23 03 2008

I have in the past experienced moments of ‘flow’, intervals during which it feels like something big is working through me. For example, on occasion I teach a course called ‘The Power of Self-Esteem’, and another called ‘The Power Of Purpose’. They’re usually taught as six evening sessions to small groups of up to fifteen. They are experiential in nature – the students learn mainly from the experiences they have whilst following the course material. This can involve self-reflection, journal work, watching and listening to presentations, listening to the course ‘mentor’, and sharing their own story and experiences with the others in the course. During those times when I am speaking or interacting with a student it is important that I supress or set aside any agenda of my own devising – the course material works just fine as it is without any additions of my own, and trying to fit a student into some mould I have assumed is a fit for them is more often than not a mistake – it is vital to really listen to the students, to be 100% for them, to believe in them and know that they will often themselves have the answer they are seeking. When I achieve this, this level of detachment, where my own ego and will are set aside and I just open my mouth and let the words come out, it is then that I experience ‘flow’. Most often the words that I speak, whilst in ‘flow’, are somehow so apt and fitting, and seem to hit the mark with the students.

After such evenings I often feel excited and grateful and humble. I know that something remarkable has happened. It SEEMS that when I set aside my will and allowed it in, something far bigger than myself was able to work through me and touch in a profound way the life of another. It would be easy to say that it was ‘God’ or ‘the divine spirit of life’ or some other supernatural cause at work.

It feels like that. I feel tingling, like my chest and head are clear like mountain air and there is a kind of glow around me.  And I am at peace – my purpose for the moment is fulfilled – I have been part of creating something special – a transformational experience for others.

And yet … perhaps a simpler explanation is that by quieting my conscious mind I was able to tap into a deeper, sub-conscious wisdom that exists within me. It’s the same same wisdom we access when we say we’re following a hunch, or a gut feeling, or an instinct.

Perhaps we all have this inner wisdom, it’s just that few have the skills with which to tap into it.


The God Question

13 03 2008

Why do so many, with so little evidence, believe in God? All around the world, there are millions of people who believe on one level or another that God exists. They often visualise God as an old man with a long white beard who resides in ‘heaven’. They go to church or the mosque or the synagogue. They worship God. They believe that a book holds his words and base a huge part of their culture and social systems on what that book says. They believe that their beliefs are the only true beliefs and from that stance create vast human misery and suffering.

Right now, I don’t believe in any of that. I don’t believe that there is an entity, call it God, or Allah, or whatever, that exists independently of the universe and that created us and loves us and nurtures us. Nor is it listening when people pray.

I was challenged recently by a commenter (mormonsoprano) to this blog to start a practice of daily prayer to God. I was assured that if I was sincere he would listen and if I listened out for it I would hear his answer. I have though long and hard about this challenge and concluded that I will not do it, mainly because I will find it impossible to be sincere; how can I sincerely and without hypocrisy talk to an invisible supernatural entity which I do not believe exists.

Mormonsoprano says that when she prays God answers. I believe that she prays and then coincidentally something happens and that she puts a meaning on that event; namely that God did it to answer her. This naturally reinforces her belief in God.

I don’t need God to give meaning to my life. I am quite capable of doing that myself. I am self-conscious and have the power to make choices. I can choose my purpose.

The Passing Of The Bodhi Tree

2 03 2008

I was moved by art today, but I still don’t understand it fully.

Today is Mothering Sunday. For the first time the children thought of and bought on their own initiative small gifts for their mother. Whilst she was at church we cleaned up around the house, and after she got back we all went out to the Manchester Art Gallery, a place she’d been wanting to visit for some time.

Once at the gallery we went straight to the cafe and had a somewhat disappointing lunch. We then toured the various exhibitions. In the modern extension to the gallery there was an exhibition of work by a young asian artist, Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba. In one large vacant room they were screening a short film, The Ground, The Root, and the Air: The Passing of the Bodhi Tree. We entered just as it was beginning and took our seats on a padded bench.

In the film a group of about thirty powered canoes were motoring up a large swift river between jungle clad mountains. Each narrow boat had a man crouched near the stern, steering and keeping the powerful engine going. Nearer the prow on each boat a second person was seated at a rought easel painting with black ink, or drawing with pencil or charcoal, on sheets of white paper.

The river was wide and powerful. The boats were all struggling up-river against the current. At one point the film focussed on the whirpools and turbulent water. The scenery was spectacular mist enshrouded hills. Each bend of the river would open up more vistas of jungle trees, rocky cliffs, and receeding mountains vanishing in the clouds.

The painters all worked in silence. Sketching the landscape. Filling in the details of the jungle and the river. None of the seemed to be terribly good artists. In fact I would their work was often childlike, but they were engrossed in their art. I wondered why noone was using a camera to more accurately capture the beauty of the scenes constantly unfolding as the boats bore them on and on up the river.

At the beginning of the film there was some very dramatic bhuddist music, with drums and cymbals. But that faded out and was replaced by the sounds of the boat engines, chugging and labouring against the river. No one spoke.

Occasionally the film would cut to a group of people in new modern running shoes and sports clothes running around and around a very delapidated sports arena. Eventually these scenes were overlaid with shots of a lantern, rotating with the heat of a candle. The exterior of the lantern had dragons and animals around it.

Back on the river, the boats continued their journey and the artists were still painting. The boats neared a large, old tree on the side of the river. It appeared to be a holy place with a stone embankment and steps leading up to a space beneath the tree. The painters all stopped painting and stood up in their boats, looking intently towards the tree. One jumped out of his boat and started the very risky swim towards the tree. Another followed, and another, and soon there were few left in the boats, which continued on their way up river, as the credits rolled.

