Advent Practice Challenge – Close The Gap

So, the Christian season of Advent starts on Sunday 30 November. Advent is the preparation for Christmas and, along with Lent, it’s one of inward-turning or solemn seasons.

Just as there are ancient traditions of giving things up for Lent, there are traditions of taking things on for Advent.

Here is my proposal for you:

Whatever your spiritual practice is, consider the gap between how much, how often or how deeply you’d like to be practicing and how you usually practice.

Starting on Sunday 30 November, until Christmas Eve, Close The Gap. For just four weeks, practice the way you wish you always did. Go hard. Go longer. Go deeper. Go more gently. You know what you need to do to improve how you’re practicing, so let’s do what we most need, together.

I’m posting this now to give us all a few weeks to warm up.

You can keep it all to yourself or post anywhere with the hashtag #adventclosethegap to get and give encouragement.

Take some time, work out what you want to do, work out how to make it work for four weeks and on Sunday 30 November, let’s really begin!

A wee Litany for All Saints Day

First Father, Most High, Ancient of Days! You send us messengers and guides to show us Your ways. As you taken them to Yourself, hear their prayers on our behalf and take us to Your great Heart when it comes our time. Hear us, Beloved! Amen.

Lord, Master, Kyrie, You have shown us Your self and through Your life given us an example of human life perfected. Countless holy ones and adepts have followed your way. We give thanks for them all, from past unfathomed, to future unimaginable. Gather up their prayers and may their lives guide us eternally. In Your Name, Amen.

Great Lady! Pure! Unstained Perfection! Yours is the whisper in every human heart. You, the cool breeze guiding each one to Your safe harbour. You, the Bread of life. You, the Comforter. You, the Distinct Breath. Gracious one, countless holy ones have known You. May that Great Communion guide us ever in Your ways and may You whisper, guide, nourish and comfort each one of us, that we may each one know you in turn. Amen.

May all the saints and adepti intercede on our behalf and inspire us with their lives to come to know You ourselves. And so we ask…

Holy John the Beloved of our Lord; pray for us

Holy John the Baptist; pray for us

Most Holy Mary, Theotokos; pray for us

Holy Mary Magdalena; pray for us

Holy Thomas; pray for us

Holy James the Just; pray for us

Holy Peter; pray for us

All the Holy Apostles; pray for us

Holy Simon Magus; pray for us

Holy Valentinus; pray for us

Holy Origen; pray for us

Holy Pelagius; pray for us

Holy Nestorius; pray for us

Holy Gregory Palamas; pray for us

Holy John of the Cross; pray for us

Holy Theresa of Avila; pray for us

Holy Joachim von Flora; pray for us

Holy Jacob Boehme; pray for us

Holy Joan of Arc; pray for us

Holy Esclaremonde de Foix; pray for us

Holy Hildegarde of Bingen; pray for us

Holy Giordano Bruno; pray for us

Holy Louis Claude de Saint-Martin; pray for us

Holy Martinez de Pasqually; pray for us

Holy Raphael, stand with us in the morning

Holy Michael, stand with us at noon

Holy Gabriel, stand with us at dusk

Holy Uriel, stand by our side in the night.

As we pray for the saints, may they continue pray for us. May each soul find its reunion.

In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!

Criticisms of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Some people love the MBTI, find it describes them accurately and believably and get the same type code every time they take a test. Maybe they’ve used it at work, maybe it’s helped them understand colleagues or family. Some people wear t-shirts with their four-letter personality code on it and talk about it like other people might discuss their astrological sign.

If it works for you, then I guess that’s awesome. If you’ve gained insight from it that helps you understand and empathise with other people, then yay.

Personally, I don’t love it. I’ve never experienced a great deal of insight from the results of a test, each time I do it I get a different answer.

It’s surprised me to discover in recent years that academic psychology thinks a great deal less of the MBTI and the psychology behind it than the businesses that use it. MBTI wears pretty convincing psychology drag and one could be forgiven for thinking it strode from the halls of the academy a few decades ago, clothed in validity and shod in rigor.

