This book is about a different way of viewing the world. It is not about a set of rules on how to live your life. It is not about following a number of steps to reach a goal. It is about viewing life as an unfolding process and about learning how we might better become part of that process, so that instead of resisting the process of life we learn how to live it.
This is not easy because we keep growing up, teaching our children to view the world in a particular way. We learn a particular view of the world from our parents and the society in which we live. But what if our problems as a species arise from the way we view the world? What if our view of the world causes much of our suffering?
When I was young, I was taught that the world worked in a certain way. I was taught that if I logically planned my life and worked hard then I would be happy. I was given a list of rules to live my life by. Unfortunately someone gave me the wrong instruction manual.
My society and my culture gave me a set of rules to live by and told me over and over again that if I just followed the rules and did what I was meant to do I would be happy. Whenever life seemed to go wrong, I assumed that I wasn’t following the rules properly, that somehow I had failed, that I wasn’t doing well enough.
This instruction manual isn’t written down. It’s passed down from generation to generation. The rules are taught at school and in the workplace and in the media.
It only took me about forty years to realise that the problem wasn’t me, it was the instruction manual and the set of rules that my culture had taught me. I could write chapters on the problems with our society’s instruction manual but in a way that is useless. We all know the problems that occur when we use the wrong manual – it doesn’t work, we get confused, lost, frustrated, depressed, and our life feels wrong. We feel that we don’t fit, we don’t belong. Our lives are spent desperately searching for something. Only we don’t know that what we are searching for is the right instruction manual because we don’t realise that we have the wrong one.
At the age of forty-two, I began the conscious search for a better instruction manual. I cast aside my ‘how to live in Western patriarchal society as a female doctor and mother’ and picked up the ‘how to live in Western society as a spiritual being’ manual. Thinking they were wrong, I put aside my old set of rules and took up a new set, thinking they were right. Of course, they weren’t. I moved closer to what felt like a fit but still at times I felt confused and frustrated. Mostly, I thought I just couldn’t do the rules right, when all along I still didn’t have the right manual or the right rules.
So at the age of forty-five, I began to write my own. It began as a book about the spiritual side of life that Western society ignores, but it has evolved into a very different book. Interestingly, before I could even begin to grasp what it was about I had called it Holistic Medicine. I knew the topic, I just didn’t know all the content. I learnt about the content of this book through the process and flow of my life. The lessons I learnt as I lived my life were the lessons I needed to learn in order to be able to write this book. The latest lesson has been the most difficult. That is the lesson on how to finish the book.
That lesson is about my being willing to have a book that is not perfect, that does not have the answer that will fix everyone’s problems. The lesson I had to learn was that my role as doctor/teacher/healer is as much about healing myself and learning about myself as it is about helping others to learn and heal. I had to unlearn my first rule of medicine, which has always been to try to fix the problem.
This book is not about fixing problems. It is about shining light onto problems. It is about seeing problems for what they really are. It is about examining our lives for clues about how we might live happier and healthier.
This book is my attempt to put together an instruction manual for living a whole life. It is not perfect and it is not truth. There will be parts of it that will need changing as time goes on. But it is a start.
I began this book over ten years ago. It had been ideas swirling around in my head for many years but I couldn’t find the time to begin it. Then one of my best friends died quite suddenly. Angela was younger than I was and she lived down the road. She had three children similar in age to mine and our daughters were best friends. At that stage, I had been separated for three years and Angela and her family were a great support to my children and me. She was like a sister to me and our relationship was completely uncomplicated. On 15 August 2004, Angela collapsed behind the shed on her property. Her husband, Bill, tried to revive her, and the ambulance came and took her to hospital, but there was nothing anyone could do. At the age of thirty-seven, Angela was dead, of causes unknown.
This event had a profound effect on me. I realised a number of things. I realised that Angela’s presence was still around at times – that something lives on after we physically die. I realised that any one of us could die at any moment and that I shouldn’t waste my time doing things that weren’t important to me. I realised that no matter how much I talked about writing a book, it wouldn’t happen unless I actually did it. So I quit my job and started to write.
