The spiritual path can be a lonely one. At times it will lead you away from old friends and make you question long-term relationships.
It was perhaps this realisation of being alone that inspired the idea of the gathering and eventually the church, a place where like-minded souls could meet.
I had two reminders of this in the last few days. The first was with the Brahma Kumaris, an extraordinary group of (mainly) women who, through the discipline of Raja Yoga (the observation of our thoughts), seek to bring peace to the world and end suffering.
We went to their main temple in London, where Lynne McTaggart (my wife) had been invited to speak. After enduring the relentless negativity from trolls on Facebook and Twitter—mainly for our work on our alternative health magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You—it was refreshing to be among people who freely and openly talked about God and the spirit.
I had a similar experience a few days later when I was invited on the Cutting-Edge Consciousness podcast, run by two remarkable men, Barnet Bain and Freeman Michaels. We had a deep and wonderful discussion about the nature of time and the influence the past has on us.
When we meet fellow-spirits, it can be like coming home or drinking fresh, cold water when we are in a desert. It recharges our endeavours to speak our truth in the world.
You can hear the Cutting-Edge Consciousness podcast here
It’s been a week of packing and unpacking as we move offices. Things that I thought were lost—such as part of my driving licence—have been found, and papers that inexplicably I’d saved have been thrown away.
I also uncovered some very early notes and jottings I’d made as I was working though the ideas that would eventually become The Untrue Story of You. The foundation ideas tumbled out one afternoon after the Biblical-like statement suddenly came ready-formed into my head: That to which you do not fully attend shall weigh you down.
But this was followed by years of thinking, researching and working through the details in workshops and talks, including the jottings I made along the way.
The jottings begin with a statement that would have most neuroscientists and psychologists nodding in agreement: ‘Our understanding of ‘reality’ works in sequential logic, which, in turn, is based on the recognition of patterns. ‘Reality’ is therefore a self-contained loop system that is first created by, then interpreted by, the same system!’
The notes continue: ‘The problem with a self-contained system is how it can have thoughts beyond itself’.
And, of course, we do. That suggests only part of us is a self-contained system, and that is in time and space (and I go further and agree with Kant that we participate in the creation of time and space in order to make sense of experience).
From that, we can assume there is an element of us that is outside of time and space, and therefore immortal and infinite. Some call it a soul, or consciousness, the Atman—call it what you will, it’s something to cherish and honour this Christmas time.
So—a merry Christmas to you all, my fellow souls on our remarkable journey of discovery.
Science is one of the great triumphs of modern times. It has given us so many luxuries and benefits—and a few problems, too—but some of its over-zealous advocates go further and argue that science is synonymous with truth, and is its only expression.
This way of thinking—which fails to appreciate the modest ambitions of the truly scientific mind—is known as ‘scientism’, and is more a religious belief that decries any heretical detractors that don’t buy into their entirely materialist view of the world. Those who advocate scientism prefer to call themselves ‘skeptics’, although that’s a hopeless misuse of the term as the true sceptic is also dubious about science. Their patron saints include Richard Dawkins, James Randi, and Christopher Hitchens.
If you are unfortunate enough to be cornered by a ‘skeptic’, help is at hand from the unlikeliest of sources, that of philosopher Immanuel Kant. One of the essential points of his masterpiece, Critique of Pure Reason, is this: the world is not as it is, but how it appears to us.
The remark is obviously true—the world you perceive isn’t the same as that of the bat, for instance—and yet it has profound and remarkable implications.
The first part of the sentence kicks into touch the idea of materialism—that the world is exactly as it appears to be—and the second explains why: we perceive the world through our senses, and our senses are limited to the spectrums of colours, sounds etc that we can detect. Even equations that ‘prove’ black holes or parallel universes are part of the same stuff.
Kant went further, and suggested that even the supposed dimensions of time and space are nothing but grids that our brains impose on experiences in order to understand them.
Ultimately, it states that there is much, much more going than we can even imagine, let alone sense. For Kant, this provided the space for faith; for you…what?
So now you have a ready reply to the skeptic. Thanks, Immy.
Every religion has the concept of karma, or ‘reap as you sow’ as Christianity puts it. The idea suggests that we shape our future by our actions today, but I think it is far more subtle-and interesting-than that.
At its heart, the idea supposes that we are actualised beings who make decisions and take action. In short, we are responsible for what we do.
I think this is rarely the case. If you look carefully at what we do and think, you’ll see that most of this movement comes from the past; as The Untrue Story of You argues, you are increasingly the past as you have experiences that you don’t fully understand.
The past plays out through you—is you—and into the world. This sense of you is the past.
So karma is the past creating more past.
