I find mysticism at the heart of most faiths – although often practiced in a way by only a small proportion of adherents and believers. I perceive mysticism to be the direct and personal inward experience of a transcendent, numinous God [- or Cosmos, Universe, Creator, Mystery]. This is in contrast to the rote-adherence and ritual practice of most faith traditions where adherence to the familiar creed or ritual has become more important than the direct personal and unmediated experience and connection with the Divine.

Most of the mystics that I have read about tend to describe this encounter as a single or rare experience that transforms the whole of the rest of their lives. This moment of ‘inner knowing’ of God gives them a certainty of faith that sustains them even though it may never be repeated. This seems to be the experience described by Paul, Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, Thomas Merton and many others. Many – like the Sufi dancers or the Yoga masters– seek to repeat patterns of behaviour which may create the conditions for re-experiencing this mystic moment of connection. I believe we also see these moments of mystic connection leading to ‘inner knowing’ in the Buddha’s enlightenment beneath the bodhi tree or Jesus’ solitary moments in the wilderness or on the hillside or garden. In the Christian tradition, we sometimes refer to this as the ‘indwelling spirit’ within each of us. Certainly all such mystic moments seem to be characterised by solitude, revelation, and an altered consciousness.

When I feel that I have come close to such a moment, it is always an experience that embodies presence, wholeness, communion, stillness, unqualified acceptance, and peace. In some writings, this seems to be called ‘Now/Here’. It is certainly associated with the ‘biggest picture’ view of everything. Rohr calls this a state where “everything belongs” – a certain knowing that everything that is happening in and around us in this world is right and perfect and intended, no matter what the consequences, nor the judgement or dislike or discomfort that we may experience towards it in that moment.

I wonder whether all other living creatures exist in a natural state of connection with such unitive consciousness; whilst humans (seemingly alone of all life forms) have a disconnect from such awareness because of our thinking consciousness that leads us to differentiate and separate all things from each other.

In my own practice, I have found contemplative mysticism to be the most helpful path, often found in the three-fold approach of silence, stillness and solitude. This of course is not that far removed from contemporary Quaker practice. It does though tend to reinforce the notion that mystics are men and women who have set themselves apart from others – as hermits, or the desert abbas and ammas, or monastics. Mysticism is thus perceived as an individual searching for inner knowing, rather than a collective or communal approach to living. In this respect, I’m struck by Rohr’s notion that Contemplation and Action are the two necessary opposites of the same coin: the true response to any action is a time of contemplation (and not an intemperate reaction); and right action can only arise from inner contemplation. Again, I feel this is close to our sense of discernment as a way of seeking right action and response.

We all need a source of power - to stay warm, to cool things down, for moving around, to cook, to make things. The question is, with a global human population of 7.6 billion people, just where do we get this energy from in a way which sustains our planet? Until just 100 years ago, the answer was always simple and local: wood for burning (regenerates in 100 years); animal power with horses, oxen and buffalo; and, harnessing the wind and water power of windmills and water-races.

Then we started to be exploitative in a hunt for 'quicker' energy that could be scaled-up and low cost. We started to dig and drill for carbon fuels. These have taken millions of years to form and are therefore scarce and non-renewable in any meaningful sense of the human timescale. They also produce carbon as a bi-product which we are beginning to realise has many adverse consequences. Carbon fuels have become a 'currency' - a valuable commodity that is traded, fought over, accumulated, guarded, and stolen (by the wealthy for their own use at the expense of the poor).

Why on Earth (literally) do we need to do this? We are surrounded by limitless sources of natural energy that we can adapt and transform into usable energy at almost any time.

Our planet receives solar energy constantly. It's so strong that it burns human skin, shrivels crops, evaporates water, and creates deserts. It's limitless!

Our spinning planet generates variable atmospheric pressure which in turn generates massive air movements that move across continents and oceans. We know how to harness this naturally recurring power!