Why Angela died will always be a mystery to me but the meaning I have found in her death led me to write this book – so it is that I dedicate this book to her.
This book is about my version of holistic medicine, which I will define as the art and science of helping people learn how to heal themselves.
There are a number of assumptions I make about holistic medicine. The first is that holistic medicine is about learning how to heal. Healing is not something that someone does to you but something you do to yourself. Holistic medicine teaches people how to heal themselves. It is not about teaching people how to heal themselves but about teaching people to learn how to heal. We have forgotten that we can all heal ourselves. The healing comes about when we allow ourselves to be whole people. Of course our bodies heal naturally much of the time, so holistic medicine is also about promoting this natural healing power we already have.
The second assumption is that everyone is unique and the only person who can learn how to heal you is you. We are all different and what we need to learn in this life is different. I do not know the answers to your problems but I can help you learn how to find them. The responsibility for your own healing lies with you, the responsibility for wholeness lies with you.
The third assumption is that we are all whole people but that we have forgotten how to live as whole people. We have forgotten about some of our parts and we have forgotten that life is a process; that it goes in cycles and spirals and vortices. The whole is made up of content – the parts, and process – the movement of life. But we cannot dissect the whole to find all our answers. We find most of our answers to our deepest healing by living the whole thing – living our life. Living our life – not someone else’s.
There is no definitive Western model of holistic medicine, so this is my attempt to write about one. Of course, it won’t be definitive because it is just my version.
I have divided the book into four parts. The first attempts to define a holistic model of the human system. I look at the content of the system and the processes that the system operates under.
The second part looks in greater detail at the parts of the system and the processes.
The third part outlines some of the theory behind holism and the differences between our current world view and a holistic world view.
The fourth part looks at how we can consciously pay attention to our physical and spiritual aspects and learn through the process of our lives more about who we really are and what we need as individuals to be whole people. This is how we heal ourselves.
I make no claims that this book or my view of the world is any more correct than anyone else’s. What I believe is that if we pay attention to our lives in a conscious way, we can find our own path to healing and wholeness. The models and framework that I put forward are just models. This is a way of looking at something that is enormously complex (the human system) in a simpler way so that we can be more aware of why we get sick and why we get stuck in our problems. Like all models and theories, use only the parts that are useful to you as an individual. There is no such thing as one right answer. The meaning of life is found as we live our own life.
The human system is so immensely complex that to simplify it into an understandable model is impossible. Nevertheless, I am going to try. I will begin with the simplest ideas and gradually enlarge them and build on the basics. However, it is important to understand that the more you think about it the more confused you can sometimes become. So do not think too much, do not try to grasp the concepts too hard or they will slip away. Much of what we need to understand about ourselves we understand through experiencing it.
The simplest concept to begin with is that we are like the point zero symbol.
We are made up of two basic parts. The inner self – the point, and the outer self – the circle (zero).
The inner self, the point, is our essential nature, our soul. This is the part of us that at its very essence is unchanging and that makes us a unique individual. This deep self is also connected to everything else in ways we don’t fully understand. The connection is to other people but also to the whole system. Some people consider this part of our self to be our spiritual self. Others might call it the observing self.
The circle is, in simple terms, our outer persona, the face we show the world. It is also the connections we have with other people and things in the physical world. The circle also signifies the process of life that we continually undergo, the cycles of life that make it so hard to pin any of this down, because it is always changing form; life is always moving.
As humans we understand things in two main ways. We understand something by first breaking it down into its parts (reductionism) and then gaining an understanding of the whole thing. Or we accept or know that something is whole and we understand how it works through experiencing it. I will discuss this concept further when I look at how our minds work.
Inner self and outer self cannot be separated in real life because they are part of each other. However, to understand how we work as humans we need to delve into these parts. It is as if our whole self is made up of the inner self and the outer self but the two selves are involved in an intricate dance with each other. Outer self is always pulling away from the centre and expanding and inner self is always trying to contract. Outer self desires growth and expansion and inner self desires contraction and consolidation. We are like a plant growing towards the sun but if we don’t also grow into the earth, we will topple over.
