We have become very familiar in the modern world with the language of rights and responsibilities, but I want to explore a very different way of perceiving the human condition that we call ‘life’.

The soul – like all the energies of this cosmos – is eternal. Unlike human life, it has no beginning and no ending. A yet for a period of a few years or a few decades the soul becomes incarnate (- born) in human form; the soul appears in human form as a human being. And this human being is subject to the natural laws of birth, growth, death and transformation.

There are some interesting questions to ponder here. What triggers the eternal soul to appear in human form? Why does that transformation happen at the specific moment in history that we call the birth-day?  And perhaps most intriguing of all, what purpose is served by the incarnation of the soul in a temporary human form?

We have no awareness of any control or choice over when, where or how the soul is made incarnate. So life is simply a gift. Life is given to the soul by or through the Creator. Stop for one moment and stand in the enormity of this statement: as a human being today, my soul has been given this gift of life. I don’t know how long this gift will last. I don’t know why it was given. I don’t really know what I’m supposed to do with this gift.  It’s a gift unlike any other gift we receive. The gift grows with us throughout life: it keeps changing and transforming. We have some control over what we do with the gift and how we use it, even though we have no idea when the batteries are going to run out. It’s a most fantastic gift that we can use for all sorts of purposes, selfishly or generously, good or bad, constructively or destructively. When we talk in everyday conversation about human rights and human responsibilities, we are usually only scratching at the surface of the magnanimity of this gift whose origins and purposes we cannot know.

the road of human lifeThe only choice that we have is what use to make of this gift in each moment and each day that is given to us to live.

Does the Creator have a purpose for incarnating my soul here, today, in this place. Is my soul walking on this planet in human form at this specific time, for a purpose?  Given that I am surrounded by other incarnate souls during my time on Earth, then I can view the question of purpose in one of two ways. Either, this gift is given me for my benefit, to use for my own pleasure or selfish gain – whilst realising that any pleasure or gain is purely temporary and transient. Or, this gift of life is given me in order that I might bring benefit to other beings – perhaps through peace, wholeness, love, compassion and healing, and thereby leave a legacy beyond my life that has an impact on others.

This is a fundamental choice that each of us makes, consciously or unconsciously in the way we live this gift of life.

And if I am to live this gift in a manner that leaves a benefit or a legacy to others, it requires my incarnate soul to manifest physically and exist temporally with as much authenticity, truth, integrity and sincerity as I can muster. Uncovering this truth within us, finding this authenticity, appears to be a lifetime’s work for most human beings. Whilst the incarnate soul is born simple, pure and whole, it quickly become corrupted. Getting past our emerging self-deceptions, ego-ambitions, and judgements is the task of awakening into consciousness and the awareness of our own true soul nature.

This perhaps takes us full-circle. The purpose of the gift of life is to continually present us as human beings with opportunities to realise the nature of our eternal soul. And when we have re-membered that soul, we can lay down the human gift and resume the soul path.

Dear friend,

As the time of darkness grows deeper, and we are drawn more into ourselves, I write to wish you well for the approaching time of re-birth, renewal and new growth.  This update offers you a selection of news, recent writings and forthcoming events.  As always, if you have any queries, you are very welcome to email or call (01768 775708) me.

Listening and supervision

The range of counselling, coaching, mentoring and listening services continues to deepen and I am grateful to all those who entrust themselves into this process of healing and growth with me. In this time of uncertainty and challenge for many, clients are looking to explore such issues as stuckness, illness and mortality, unexpressed feelings, loss of direction and life changes. I am now offering professional supervision to other counsellors and therapists working in a range of settings such as social care, health care, personal growth and ministry.

Time for massage?

There's nothing more nourishing at this time of year than to place yourself on the couch and allow your physical body to be deeply relaxed and re-energised though massage. Whether your preference is for a traditional oil massage (with hot stones?), a therapeutic Thai massage, or an invigorating Taoist massage, you are welcome to arrange a session.

sinai desertRecent Articles

The sound of desert silence
I recently spend time in the Sinai Desert engaged in deep contemplation. Having been influenced by Sara Maitland's The Book of Silence, I wanted to experience for myself the draw of the desert for so many spiritual seekers, and to deepen my own experience of silence. Amongst the highlights were night-time observations of the heavenly stars, the 'sound' of silence, and the wisdom of the desert. The whole experience added a whole new dimension to my appreciation of silence and stillness

Experiencing the world from Alpha to Omega
This articles explores the three different ‘lenses’ through which we perceive this world. The ordinary lens is one of 'story' in which the mind presents us with a non-stop series of sensations and emotions, fears and desires. The other lenses - the alpha (the beginning) and the omega (the end) give very different perceptions of both the cosmic and the quantum experience of what it is to be human.