Only the fully conscious person, who is free of the past and can meet the present moment, is conscious to the complexities of the present moment, is free of karma. Only the conscious person leaves no foot-print in time.
We want to be happy, we want to be successful, we want to be fulfilled—perhaps we want to be rich. But while we want all those things, and possibly other things too, few of us stop for a moment to wonder what this entity is that has the desires.
For most of us, it’s self-evident: I want these things. But what is this ‘I’ exactly, and why does it always want more?
The ‘I’ thought arises from the body and the idea that the body is separate from other bodies and, indeed, the world around it. While that premise is, in fact, false, at least it’s understandable, so that statements such as ‘I am hungry’ or ‘I am tired’ have some meaning.
But it gets trickier with statements such as ‘I want to be happy’. Does the body want to be happy? Does it want to be successful? Does it need a lot of money in the bank?
As we start to observe thoughts—which are the building blocks of these desires—we see that they have their own energy, and are based on experience, or the past. So any desire that is not an expression of a simple bodily need is based in psychological time, from the past to a future moment. Saying ‘I want to be happy’ has within it the seed of a supposed future when unhappiness will cease.
It also has within it the idea of lack—that I am not, right now, happy or fulfilled.
As you start observing this process, you will see that the movement of thought through psychological time is itself the problem, and why you don’t feel happy or fulfilled.
The UK’s leading New Age magazine, "Kindred Spirit", features me in the latest issue (November/December). Because of limited space, they weren’t able to include all the questions and answers, so here is the complete interview. If you live in the UK, make sure you pick up the latest issue of "Kindred Spirit" - it’s always a good read.
Q: The central koan of the book is: the thought thinks the thinker. This is quite a tough concept for people to grasp. Could you give us an example of how this can manifest in our lives?
Yes, it is a strange one, and certainly counter-intuitive. But when you look carefully, there is only thinking. Thoughts come into your head. Built into every thought is the idea of a ‘you’, and so ‘you’ are created in the process of thinking. The next question is: so what is a thought if it has the power to create you? Essentially, a thought is the brain’s interpretation of an energetic wave, and that wave comes from past experiences that continue to live on. If you doubt the past is alive in you now, there’s plenty of evidence that demonstrates that children who were abused in any way - even shouted at - don’t live as long and suffer more chronic disease in the meantime. Here’s an example of how the thought thinks the thinker. Let’s say you suddenly get angry. Where did that energy come from? From a past experience that was similar to what’s happening in the present moment, and some recognition occurs. That wave gets translated by the brain as a thought - angry thoughts about a person or situation - and creates you at the same moment. That has to happen in order to sustain the energy of the thought. A thought without a thinker would collapse under its own logical absurdity. So, the thought comes first, then the idea of a thinker. Now, instead of there just being anger, I am angry!
Q: You suffered from chronic depression for more than ten years. If you had not done so, would you have had the insight to be able to uncover the theories outlined in the book?
We can’t take anything away from our lives. It all matters. I suffered from chronic depression, but I’d also suffered an abusive childhood, too. As I say in the book, everything combined to create a perfect storm where this deep understanding became possible. It started with the very strange, and Biblical-sounding, thought that came roaring into my skull: That to which you do not fully attend will weigh you down. It all started pouring out from there.
Q: You talk about the 'Three Selves' - past, present and potential time bodies, as you call them. How much of our present body is spent dealing with the issues/experiences that we never fully understood from our past time body?
It varies all the time, depending on the situation and the person. As a general rule, the more we live and are unconscious of the full significance of experience, we become increasingly ‘time-heavy’, as I call it. We are more past than present. By then, we see little of the wonders in front of us, but are consumed by past hurts, sadnesses, and so on. By comparison, a child in a happy home environment is invariably ‘time-light’ because it doesn’t have the same heavy burden of the past, it hasn’t had the overload of experience it hasn’t understood. If we’re in a field and a raging bull is running towards us, we’re surprisingly present. But, in the main, we keep on reliving past experiences; we can see this from the patterns that keep recurring in our lives. These are all energy waves from a past we never understood in the first place.
Q: Many KS readers are on a path of self-development or spiritual enlightenment. Your book seems to suggest that searching for a more spiritual way of life does not hold the answers. Is that fair to say?