The core of our planet is an enormous heat source - calculated to be around 6,000 degrees centigrade at the boundary between in the outer and inner cores. We gain some idea of this heat reservoir from volcanic eruptions and hot springs. Even at a depth of just one metre there is sufficient heat to be harnessed every day for most human needs. Why don't we do this?

The gravitational effect of the moon creates tidal movements twice each day in the oceans that make up 71% of the surface area of the planet. Simple ebb-and-flow sluices are capable of capturing this enormous energy.

And the natural water cycle of evaporation - cloud - rain - streams and rivers produces a continuously recurring pattern for utilising water as an energy source. As a rule-of-thumb, the areas of the planet most suited to water energy are conveniently those least endowed with solar energy!

There is no need to exploit and burn fossil fuels. Nature produces limitless energy all-day every-day. It requires a change in our attitude to energy harnessing and power consumption. We could make this transition in less than one generation. And in the process, we'd make our planet so much 'greener'.

And that's before we even begin to consider the potential of "human energies" - the energy of our physical bodies and our spiritual prayers.

One month ago, my brother-in-law killed himself.

This single, tragic event has generated great disturbance - both inwards within me, out externally amongst his family. In this posting, I reflect on some of my own thoughts, feelings and processes.

I was in Thailand for the month, visiting my partner's family in their home village. My partner had remained working in the UK. One evening, around 8.00pm I received a call: "Something terrible has happened. I mean, really terrible. El has just killed himself at mum's house." I drove round there straight away, wondering what I would find and how I might help in a country where my language skills were limited and I would be the only farang present.

The house and garden were strangely desolate and confused in the presence of death. Friends and neighbours stood around, some taking pictures of the scene. A uniformed policeman and medical assistant were making notes. The family stood on the front terrace of the house. El had a simple room in an out-building where he'd been sleeping for a year since his girlfriend was killed in a traffic accident. He'd returned to the house an hour or two earlier, shouted something to his mother as he walked past her house, and disappeared into his room. He'd had a troubled life - little education, random casual jobs, no money, frequent drinking, some crime; his behaviour and outbursts were familiar to friends and family. Once inside his room, behind the closed door, he'd fixed a rope to a beam, knelt down on the mattress on the floor, put a noose around his neck, and strangled himself. His half-sister found him dead half-an-hour later; his mother cut down the rope. He lay on the mattress in a pair of old jeans. In that moment, in his presence, nothing came to me. Only in retrospect did I even remember the notion of blessing and prayer.

The impact of such sudden and unexpected death is shocking and brutal. Alone. No goodbyes. No explanation. Deliberate. Final.

It prompted so many unanswerable questions. Why now? Why this day and evening? Did he consider anyone else? What prompted this method of dying? What did he think would happen? What were his final thoughts? Is he at rest now?

In a Buddhist culture, suicide raises many anxieties and fears. The local understanding of Buddhist teaching is that death comes when the time is ready and should not be foreshortened. This self-inflicted death is a life cut short. The life cycle is incomplete. When the spirit returns in the next life, there is 'unfinished business' from this one. The restless spirit will 'haunt' the place and the family and neighbours as a ghost, roaming at will and disturbing the waking and dreaming states of those left behind. Fear and superstition will follow people for months.

I wasn't aware that El had a daughter, and a young grand-daughter. Now both the daughter's parents had left her suddenly and without any farewell. El left his sole possession, a beaten-up motorbike, to his daughter. Everything else was worthless and burned.

How does a mother cope with the sudden suicide of her son, on her own land? Although the son was feckless, sometimes out-of-control, and frequently demanding of money, he was still her firstborn. What mix of sorrow, grief, blame and relief lies there?

And yet .....