As we left the viewing room I felt energised and excited. I was smiling. The film had been visually rich and emotionally interesting and I was sure there was some important lesson I could learn from it, if only I could put my finger on it.

I interpret the film as an allegory of a spiritual life; we are all artists, seeing the world with child like eyes; some are willing to risk all to worship the sacred and leave the main stream.

Am I an artist, on a spiritual quest against the current or am I just running in pointless circles? Would I jump? Would I leave behind my life’s work and risk all to experience the sacred and spiritual?


29 02 2008

Breath seems extremely important to many spiritual experiences. Breathing correctly is a core teaching in many spiritual disciplines. A practice of meditation will almost always begin with calm, deep, regular breathing. In most churches, although breath is not focussed upon, singing often plays a significant part of worship, and it’s difficult to sing without breath.

This begs the question; Are spiritual experiences connected with breathing?  I remember reading a long time ago, and I’m very vague about the details,  about a theory that spiritual experiences are somehow caused by an increased supply of oxygen to the brain. I’m not so sure that I believe this. If the theory were true why don’t athletes, or people in the gym, experience lots of spiritual moments.

What I do know is true is my own experiences of meditative breathing. When I consciously take long, deep breaths I certainly feel different. I often feel a warm peaceful glow in my chest, a calmness in my arms and legs, and strength in my back. Other times I might feel a tingling up my spine and over my scalp.

Is it the breath or my focussed attention that brings on these feelings?


26 02 2008

Most of the time I’m just an ordinary person. Just living the best life I can; working, DIYing around the house, ferrying the kids to and fro, sorting out the car, cleaning the bathroom, cooking an evening meal, dealing with the minutae of daily life.

And then there are times when I am somehow more … awake, more conscious of things around me, seeing things differently. These can be moments when I am surprised by something; a beautiful tree, the irridescent shine of a beetles wing, a bird singing. It is usually something out of the ordinary that stops my breath with awe or wonder or perhaps just makes me lift my head and notice it.

Or they can be moments which I consciously create. For example, if I simply breath slowly and deeply, soften my eyes, notice how I’m feeling and reflect on things I can easily drop into a state of waking meditation, a state of heightened awareness and creativity.

During these times I feel different; a warmth in my chest, a tingling up my spine, a lightness and ease. Often my eyes grow moist. I feel ‘big’. If I really let the feelings develop my chest feels fit to burst.

What is happening to me in these moments? I could just shrug it off and say that it’s merely that my mental state is affecting my physical state. But, although I believe that is largely true, I can’t help thinking that a part of ‘me’ that is neither physial nor mental is at play in this.

This is a question that many others have tackled since the beginning of human history. Is there a spiritual dimension to a human being? And if so, what is spirit? These are questions to which I have never really got a satisfactory answer.

Exploring the answers to these questions is what I intend to do with this blog.


22 02 2008

Last night I was sitting in the lounge with my family. They were watching TV and I was using our laptop, idly thinking about what I might write for this post. I started writing but either I was distracted by the TV, or the family, or just couldn’t seem to think what to write about.

But then I noticed a book my wife is reading “What Should I DO With My Life” by Po Bronson. It was just there on the arm of the chair. Intrigued I picked it up, and read a page or two. It seemed quite interesting but reading someone elses words were not what I wanted, right then.

And then my wife started up a conversation with our son about the amount of time he’s not spending revising for exams. She asked him what was his purpose in sitting the exams. His answer was so he could go to university. We kept him digging to find a deeper purpose for a while.

And I remember how that day I had spent a fair bit of time, at my work desk, looking at what goals I could set myself to achieve my annual bonus. I had brainstormed several ideas before settling on three which I think will be a good fit for my purpose this year.

It’s odd how suddenly my life is filled with questions about purpose. Is this confluence of events about purpose just a coincidence or is there a deeper guiding force behind them, bringing the subject to my attention? Is life telling me something? Like, “Phill Jenkins, you should look at your purpose in life. What are you doing? Where are you going?”.

Or maybe it isn’t odd. Maybe life (God, Allah, call it what you want) does not have a purpose, fate, destiny for me. But rather it is I that gives a purpose to my life. Perhaps having a purpose is fundamental to what it is to be a human. And I’m just waking up to that.

First Post

21 02 2008

My name is Phill Jenkins and this blog is about me; my journey; my life. A diary, a stream of consciousness, an Artists Way daily page (or almost daily). It’s an exploration of what it is to be … me.

It doesn’t really matter if no-one else ever reads it.

Last night I was on team for the first session of a course, The Power Of Purpose, taught by a local More To Life‘mentor’. It’s a course about finding and living your life’s purpose. I’ve taught it myself, several times before, but since moving to Manchester I thought it would be a good idea to refresh my understanding of the course material by being on the support team.

Just in case someone does read this, I stress here that this blog is not in any way an official More To Life blog. I do not intend to ‘sell’ More To Life, or it’s courses, or ‘evangelise’ about the More To Life programme. The opinions expressed herein are my own.

The mentor has asked that the team simply participate in the course material wherever possible. It’s a small course and so there’s not much support required and I’m able to do almost all the exercises and be very much ‘in’ the course.

And it’s got me thinking. Thinking about what I want from life; what I want to create; what I want to do and be. Thinking about what my purpose in life is. And this train of thought crept in to the title of this blog.

I see these questions as being of fundamental importance, and not just for me. Many people are struggling to understand their purpose on this planet. To know, not just theoretically, but in their heart, why they are here and what they can do and be to fulfill their purpose in life.

I am not a religious person. I don’t go to church nor believe in the Christian God. However, I think that seeking the answers to these questions is a spiritual quest. A journey, exploring what it is to be a human being.