That isn’t quite what it says! We’re all on a spiritual journey, whether we know it or not. One of the central questions of the book is this: our true and natural state is ‘enlightened’, for want of a better term. But if that is so, and it is one of the central tenets of Zen Buddhism, for instance, why doesn’t it feel like that? Why don’t we know we’re enlightened already? When our consciousness becomes body-centred - and this happens usually as a result of pain and discomfort—so we have experiences that are more limited. They are limited, or incomplete, because they are seen from the perspective of our body. This starts to build a substantial body of incomplete experiences, and increasingly the world is interpreted through this, the Past time-body as I call it. It also becomes the driver of many of our desires, ambitions and dreams, because it is a place of dissatisfaction and unhappiness. So, it is this that wants a bigger car, a bigger house, a more beautiful or handsome partner - because this one extra thing may just scratch that metaphysical itch. Seen that way, the drive for a new car or God is the same: it comes from deep dissatisfaction. So, if you are already ‘enlightened’, any drive towards something else - even an imagined enlightened state - must be a move away from the perfect state you already are. It’s all from unhappiness.
Q: By following the 21-day programme outlined in the book, do you believe we can all learn how to heal the negative patterns that we've created, to self- heal, or do some people need help from others?
Again, it depends on the individual. One woman who read an earlier version of the book - I self-published it originally as Time-Light - said she ‘got it’ after reading just a few pages, and started dancing and singing around the house. I guess you could say she was ready! Others have read the book four or five times and ‘got it’. Some may need to see me or hear me talk. It’s different for everyone. But, yes, the 21-day programme will help you wake up, gently and sweetly. It’s all so ridiculously simple: the issue is how difficult have you decided to make it?
Q: What ambition do you have for this book?
That it wakes up the world, that we realize our true nature as extraordinary creators, and that we all grasp this extraordinary thing called life and sing, dance, and laugh our unique message to the world. A life without the past is a life lived without any fear. When there is no fear, there is no separation.
Very few of us get that the past is very much alive and well. It is an energetic pattern that lives on in us and shapes our life and even our health every day. It can be the cause of depression and anxiety, of addiction, of chronic illness—and will even determine how long we will live.
It’s the central message of my new book, The Untrue Story of You, but it’s also the subject of more and more research studies. One, mentioned in the book, discovered that adults who had suffered three or more ‘adverse experiences’ when they were children died prematurely, and certainly before others who suffered one or none of the experiences.
It affects our health too. One study found that sufferers of osteoarthritis were more likely to have been abused as children, while Jews born before the Second World Wear, and were aware of the Holocaust, were more likely to develop cancer than Jewish children born after the war.
It doesn’t end with our own past. It happens through the generations and families, and you may have noticed patterns appearing in your own family grouping.
The past isn’t just something that’s ‘there’. Increasingly, it becomes us, it is our thoughts, the way we behave in the world, and it even shapes the world we live in.
Until you wake up to this process, you will continue to live out the past in your life today. And you can wake up…
As I hope you all know by now, my new book, The Untrue Story of You, has just been published and is available on Amazon (so hurry, my children, hurry)
Which got me thinking about books. I’ve prepared my ‘desert island’ favourite 10 books in the hope that you might tell me yours. I’ve excluded obvious works, such as the Bible and Shakespeare, as well as fiction and philosophy books (but you can include all those in your list, if you like).
See here are my top 10 favourite books (in no particular order):
Teachings of Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi is ‘the man’. He was an Indian sage from the Hindu tradition—and particularly the Advaita school—who died in 1950. He wrote very little himself, other than a few pamphlets and some verses, and The Teachings are transcriptions of conversations he had with visitors to his ashram around 1935. When all is said and done, and the broo-ha-ha about the latest new thing has died down, I always go back to Ramana. I’ve done so since I was 16 and will probably do so while I have the strength to lift a book.
The First and Last Freedom, J Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti was another interesting character, and one that I had the fortune to meet at his Brockwood school in Hampshire. He had his flaws, which have become apparent in biographies since his death in 1986, but, for me, this makes him more human and his struggles more interesting. Although there are many books by Krishnamurti, this was the only one he actually wrote; the rest are taken from lectures and dialogues or from notebooks.
The Zen Teaching of Huang Po
Essential wisdom on a stick. This is a small volume but you could spend hours understanding the implications of just one of the utterances. No fat, no fluff—just muscular and essential wisdom that goes to the heart of Zen, and, ultimately transcends it.
Consciousness Speaks, Ramesh Balsekar
I’m extremely suspicious of ‘spiritual lineages’. The popes do it, the Tibetan lamas do it, and there are some in the New Age movement who give themselves an authority by doing so. Balsekar was part of a lineage, too, with a line back to Nisagardatta and eventually to Ramana Maharshi, but this book is none the poorer for it. It’s the transcription of countless conversations Balsekar had with his followers. It blew me away when I first read it; I wonder if it would now?
The Three Pillars of Zen, Philip Kapleau
Those who have already read The Untrue Story of You will know I had a difficult upbringing with an abusive father. My refuge was my bedroom and my books, and The Three Pillars of Zen was one of my essential reads. Kapleau was an American journalist who became one of the leading Zen teachers in the USA. I loved The Three Pillars; it still reminds me of lazy Sunday afternoons and warm sunshine.