Actually, not. In fact, the MBTI is widely criticized by the people who study personality and how it describes and predicts success in various jobs. The MBTI is a great deal more “fringey” than most people think it is.

Doesn’t mean it’s “wrong”. Doesn’t mean you’re a bad ( or dumb, ignorant or silly) person for liking your type and posting it on Facebook. I experienced a really high-level of self-insight reading Linda Goodman’s very popular astrology book “Sun Signs”, which I think is both sketchy astrology and not science-based in the slightest. I likewise got a lot out of a weirdo numerology book by Dan Millman (author of the much-loved “Way of the Peaceful Warrior”). Insight can come from unlikely places.

But I do think it’s useful to know that MBTI is in a similar scientific grey (black?) area to star signs and the Enneagram. Here’s a list of critical articles, which link to a bunch more critical articles. Please be warned, these vary a lot in level of politeness.

Wilber responds to Sillis re: Norbu in “Speaking of Everything”

Ken Wilber: […] When Namkhai Norbu is talking about the nature of the mind, he is talking about absolute truth, ultimate non-dual truth, which is the truth of one’s ever-present awareness, moment to moment. That can be investigated quite regardless of what your philosophy is, or your psychology is, and so on. Just shut up and look.

Ken Wilber: Shut up and look. That’s the basic, fundamental instruction for the non-dual schools. It’s just shut the fuck up and look. [Laughter.] The injunction that you can test.

Ken Wilber: The injunction carries … it is a little bit more specific. The ultimate injunction for the non-dual realization is not that you can get to a state where you have a non-dual awareness, but that there is something about your state right now that is already one hundred percent aware of it. Right.

Ken Wilber: So all we’re going to do is keep pointing to it until you see it. We’re not going to bring anything into existence that isn’t already here one hundred percent. If you hear my voice, and see the table, and you’re noticing sounds that are going on, that is the enlightened mind. That is one hundred percent of the enlightened mind.

Now, the reason that you don’t go “Wow, I see it,” is that you are too distracted by the objects that are occurring in that mind moment to moment. You focus on the objects passing by and you forget who the actual seer is or the witness of these objects, and so that appears that it is not present, but in fact it is ever present.

Getting Started with Meditation

There are hundreds of styles of meditation and most of them are valuable. What’s important is to pick a style and stay with it for long enough to settle into it (a couple of weeks) before trying to evaluate it. One of the reasons I point out that there are multiple styles is that two sets of basic instructions may contradict each other if they come from different traditions – this doesn’t mean one is wrong, there are simply several approaches that work.

To pick a style, find something where you can connect to the instructions or the instructor or the community around the practice. As long as you don’t dislike it, it will probably do to begin. If the style or instructor is renowned, but you don’t like it or connect with them, find something else.

To evaluate a practice of meditation, you ought to find after practicing for a while that your emotional reactivity in general is dropping, you are finding yourself becoming more open hearted towards others and that your ability to remain aware of and responsive to the present moment is increasing. Various other exotic effects, visions and capacities may appear or disappear with different practices but if reactivity, open-heartedness and presentness are not progressing, then find something else.

Any of these three may drop for short periods – you may in particular have periods where you get more reactive – but in general over time, this is the trajectory to look for. If after practicing a certain method for a while (months or years) and you feel you’re stagnating, it might be time to pick a different teacher or practice.

I say all this because practice, any practice, done consistently is better than faffing around with half a dozen different practices done intermittently. To benefit from meditation you need to find how to practice daily; the most effective approach is usually to eventually practice morning and evening.

Ideally, find a time in your day at which you can reliably practice. Usually this is an “elbow time” when you are moving from one phase of the day to the next – after waking, but before starting work; after finishing work, but before travelling home; after arriving at your home train station, but before walking to your house etc.

Some people find it helpful to have a regular place – a spot in the house with a cushion or a certain park under a certain tree. 

To establish a regular practice, work first on establishing these regularities, before worrying too much about how long or how intense your practice might be. Five minutes done every day at a stable time for two weeks will set your regularity much better than an hour done randomly. As your regularity stabilises, you can extend the time to ten minutes, then twenty.