The three days of funeral rites that followed showed something of the dignity and value of all human souls. We are all equal in death, no matter what judgement is placed on our life. El's physical body is respected and even revered. It is placed in a simple coffin and taken from the mortuary to the temple. There it has a place of prominence. It is decorated and honoured. Villagers gather every evening for an hour of chanting. Neighbours make garlands and offerings. Food and drink is prepared for over 200-300 people every day. His photograph is decorated with flowers. People come from workplaces and villages to pay their respects. Incense is constantly being lit to ward away any evil spirits. Gifts are made and given. An elaborate wooden shrine is erected over the coffin for the funeral on the third day. A final feast meal is shared together in the open air of the temple compound, in the presence of the coffin. Finally, the coffin and shrine are loaded onto a cart that is hand-pulled by monks and villagers to the outdoor cremation site a kilometre away. There everyone gathers for the final rituals. All the temple monks are present. Everyone receives a gift. Everything is loaded onto the funeral pyre of logs, the shrine reaching high into the sky. Finally, an elaborate arrangement of acoustic fireworks and zipwire bangers around the cremation site is used to ignite the pyre in a spectacular display of light and fire. We all depart - without looking back.

What feelings and thoughts am I left with?  Shock ... disturbance ... waste ... helplessness ... witness ... grief ... dignity ... equality ... worthiness ... unknown mystery ...

Long before religious and sacred texts were written, our ancestors around the world referred to Natural World for guidance and teaching. They studied the patterns of the daily, seasonal and annual cycles, as well as the movements of the planetary constellations and the natural phenomena all around them. Nature - Creation - can be referred to as the 'First Bible'. To this day, we appreciate the soothing, reflective and inspirational benefits of being out in Nature, whether that be by water, amongst mountains, or in the woods. When we take time to observe and listen, Nature speaks to a deeper, interior self within each of us.

What we observe today is a natural world that is increasingly disturbed: more storms, greater flooding, rising air and sea temperatures, spreading deserts, melting polar icecaps and glaciers.

And, at the same time, we are experiencing greater social, political and economic disruption than we have known for several generations: increasing wealth inequality, intolerance of diversity, rising nationalism, populist votes, protectionism, unaccountable globalisation, fragmentation of states, more extremist political movements.

No matter which is the chicken or the egg, it is clear that the one is mirroring the other.

There are powerful pan-continental processes at work that are driving these disruptions:

  • A near-exponential growth in the global human population to 7.6 billion people today. That's more than 4 times greater than just 100 years ago.
  • A continuing loss of other plant and animal species around the world.
  • A headlong rush for the perceived benefits of materialism, consumerism, capitalism and communism
  • Continuing expansion in the rate of extraction and exploitation of the planet's finite resources (minerals, rocks, oils, gases), and including the rapid burning of all forms of fossil fuels.
  • The continuing deforestation of indigenous forests and jungles for both mineral extraction and farming.
  • The over-production of large area of commercial land leading to land degradation and desertification.
  • The rapid growth in pollution and despoilation - of the land, the seas and the atmosphere - with slow-degrading, toxic or irradiated materials
  • The attempts by some research bodies to 'engineer out' those aspects of natural diversity that are perceived to be 'unwanted'.

These and other factors result in the social, political and natural worlds that we witness around us every day - a planet showing clear evidence of disturbance on many levels.

As the dominant species on Planet Earth, it is not hard to see the consequences. We can see them on our TV screens each night. The mass migration of peoples moving away from war, violence, hunger, ethnic cleansing, poverty, persecution, and disease - in search of a 'better life'. The fight for land between those who control land and resources, and those who want at least some for themselves. Outbreaks of war and violence, not just between countries, but between tribes, ideologies, ethnic groups, and those of different wealth. The building of physical and legal barriers in the name of 'defending' states but which actually seek to 'protect' and enshrine the advantages of those who are creating them.

The disturbances of Nature occur on a macro scale. They are already in train. There is almost nothing that we can do - as individuals, groups or states - to exert any control over them. Nature - Creation - is, as all faith doctrines have argued, something great and mysterious that is beyond our comprehension.