The Field, Lynne McTaggart
An immediate conflict of interest confession: Lynne is my wife. With that out of the way, The Field is one of the seminal works of the New Age, and truly is a meeting place between the spiritual and the new physics. I don’t think even Lynne quite realises just how important this book is.
In Search of the Miraculous, P D Ouspensky
This was Ouspensky’s account of his time with the mysterious Gurdjieff. I’m not altogether sure I like this book, but I was certainly intrigued by it, and by Gurdjieff’s strange teachings. Depending on where ‘you’ are, it may do something for you, but pass speedily by, you traveller of the night-time, if it doesn’t.
Wisdom and Where to Find it, Barry Long
Barry was one of Eckhart Tolle’s main influences. I got to know Barry fairly well, although I never wanted to be in his inner circle. I read this book many years ago when it was a typewritten transcript, bundled together into a rough folder. There were only around 20 or so copies in circulation, and I got hold of one. It was eventually published as a standard paperback, years later. I was amazed by its power, and it was like nothing else I had read before. But that’s Barry for you.
The Infinite Way, Joel Goldsmith
Gentle Joel. The Infinite Way is his best known book, but probably isn’t his best (try: Between The Parentheses). With Joel, it’s not so much what he says as the way he says it. His compassion, love and selflessness exude from every page. I also wanted to include at least one book from the Christian tradition, and Joel’s as good as anyone.
Enlightenment is a Secret, Andrew Cohen
Andrew is a controversial figure, but when I picked up this book I knew very little about him—and that has to be the best way to approach any work. It was another ‘blew my mind’ moment when I first read this book; it was powerful, different and special. Strangely, the book had far more impact than his talk I went to several months later. Was that me or him?
All of that was by way of an invitation for you to tell me your top 10 books. So over to you.
The other day I was on a radio show when a caller phoned in. She said she had suffered from feelings of scarcity and lack for more than 20 years, and she had tried every therapy under the sun to rid herself of these feelings, which were clearly holding her back. Nothing had worked for her.
There’s no doubt that the therapies help many people. However, the therapist—and the client—hold to a few assumptions that make true and lasting healing difficult to achieve.
The first is that ‘you’ are different from the problem being worked on. There’s you and there’s the problem, which you don’t want to have (such as the feeling of scarcity or lack).
The second assumption is that this ‘you’ can work on the problem. This is the basis of anger management programmes, for example.
The third assumption is that ‘you’ can learn to control or overcome the problem through expert guidance.
I call this dynamic the ‘therapist triangle’: there’s you, there’s the problem and there’s the therapist.
None of these assumptions is true. Feelings of lack or scarcity (in the case of the caller) are the emotional extraction from incidents in her life. As these emotions build—as they will while they remain unobserved—so we interpret more incidents as a vindication that there is scarcity.
The emotional extracts are energetic, and they are interpreted as feelings or thoughts, and will find expression in the world, which is why so many people see patterns appear.
In this process, the thinker (or feeler) is created. The thinker, that thinks it is independent, is in fact the offspring of the problem itself. Any attempt by ‘you’ to rid yourself of the problem, therefore, merely strengthens it.
So is there nothing we can do? Of course there is, but it begins by seeing the process of thoughts and feelings as they rise up and give birth to ‘you’. Once seen that way, the feelings and thoughts lose their energy as there’s no thinker or feeler owning them.
Finally, the problem is seen for what it is. All of our feelings and thoughts have their origins in the past, an energetic force that is formed from partially-observed experiences. A partially-observed experience is one that is witnessed entirely from our body-centred centre. Although experiences in our life may be true, they are not the truth, because truth is found in the 360 degree perspective.
When all this is seen clearly, true healing begins.
People reading my book, The Untrue Story of You, can easily understand that the past plays a part in our lives—but few realise just how much it shapes us and everything we do.
The central koan of the book -the thought thinks the thinker - says it all, but its full and profound implication isn’t readily grasped.
This is because we are hypnotized by the thinking process into believing we are an autonomous being who has free will, and makes decisions and choices.
However, most thinking is a function of time - from a past event to an imagined future - and so comes from the past. Those thoughts create a ‘you’ in the process.
But because we are beguiled into thinking we have free will and choice, we also believe we can change, and this is the bedrock of therapy. While therapy undoubtedly helps many people, permanent and deep change is difficult while we hold to the thought that there is an ‘I’ in control and can change.
Real change is possible only when we clearly see that the ‘I’ that wants to change is part of the problem, and is a manifestation of the past. If that can be seen as clearly as the hand in front of your face, change happens naturally. The dream ends.