For some of us, regularity is a massive struggle. I am one of these people. It may be best, at the beginning, to simply meditate opportunistically – at the train station, in a park on the way to a meeting – but frequently. In my experience, if you keep this up, you will start to become enticed by the effects of meditation and annoyed at your lack of progress, so that you are organically drawn to begin a more consistent and regular practice.

So, then, what to actually practice? This is actually the easiest bit. I would advise searching for “basic meditation” on a search engine or on YouTube and then applying what I’ve written to picking one to get started on .

You can read instructions:

You can watch videos:

You can listen to audio guides:

Learning to meditate and practicing regularly is a key skill in your ongoing life journey. It aids your personal development, assists your capacity to be present and open to others, provides a stable basis for the difficult work of inner healing and enables the broad quest to be more vividly You. 

Get your bum on a cushion!

When a dog passes

Dogs have a simplicity to them, they just are so totally themselves and live so completely in the moment. Loving a dog is a very pure, satisfying kind of love – there’s no need to think about the dog’s motivations, or worry about what it thinks of you, whether it likes your career choices or your taste in music. There’s just the dog and you and the possibility of opening your heart as wide as it can go. Dogs challenge us and teach us to love and be present (though perhaps not if you’re a cat person).

The flipside of that is when a dog dies. The purity of love you have for your hound becomes pure grief. When a person dies, no matter how much we love them, there’s always other feelings – anger, abandonment, guilt – tied up with the grief and it’s complicated. Grieving for a person is a complicated process which, even when entered into mindfully, can take months to do properly, to really work out all the kinks and knots in how you feel until you’re just left with gratitude for that life and love.

Grieving for a dog is simple – she’s gone, you have a hole in your life where she used to be, it hurts like having your whole heart pulled out. So you weep and cry and howl because that’s how grieving is done when you’re a people.

I think the other thing about the simple grief for a dog is that it’s a lot quicker. It all comes pouring out and then it’s done. Sometimes it can feel like it hasn’t been enough, that you ought to be sad for longer, that she deserved more. But the contour of your grief is a testament to the purity of your love. It’s stronger but quicker and none the less for that.

And in the end, we all end up with the same thing: love and gratitude for that life you got to share. That’s what grief finally refines into, no need to rush it.

In honour of Tammy, Sara, Chino, Scamp and all the good hounds of the world who are with us no longer.

The Mind and Meditation – Introduction

Mitch Edwards, author of “Ending the Religious Lies” asked me to write an introduction to his new book “The Mind and Meditation”. Here is what I wrote:

As we continue to deepen our shared perception of ourselves as a global human people, the role of religious tradition must change. Adherence to a single body of religious teaching has played a role in the early global era as a way to mark cultural distinctiveness, to resist colonialism and to construct personal meaning in a global society which can seem to be merely an alienating commercial market.

Each religious tradition, as it matures, develops multiple layers – the most accessible characterised by adherence to some core ideas and a felt allegiance to the community. Deeper layers require an understanding of the body of thought in the tradition. At the depth of any tradition, lies a heritage of disciplined practice which often sees itself as the practice of the founder or of his or her closest disciples.

The first, most accessible layer is open to almost anyone who walks in the door, but each step deeper requires more commitment to the tradition and this often creates division between very religious people. Commitment to one set of beliefs, one body of thought and one community can mean rejection of other traditions and the people who follow them. As global travel, communication and integration hasten, religious people increasingly encounter each other and these rejections of each other sometimes lead to arguments, violence, even war.

How might this be resolved? The classic answer in the West has been secularism – which began as a political doctrine that religion and politics should stay distinct, but has become a cultural assumption that religion is dying out – that mature societies have no religious convictions. Global studies of cultural attitudes suggest that this trend in the West is far from universal, that in fact religious adherence is increasing globally not decreasing. So how, within religions, can we find a way to integrate multiple religious communities in our global society?

It’s the deepest layers of each religious tradition at which, paradoxically, the traditions find themselves in the greatest agreement – those truths disclosed by disciplined spiritual practice tend to be fairly common across religions. These experiential truths often include a vast spaciousness of non-personal mind and an all-embracing sense of universal love – both of which motivate practitioners to connect across traditions.

