Nature revealing the way

Trees and nature, showing how to embrace and accept our place in this world, how to grow and be fearless, a blessing and a prophet?

History expressed as form.  Standing proud, a life before the world, with scars and wounds an intrinsic part of beauty.  The twists and turns of form; magical. Unique. Broken branches, dead wood, clusters of life and leaves, unpredictable angles cutting through space. Textured art as skin.

Steadfastly growing for survival.  Making the best of circumstances that cannot be changed.  Forever imprisoned.  Yet with stoic dignity embracing and accepting the cycles of life and death.  That each year, one must start a fresh from the remnants of the year before.  Another year reaching for the sky.

Sustaining the witnessed; a web of hidden growth below.   Above; the visible drama of life. Below; the unknown story.

People and trees, not so different.

Sign posts to the moon

A young spiritual learner was out for a walk with a wise old master and his dog. The evening was peaceful and cool. They walked in silence.

After some time the novice says to the wise master, “I have been learning various spiritual teachings on meditation and mindfulness”.

The master nods his head.

The novice then confesses that he has recently become lost with meditation.  That the more he studies, the more lost he becomes.  The various teachings say different things.  So  now, he does not know what to do anymore.

“Wise master”, he asks.  “Do I look at the tip of my nose? or do I close my eyes? do I sit or stand? please tell me which approach is best and end this confusion”.

The master smiles. He the points to the moon and commands his dog to look at the moon. The dog simply stares at his pointing finger.

The master then explains, “Words are conceptualisation and are merely pointers to something beyond; do not focus on the pointing fingers or you will never find the moon”.



“All words about spiritual values are just hints. Don’t hold onto the words as if they are realities. They are hints, almost the way I can point to the moon with my finger – but don’t catch hold of my finger. My finger is not the moon. Although my finger was pointing to the moon, it was only a hint.”

Zarathustra: A God That Can Dance

Toshidama Gallery
Toshidama Gallery


Living as art, mindfulness and alchemy

Alchemy is the alluring art of turning ordinary base metals into gold. For many years scientists spent hours mixing powders, fluids, cleaning soot and smoke off their faces in their attempts to succeed and find untapped wealth. Some were driven mad by their efforts but all ultimately failed and now alchemy is a long forgotten footnote in history. But, they were approaching it wrong, it is possible!  The mistake they made is that they aimed too low; they only considered metals. How about turning anything mundane into gold? Don’t think of King Midas, this is not that kind of notion. This take on alchemy involves turning everyday living into something better, something golden. So it’s a different kind of alchemy- one that involves seeing life as golden. By practising the art of mindful alchemy everyday we become an artist;  we practice ‘artfulness’  or if you prefer we practice art in everyday living.

Art in my life involves the practice of daily activities in a way that uplifts my consciousness and reveals the spiritual and aesthetic harmony in my world.  Indeed, the late Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa said:

meditative experience might be called genuine art. Such art is not designed for exhibition or broadcast. Instead, it is a perpetually growing process in which we begin to appreciate our surroundings in life, whatever they may be-it doesn’t necessarily have to be good, beautiful, and pleasurable at all. The definition of art, from this point of view, is to be able to see the uniqueness of everyday experience. Every moment we might be doing the same things-brushing our teeth every day, combing out hair every day, cooking our dinner every day. But that seeming repetitiveness be-come unique every day. A kind of intimacy takes place with the daily habits that you go though and the art involved in it. That’s why is called art in everyday life.

Chogyam Trungpa

This concept always leaves me with a sense of involvement in my own life. It gives me a confident resolve and fearlessness to put attention and love into my world. This blog started in part as an inspiration from his writing. The idea of writing was difficult for me, partly due to some shyness and partly to avoid conceit.  Chogyam cautioned:

When we talk about art, we could be referring to somebody deliberately expressing the beauty and frightfulness or the mockery and crudeness of the world that we live in, in the form of poetry, pictures or music. That kind of art could be said to be somewhat deliberate art. It is not so much for yourself, but it is more an exhibition, however honest and genuine the artist may be. Such an artist may say he simply composed his poem because he felt that way. But if that’s the case, why should he write it down on a piece of paper and date it? If its just purely for himself, it does not need to be recorded. Whenever a need for recording you work of art is involved, then there is a tendency toward awareness of oneself: “If I record that brilliant idea I’ve developed, in turn, quite possible accidentally, somebody might happen to see it and think we of it.” There’s that little touch involved, however honest and genuine it may be.

Chogyam Trungpa

So I am left with this dichotomy, I started this blog just for me but there is this little touch of exhibition, subscribers, viewers, etc. Trungpa went on to say, never sell your art, doing so destroys the art of it.

Getting back to topic, the notion of living art really uplifts my daily world, specifically 1) fearlessness of expression and 2) that it’s okay not to have a purpose other than just the appreciative awareness and love for what is taking place.

Not meaning to state the obvious – perhaps I have been a slow learner – but for me this needs constant learning and reminding. I suspect this is cultural. We are conditioned beings and in the West we have been conditioned to obsess about efficiency in our lives – contemporary western culture demands the efficient. It demands time savings, cost savings, faster, bigger, stronger. However this attitude really is an alienation of life.

Erich Fromm, another favourite author of mine, talks a lot about people living alienated lives. Essentially that people see the results of their actions as more important than the process of the activity.  In doing so people have become alienated from the main bulk of their lives, the part which involves the actual activities. Modern efficiency really does seem to be the death of life and also the death of much aesthetic in life. Consider this common scenario; if I am travelling somewhere and have a Sat Nav, I can find the fastest route – efficient, best then? But best for who? There is a slower, more costly but more scenic route. Since my care is not just to arrive at the destination, I’ll choose to take the less efficient route. I can enjoy the travelling, focus on it, care for it, love it rather than just try to be done with it as quickly as possible. To care only about arriving would relegate the whole journey to a chore, I would become alienated from the journey itself. So screw efficiency. I’ll drive slower and enjoy the journey.

The practice of art in everyday life involves making choices and taking actions that give care to the experience, taking the scenic route, feeling things, smelling the roses, essentially  being alive. The daily mundane present an opportunity of working with the material of life as an artist rather than as a chore. Cleaning the kitchen, folding clothes and interacting with people can all be undertaken in an artist manner.  I give care and full attention to what I am doing and put effort into producing some experience that is 1) conscious and 2) hopefully pleasant.  Rather than deriving satisfaction just from the result, which is but a tiny fleeting part of life, I can focus on the beauty and pleasure in the tasks themselves. This is the alchemy – ordinary life becomes gold.

Alchemy then and the ‘Art in everyday Life’ is about having the courage and fearlessness to do what I feel is right, just because it is pleasing, without a clear goal or need for a result, but just for the experience it brings. So now, I fold my clothes with care and attention, I sit upright, I smell the flowers, I look at the landscape and I do all manner of ‘inefficient’ things and doing so makes me happier and it makes me more alive.

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.

Short: ‘Do something today to challenge your ego’

How about a gentle exercise of conscious awareness? Rather than strengthening the ego, why not try to knock it down a little.  How? Just consider this for a moment:

Expose something you find awkward,
Discard something clung to,
Admit something you fear to admit,
Throw a caution to the wind,
Jump without looking,
Trust the ground of your being,
Be free.

If you find this notion scary, then hold that feeling because that’s your ego.  The something that you hold dear, the part of you that you could not bear to expose – even to yourself – that tiny piece of the intolerable.

Can you imagine what would happen if you let it go?  Just one small thing, perhaps just admitting something to yourself.  Try, everything will be okay.  In fact, you might find you feel a lot lighter without the burden.


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

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!