Men's Rites of Passage 2012

I shall be part of the holding team for the 2012 Rites being held near Perth on 13-17 May. This is an amazingly powerful experience of initiation for men, that has the potential to take you from lifelong patterns of boyhood thinking into the full embodiment of a wise and assured man. It's suitable for any man aged from 18 to 80+. It's certainly been one of the most significant developmental processes of my life and I would recommend it to other men.  Early-bird discounts on the booking fee are available until early January.

inSOUL - one year on

It's now just over a year since I launched this weekly reflective meditation and subscriber numbers have climbed very steadily. Thank you for all the feedback and support. The aim is to keep this reflection short, pithy and relevant - and to distribute it no more than once each week. You can view recent issues and subscribe for free.

desert rocksGay Spirit 2012

Andrew Woodgate and I have plans for a full programme of Gay Spirit workshops and short retreats next year and we will be announcing details shortly. We are also working with other ECC members to facilitate a week-long event at Laurieston Hall in September on Natural Bodies, Natural Beings.  Also in the autumn we plan to again contribute to the second LoveSpirit Gathering

Retreats, workshops and courses

In addition to the various events and retreats mentioned above, I am available to facilitate retreats and workshops for groups on the following themes:

  • Death and dying
  • Contemplative mysticism
  • Deepening into silence and stillness
  • Finding 'my' spirituality
  • Approaches to meditation
  • Rites of Passage
  • Spirituality, sexuality and identity
  • Wilderness retreats and vision quests

If you are part of a group that would welcome the opportunity to spend time exploring one of these themes, please do get in touch.

Peace and blessings to you this Christmas, Tim

gay spirit

Welcome to this latest edition of our newsletter, which is sent to over 250 men interested in gay spirituality. In this edition, we bring you information about recent events, some new directions, and a foretaste of our events for 2012.

New callings
As we go along, our vision for Gay Spirit unfolds and deepens. In response to what we have learnt over recent years, Tim and Andrew feel called to work more deeply with the energy of the Heart. In so many of our workshops, we have been privileged to witness participants opening themselves to love and acceptance through the gentle warmth of other gay / bi men. As members of a minority, we know well the wounds we suffer through our difference. Yet so often, Tim and Andrew have been party to men overcoming these hurts on the path to personal and spiritual growth – to wholeness – through this experience of Heart-opening. Our intention now is to bring this aspect of gay community more into the centre of what we do at Gay Spirit. Reflecting this, we’ve updated what we say about ourselves on our website. Come and join us on this journey to the Heart!

LoveSpirit Gathering, 24 September 2011
Tim and Andrew both had a great time at the LoveSpirit Gathering in London in September. LoveSpirit aimed to draw together a range of men and women to celebrate diverse sexuality and spirituality. The Gathering attracted nearly 200 people to a buzzing, vibrant and stimulating day of 25 different workshops. From thought-provoking discussions on gay men's spiritual role to workshops on bodywork, and from drumming to meditation, this was an amazing day. Andrew was on the organising group and co-led the opening and closing ceremonies. Tim facilitated a workshop on how we experience the Divine. Plans are already in hand to repeat LoveSpirit in 2012, and we heartily recommend this unique experiment.

New leadings
We have both been deepening our own interests this year. Tim has recently returned from a week exploring silence in the Sinai desert, a place of great mystical significance for early prophets and hermits including the fourth-century desert fathers and mothers. Tim has written about his experience.

Meanwhile, wearing his psychotherapy hat, Andrew has been exploring the deep wisdom and humanity of Compassion-Focussed Therapy. This emerging strand of therapy is harnessing recent discoveries about neurophysiological arousal systems to understand how responses such as anger, anxiety, panic or desire can lead us away from feeling calm, loving or at peace. The value of this aware, compassionate approach has long been upheld by Buddhists. A flavour of it can also be found in Christ’s ‘new commandment’: ‘love one another’ (John 13:34-35).

Events in 2012
Looking forward, we are finalising our plans for 2012. We will be publishing details in the new year of what we will be offering. Our events will reflect our growing emphasis on the Heart and will include a Retreat weekend, as well as a more challenging weekend of personal and spiritual growth.

Tim and Andrew will also be working with three others to facilitate a week on Natural Body, Natural Being - Opening Body, Mind and Spirit to Transformation and Emergence as part of the Edward Carpenter Community at Laurieston Hall in September 2012.

Full details of all these events will be in our next newsletter, together with early-bird booking information.

This articles explores the three different ‘lenses’ through which we perceive this world.