It is from seeing these connections between traditions that Mitch Edwards seems to have come to this new book on meditation. As with all of Mitch’s work, the book draws from his own insights into the deep commonalities between spiritual traditions and he illustrates those insights with abundant quotes from various sources, ancient and modern. The result is a delightful ride through the hypertextual panaorama of Mitch’s insights and I recommend you relax and enjoy that view.

Having drawn out these common threads, almost as an afterthought, Mitch delivers in one page a summary of the single practice in common across most traditions – repetitive prayer based on a short phrase, commonly called mantra practice in Asian religions, but familiar to those of us from the Abrahamic traditions too. He suggests that this simple practice can help us see beyond differences to experience the vast mind and universal heart in which we live and move and have our being.

Enjoy “The Mind and Meditation”, but beyond that, try Mitch’s suggestions out and see what lies beyond the city walls, out in the spacious desert.

Vale S. N. Goenka 1924-2013

I totally missed that Goenka died last year. I’d say it’s a loss, but he was such an outstanding example of someone who set up a spiritual organisation designed to outlast himself, I doubt the whole operation barely hiccuped. But I will voice some sadness at his passing.

Goenka’s network of Vipassana centres with their characteristic ten-day retreats are a vast, global meditation training machine which may well still exist in a century or more. His recorded voice echoes in hundreds of locations at this very moment advising meditators to notice the reactions in their bodies, arising and passing in each moment, with equanimity.

Those retreats, amongst people in my world, have become the de facto gateway between “I’m trying to meditate” and “I’m serious about meditation”. They are also one of the major, popular influences broadening a perspective of Buddhist meditation beyond just “mindfulness”. Millions of people have been introduced to serious meditation through his work, many of them going on to practice, study and then initiate their own schools or meditation centres all over the world. His influence is incalculable.

So… Satya Narayan Goenka, on behalf of a world who may never of heard your name, but which has definitely felt your influence in countless ways – Thank you.


An older interview with SN in Shambhala Sun

Today I Learned that you pronounce “Ruthven” as…

… “Rivven”. Thanks to Neil Jordan’s movie “Byzantium”.

I’m wont to meet with yu


Воnjоur! Аt first I’d liке tо intrоduсе mуsеlf. Му nаmе is Маrуiа аnd I аm wаs bоrn in Russiа. I аm tvеntу sеvеn уеаrs оld. I аm кind-hеаrtеd, lоving, mаnnеrlу, with а sеnсе оf рlеаsаnt. Аnd I hоре mу еmаil did nоt wоrrу уоu. I wаnt уоu tо кnоw this is nоt а tаt оr sоmе mеssаgе. I аm rеаl fеmаlе whо hаs оnе intеntiоn.Тhе оnlе оnе I wish is tо find а реrsоn whо will undеrstаnd mе, whо will lоvе mе аs I аm in fасt. I sеек оut а frеnd, mу реrsоn, аnd mу futurе раrtnеr. I wаnt tо lоvе аnd bе lоvеd аs bесаusе I аm vеrу tirеd tо bе lоnеlу tо stау аlоnе. Тhе асquаintаnсе in intеrnеt is аnd nеw fоr mе аnd I hаvе nеvеr dоnе it bеfоrе hаvе nеvеr еvеr dоnе it еаrliеr. I wаs lосаting аt thе inеt саfе аnd suddеnlу I visitеd intеrnеt sitе ВеNаughtу, аnd I dесidеd tо sеnd уоu аn еmаil with hеlр оf sоmе virtuаl sоftvаrе. I аlsо аsкеd а mаnаgеr whо wоrкs thеrе tо hеlр mе, bесаusе it wаs thе first timе i dо sоmеthing liке this. аnd with thе mаil i wоuld liке аlsо tо sеnd tо уоu shоwing mу fоtаz fоr уоu tо кnоw whаt I lоок liке. Таlк tо уоu lаtеr! Lоокing fоr уоur fаst mеssеgе. Уоur nеw mаn Маshка

*I love Russian ladyspam and this one has a picture.