Part of us is always looking for growth opportunities, changing in response to the external environment, and part of us is looking for safety and stability. This is like yin and yang. Yang is light, and expansive; yin is dark and contracting. We are made up of both these parts. Because we have these two parts, we sometimes feel as if we are being pulled in two directions.
Plants don’t look at it like that. Plants just live – they send parts of themselves up into the light, to grow and expand, and they send other parts deep into the earth, also to grow and expand but invisibly. Which part is the real plant?
Humans, unlike other species, have consciousness. We are conscious that we are, that we exist. The other side of this is that we are also partly unconscious. So while we believe we have control over our lives and over ourselves, this is only partly true. Our unconscious is also partly in charge, but it works in the dark, anchoring us, stopping us from toppling over. We don’t understand this side of ourselves and it scares the hell out of us. We fear this part of ourselves because we don’t understand it.
This unconscious earthing of the human system underpins the theory of holistic medicine. Holistic medicine is about helping people learn how to heal themselves. The unconscious processes that happen to us, that we believe are caused by external factors, are actually trying to bring about our healing. Healing is about becoming whole. We become whole (in the simplest of terms) when we balance the needs of our inner and outer selves. We balance the expansion and the contraction. We balance the growth and the consolidation. We grow towards the light and into the earth. We are pulled by a physical desire to be separate and individual, and a spiritual desire to be one with everything else.
Our balance is best served by allowing the expansion and contraction to occur naturally. It is like breathing in and out. But we have all forgotten how to do this naturally. Western society teaches us how to expand but not how to contract. We breathe in and in and in and then we can’t get the air out. We are full of good ideas and brilliant plans but we run ourselves into the ground because we have forgotten how to ground ourselves in the earth.
The human system is very similar to the sphere that is the planet earth. Take a look at the front cover and pay attention to what the earth looks like from space.
One half is light and one half is dark. This is what we are like. We are half light and half dark.
Most Western culture has classified the light and dark as opposing forces. It has divided life into a series of lines. In this way, Western society classifies everything – good and bad, right and wrong, god and devil, heaven and earth.
Much of Eastern culture in contrast (and remember this is contrast for the sake of contrast) takes the view that life on earth is not real, that our physical life is an illusion of the spirit. This view sees humans as spiritual beings whose only job is to reach enlightenment, and the way to enlightenment is to follow the light. It seeks to transcend the physical and become pure spirit.
The West aligns itself with the physical dimensions; the physical body and logical thinking. The East aligns itself with the spiritual dimensions; feelings and intuition.
Who is right?
Neither and both.
Neither is absolutely right and both are partially right.
Take another look at the earth.
Both Eastern and Western traditions seek to shed light on the dark side. In the west, we do this by adding more light. We shine our light on everything trying to find greater understanding. Similarly, in the east the task is enlightenment; bringing our conscious awareness to every part of our lives. So our whole lives become a struggle.
The earth does not need to be all light. In fact, if it were it would die, as it would if it were all dark. But we humans have convinced ourselves that dark is bad and light is good so we are always seeking more light.
The earth as a system has only one task. To stay alive. To do this it must try to stay in balance. As long as it can stay in balance it can stay alive. If it falls out of balance it will die. Of course, dying is not all that bad because it is part of the great cycle of life but for each person on earth, for each animal, for each plant, the whole aim of being here is to live. This may be self-evident but it seems we have forgotten it.
Living is not good enough any more. We think we have to live a certain way. Well, this model of holistic medicine says differently. All we have to do is live our life.
We are here to live.
We are here to live our cycle. The cycle is birth, life, death, birth, life, death. And no matter whether we believe this or not, this is the cycle. We can rage against this and convince ourselves that we do not have to die or that we do not have to live, but the reality of this world is that we will all die. This is part of the nature of the world we live in. We do not know what is beyond the three physical dimensions and we will not know until we die. But that is not the point of life. The point of life is to live so we can know and experience what life is all about.
This is the meaning of life – to live. To enter into the process of our very own life and see where it goes. To embrace our whole self and use our parts in the way they were intended.