The lens we are most familiar with is the everyday one employed by the mind: it shows us a world full of threat, fear, competition, struggle, sadness, loss, death – interspersed with moments of love and joy. This is the transient world where everything comes and goes but nothing is permanent. It is the world we all know. We may experience a connection with the Divine in this world – through nature, love, or inspirational beauty – yet this too is transient. For me, this is the ‘story world’ because we are always telling stories about our experiences in this everyday world. In time, these stories of past experiences are captured and interpreted as ‘his-story’. When we are not recounting our past, we are anticipating our future, usually with a mixture of excitement and fear. We do anything except experience and live in the present. The story is either a chronicle of the past or a fantasy of the future. It speaks neither to our soul nor to our spirit. Whilst this everyday world occupies nearly all the attention of almost the entire population, it is singularly lacking in any spiritual consciousness of the Divine Mystery.

Spiritual consciousness is evoked through the other two lenses, at opposite ends of the continuum of perception – the alpha and the omega of our awareness.

starsThe alpha is the cosmic view. The mystic traditions have so many ways of saying this: the Word – “in the beginning was the Word”; the big picture; the Kingdom of Heaven; the Universe; the Tao; the Source; the macro lens; the formless; the void. The alpha view is to experience something in its complete context and from every point of view. During my recent sojourn in the Sinai, I came to experience this directly. Lying on the desert floor at night, you can look up and see the heavenly panoply above – more stars and galaxies than it is possible to count, distances of light years beyond comprehension, and a process of creation that is continuing to expand exponentially. The cosmic view puts the human perspective into context. This is the Mystery. It is way beyond the comprehension of our mind. It is completely full of ‘stories’ whose sum total counts for nothing.

And at the other end of the spectrum of human awareness is the micro lens – the omega. This too has referred to in different teachings: the Presence; the ‘still small voice’; the flame; the mustard seed; the grain of salt or sand; the quantum. Referring again to my experience in Sinai, this lens is employed in the awareness of the uniqueness of each individual grain of sand on the desert floor. Physics now demonstrates that when you investigate any object at the sub-atomic level, you discover only electrical charges. Our world – and this universe – is comprised of no more than energy. Yet each tiny charge is capable of combining into the infinite variety and extent of the physical universe we see.

To experience our experiences through the alpha and omega lenses is to live in the here-now of the present. This is its beauty. The emergent thinking of quantum physics is beginning to reveal a wonderful symmetry and circularity in the energy patterns of these micro- and macro-universes.

We come closer to the experience of the Divine Mystery in the cosmic and the quantum, the two extremes of our spectrum of awareness. These are also the two spaces of transformation, the centre and the periphery, the spaces of liminality. To live life anywhere between is to live as story, subject to the whims and fancies of the errant human mind. The spiritual invitation is to experience our-Self beyond any notion of story, in the eternal Mystery of the Divine “I am” (Exodus 3:14).

“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (Revelation 22:13)

For years, I have been fascinated by, and drawn to, what I call the S's - stillness, silence, solitude, simplicity, sacredness and soul. Whilst reading Sara Maitland's excellent The Book of Silence, I learned of her exploration and experience of desert silence; this was something I knew I wanted to experience for myself. So earlier this month I travelled to the eastern Sinai Desert with specialist tour company Wind, Sand and Stars to spend a week in (near-) silence in this vast desert.

The desert has consistently figured in all the Abrahamic traditions as a place of retreat, of contemplation, and of transformation. Whether you read the biblical stories as myth, metaphor or history, people were 'lost' in the desert and emerged with new spiritual insights. Moses led the Israelites through the desert for 40 years in a circuitous search for their promised land. Prophets went out to live in the desert. And the transformational beginning of Jesus's ministry began with his period of temptation in the wilderness. The Egyptian deserts became a home for the reclusive and ascetic fourth-century Christian abbas and ammas (the Desert Fathers) who lived in solitary caves or small communities, away from civilisation, in order to practice their faith without distraction; these early monastics experienced a life of hardship and relative solitude that gave them deep insights into human spiritual nature that have been passed down through the oral tradition as great teachings. Several of these communities survive today as great desert monasteries such as St Anthony's and St Catherine's, with an unbroken history of continuous Christian worship stretching back seventeen-hundred years.