The disturbances of our social, political and economic realms begin on a micro scale. They arise in very understandable human responses - fear, greed, self-preservation, competition, survival, hoarding - until they aggregate into the mass movements outlined already.

Across both these mirrored contexts, there is a consistent pattern of change:

ORDER   >>>   DISORDER   >>>   RE-ORDER

All Ordered system break down. We know this as entropy. A phase of Disorder begins, often experience as great uncertainty or chaos. And eventually, some new structures emerge as a Re-Order of the world.

In Nature, we witness this every time a forest burns, a volcano erupts, a hurricane or tsunami hits, or a star burns up.

In our social and political history, we have witnessed this in periodic revolutions, uprisings, and economic/industrial advances.

In reflecting on these recurring patterns of disorder, disturbance and disruption, I have been repeatedly reminded of the classic archetype for all such waves - Noah's Flood, or the Great Flood. Whether this event is historical or mythological doesn't matter: it occurs in the sacred writings of all three Abrahamic Traditions, and similar stories can be found in other faith texts. The teaching is consistent: there comes a time when the existing order of things becomes so dysfunctional that nothing short of wholesale change will suffice to reset the underlying systems. Noah's Flood is based on a Nature example. In our own human history, we have recorded momentous disturbances and disruption in events that we have labelled as the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Cultural Revolution, and many others.

Whilst we all tend to experience our individual fear in this present time of great uncertainty and disturbance, and seek our own survival strategies, we can also gain strength and learn from the mirroring processes of Nature and Creation. Disorder tends to feed upon itself until a re-ordered path emerges.

Taking a lead from Nature, I find myself wondering whether the epoch we're moving into might come to be called the Environmental Revolution.

 

Dear Prime Minister,

I invite you to reflect on just what it is that is driving and motivation you this year? Can you step aside from the ever-present chattering of you mind to listen to the 'still small voice' of your heart or your soul. The achievement - and retention - of power is a heady process that often succeeds in fulfilling the needs and desires of the ego-mind. It's possible to rationalise this as some kind of self-less service-to-others ... yet is this really true when you take time to listen more deeply and reflectively to that small insistent voice within? What truly motivates you in this role?

I look at your actions and find paradoxes.

You vote for the UK to remain a member of the EU ... yet you are intend on leading a path that takes this country out of the EU. Do you experience integrity with your true self? Although you talk of 'people coming together', what I notice are deep and clear divisions: the referendum result was finely balanced; the leave/remain divisions continue to be deeply felt; the cabinet appears to be divided on what it wants; the two largest political parties are divided; the country itself feels divided on what should happen. In such a situation, it is incumbent on leaders to search for what will bring people back together. Favouring one side or the other is a head exercise. The deeper search must be for a 'third way' - a holistic Tao than encompasses and transcends both sides of the argument. Do you have some awareness of where such insight may lie and how to bring it into being?

You speak about improving the lives of the just-about-managing ... yet years of austerity, wage control, rising indirect taxes, rising national insurance, and inflation have ensured that the least wealthy half of the population of this country is now living on a lower relative income than ten years ago. How do you reconcile this apparent contradiction?

You talk of compassion for others ... and yet unaccompanied children are left languishing on their own, scattered throughout Europe, when there are families that are willing to accommodate them here; and a harsh 'hostile environment' seeks to deport people before the proper investigation and judicial process is complete. How does this square with the moral invitation to 'Love your neighbour as yourself'?

You offer yourself to the public to endorse your mandate and give you a stronger negotiating hand ... and when the public weakens your position, you continue anyway. At a personal level, that must have felt a humbling and humiliating outcome ... and yet you decide to continue, almost as if nothing has changed.

I empathise with the dilemmas and pressures that you must be facing ... and yet I wonder what that inner voice of your heart or soul is calling out, and whether you can hear it and act upon it, should the direction it urges be any different to the one you are pursuing publicly.

Pace e Bene,