Who am I?
I am human.
To be human is to embrace the whole self – the dark and the light, the physical and the spiritual, the conscious and the unconscious, the expansion and the contraction.
The inner and the outer self (dark and light, physical and spiritual, conscious and unconscious) are connected to each other. They are connected in two ways, and again we consider the earth.
Picture the earth again – it is half light, half dark. The light half is the conscious half. On this side, people are awake and active. The sun is fuelling physical growth and helping maintain the balance, but there are shadows where the sun does not reach. The dark half is the unconscious half. Here, people are asleep and refuelling themselves. The moon and stars are providing some light so it is never completely dark. Each half is mostly either light or dark with some of its opposite. This is the mix; this is the content of life.
Now picture the earth turning and see the edge of light taking over the dark. On the other side of the earth we would see the edge of dark taking over the light. As light recedes, dark expands, as dark recedes, light expands. This is part of the dance; this is the process of life.
Now picture the earth stopping still. Imagine what happens when the earth stops. Pretty soon – nothing. Life is as much about the movement and process as it is about the content and the parts. Process is the movement of our lives that occurs over time. There are no constants in life, it is always moving, always in process.
The Taoist symbol of yin and yang illustrates these concepts as well.
Yang is the light and yin is the dark. Some call yang physical and yin spiritual but for each of us this is different. For some of us our yang is more physical and for some it is more spiritual. This is dependent upon our individual makeup. For the moment, let’s just look at yang as light and yin as dark.
In yang there is a small bit of yin, and in yin there is also some yang. Each of us is made up of our unique mix of light and dark. The mix is who you are.
The curved line symbolises the dance between yin and yang; as yang expands yin contracts and as yin expands yang contracts. Life is one continual dance between the yin and the yang, between expansion and contraction. We dance between the needs of our physical self and those of our spiritual self. The dance is also who we are.
We are the mix and we are the dance. Our mix and our dance are always changing in response to the world around us and the world around us is changing in response to us.
When we overbalance in either direction – too much expansion and growth or too much contraction and stability – life has to flow in the other direction. Because we are not always consciously aware of this process, it often happens at an unconscious level. In this way, if we expand or contract too much then our unconscious pushes us the other way. We become sick – mentally, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
At the basis of all our ill health, then, is this idea of imbalance. Illness is the body’s way of regaining the balance. We can go with this process and naturally regain our balance, or we can become conscious of the process and consciously bring ourselves back into balance.
Of course this is an oversimplification but it helps to illustrate the concept of holistic medicine. Holistic medicine aims to help people learn how to regain their balance and live whole.
As we find our balance, which is half spiritual and half physical (just like the earth), we feel perfect and at peace and full of love. Occasionally we attain this at certain times and we know that this is who we really are. When we enter this timeless spaceless zone, we know that we are exactly as we should be, that we are perfect. This is what we are searching for and when we find it we know. Most of us have felt like this at some moment in our lives. Perfect. The moment is perfect just as it is.
But then the music changes and we go out of balance and so the dance is on again. But what we realise at some of those perfect moments is that we have much to learn about how to stay in better balance.
This is our holy grail. Perfect balance, perfect harmony, when our physical body and our mind are totally in harmony with our spiritual body and mind and our whole self fits into its place in the universe.
The conflict we all feel is because we are not conscious of how we work. We don’t realise that we have a continuous conflict between the perceived needs of our two halves. We have a spiritual need to achieve oneness with everything else, unity with all that is. But our physical side needs separation, to be a unique and separate being. So there is a continuous conflict between what we perceive are our physical and spiritual needs.
When we examine it, we might conclude differently. Imagine we are all individual drops of water in the giant ocean of life. We know we are part of a greater whole but we know we are different from the other drops because we move up against them and make waves and ripples.
If we are able to attain perfect balance between our two halves and everything and everyone else is able to attain perfect balance, then the ripples between us all stop. We are perfectly balanced and not sending out ripples, everyone else is perfectly balanced and not sending out ripples. Suddenly the sea is still, there are no ripples, no waves, no dance, no signs of life, nothing. We are in a void.