Our more limited desert experience took us deep into the Sinai. This sandstone plateau is carved into the most fantastic landscape of towering vertical cliffs, like iceberg islands, set amongst an almost flat network of wide connecting wadis. The cliffs are bedded and shattered; the wind has carved fissures, cracks, gullies, caves, stalactites, pillars and other amazing shapes. There are large areas of broken stone littering the cliff-foot. The day-time temperature is over 40 degrees. And there is sand. Not the familiar sand of the British seaside dunes, but a granular sand that is sometimes compacted into a hard surface, sometimes loose for a few inches, and sometimes piled in massive slopes hundreds of feet high against the vertical cliffs. It is bright. It is harsh. The sun is unrelenting. The overwhelming colour is of sandy-beige - and yet within this there are yellows, ochres, purples and black. It is incredibly clean: nothing decays, except in geological time. There is no evidence of water, other than early morning dew. Animal life is limited to some ravens, scorpions, a desert fox or two, and the mouse that made a daily appearance around my place of solitude.

Sinai desert landscape 1Sinai desert landscape 2

The desert is stark. It strips you back. I came to experience the desert as 'emptying'. It empties you out. It voids the body and the mind. Life returns to great simplicity - finding shade, minimising movement, and drinking water. There is time to observe the landscape, from the minute details of individual stones and sand-hills, to the vastness of the horizons. It is the nights that are perhaps the most extraordinary of all. Dusk falls around 6.30 as the sun's shadow runs across the desert floor and up the cliff walls. Then the deepness of the skies becomes more evident. Without cloud cover, without atmospheric rubbish, without light pollution, the sky becomes a magnificent panoply of stars and planets and space. It is said there are as many stars in the sky as there are grains of sand on earth. This heavenly panorama is magnificent. It is endlessly observable. As you lie in a sleeping bag on the desert floor, waking up at intervals, you look up and see this slowly moving (although actually it is moving at thousands of miles per hour!) kaleidoscope of constellations and galaxies. Moon-rise follows sun-set, with another shadow crossing the floor and climbing the walls. A full moon that enables you to see clearly to the far horizon, and to read your book by moonlight in the middle of the night.

This is the desert experience - huge, grandiose, infinite, humbling. We humans are totally insignificant in the presence of such awesomeness. We are no more than a single grain of sand - or a far distant twinkling star. And yet we are also the magnificent perceiver and witness of all this creation. We are a part of the amazing web that connects the microscopic particle with the quantum whole. "I am a part of that of which I am the whole." I am ... empty yet whole, body yet spirit, tiny yet complete, alone yet connected, human yet divine, myself and not myself.

desert rockmy hermitage

In this emptiness, we imagine the desert to be silent. The relative absence of humans and animals (the largest creators of noise on our planet), the heat and dryness, are all reasons for noise to be diminished, but - frustratingly! - it is not silent. You hear the noise of a camel caravan crossing the sand, of a fellow-camper turning over in her sleeping bag, of the Bedu family making bread, of the ravens wheeling in the sky, of the wind across the desert floor, and (most present for me) of the flies buzzing around your head. You learn to detect individual sounds. And when you can separate these discrete and random sounds, you make the amazing discovery that each sound has a definite beginning and ending. When the sound is ended, you can't be sure it actually happened. You discover the silence between the sounds. Revelling in this experience, I started to become aware of the silence beneath the sounds. These silences are completely new to me, and they are profound. Now that I am home again, and surrounded by the continuous noises of everyday living, I can listen and find this same silence between and beneath the noise.

The night-time silence is the deepest of all. To wander out into the desert, away from the murmurs around the camp fire, to lie on your back on the ground as it leaks the day's heat back into the air, and to gaze at the soundless universe, is truly humbling. The body is upheld by the ground whilst the soul wanders through these infinite expanses; the mind cannot cope with such voids and - for once - gives up the struggle for control. Here is the connection with all that is ... and it's a boundlessly full void.

This silence is not devoid of content. Many of those who have explored silence have tried to describe or explain the 'sound of silence'. Even in this total absence of noise, there is something present. I could hear my own blood rhythmically pumping around my body. And beneath that, there is another gentle rhythmic "hum" as of electrical energy; the nearest description I can offer from my own experience is of the imagined sound of a distant electricity sub-station heard on a quiet day from a mile away. Yet there are no electricity sub-stations or generators in the middle of the Sinai. This elusive and magical 'sound of silence' has been ascribed to many different sources: to the chemistry within our planetary atmosphere; to the constant creation occurring around us; to the solar and stellar energies bombarding our earth; to radio and light waves. That this 'sound of silence' exists constantly between and beneath all other sound - even in total silence - is surely a cause for wonder.  What resonates (!) for me in this discovery, is a sound of silence that is our cosmos at work - creating, transforming and destroying, with energies that we can neither understand nor rationalise, that gives rise to both life and death. The Buddhist tradition asserts that 'Om' is the sound of the universe being created - the big and silent bang. This present sound of silence heard in the desert is a window into that infinite Mystery that creates us and enfolds us, always.