How do we know we are alive in a void?
Only by the dancing.
We can theorise about what is after this life or before it, what exists in other dimensions, but all that does is take our attention away from the dance.
We have two major fears – total obliteration or total union with all that is. The only way that I can be me is to avoid both these scenarios and ultimately both these fears are the same thing. Either way I cease to exist.
Western society and its set of rules forgot to tell me all of this. It had me convinced I was mainly a physical being and it had me convinced that life followed a straight line and that I was separate from everyone else.
This book begins with three different assumptions.
We are half physical and half spiritual and both halves are equally important.
Life follows a process and the process is more complex than a straight line, it is like a dance.
We are all dancing together.
Further to this I believe that no particular mix of physical and spiritual characteristics is any better than any other mix. We all dance differently but no-one’s dance is any better than anyone else’s. What we each seek is to understand our own mix and to learn how to follow the dance better. We seek to discover the parts of ourselves that we have forgotten, and we seek to learn how to live the process of life more smoothly, and we do this with everyone else.
This is at the heart of every person’s individual quest; this is how we find the meaning in our lives. The meaning is actually very simple – we are here to be our self. Our unique individual self. We are here to bring our uniqueness into the physical reality of this world. Shine our light. Be authentic. Follow our path.
We are not here to be someone else.
We are here to be ourselves.
Yet this is no easy task because we are brought up in our society to believe we should be something other than who we are. We learn many ways to hide who we really are. Some of us learn how to hide who we really are even from ourselves, so it takes us many years to realise that who we seem to be is not who we really are. It is no wonder that most of us are sick, anxious and depressed. We are severely out of balance. We are trying to be someone we are not.
This person that we all try to be is some idealised version of our self. This idealised version arises from all the influences that we have had in our childhood, and in our society it is inevitable. Maybe this is part of some grand scheme. To me it doesn’t matter. My aim is to help people live whole. This wholeness in the simplest terms means being the person you are meant to be. Being yourself. Part of being yourself is being involved in the dance of life with everyone else. We do not exist in isolation and this is the tricky part of the dance. We must find our place in the giant web of life (the dance). We appear to have a conflict between wanting separation and wanting connectedness but this is just because we have not found our place in the web – we are trying to be someone we are not.
My holistic model of the human system moves beyond its most basic theme – light and dark, physical and spiritual, to a more complex model. The human system can be divided into four basic elements or aspects. Each element is very complex and as we come to understand these elements, we come to understand ourselves better.
The elements are air, fire, water, and earth. If you like to divide the light and dark halves into two again, then the light (or yang) half is fire and air and the dark (or yin) half is water and earth. I will give a brief description of each element in this chapter, and later go on to describe them in more detail.
Air – Mind
Air is the element of thought. This is the human mind and it is a very complex thing. So I am going to divide it first into two parts, which correspond to the two sides of the brain. This is a somewhat simplistic view of the brain, but it helps us to understand it better than if we believe the brain just thinks in one way.
The brain is divided into two hemispheres, imaginatively called the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere. These two sides of the brain think in two different ways.
The left side of the brain thinks in logical, rational ways. This is what some people call our intellect. It breaks problems down into parts (called reductionism) and seeks to solve problems by examining the parts. It thinks in black and white terms, right and wrong, good and bad (called dualism). Left-brain thinking is called rational thinking (this is also known as linear thinking).
The right side of the brain thinks intuitively, in wholes, in systems (called holism). It thinks creatively, laterally, imaginatively. Right-brain thinking is called intuitive thinking (also known as non-linear thinking) and it is not logical.
The left side thinks mainly in words and numbers, the right mainly in pictures and patterns and symbols. So language is primarily a left-brain concept while pictures and symbols are right brain territory.
Our thinking appears to be done by our left brain; we think in words, we have a train of thought expressed in words and sentences. These thoughts lead onto other thoughts in a linear fashion and we reach a conclusion. Or the thoughts go round in circles and we get confused. This is all left-brain thinking (of course this is an oversimplification but we need to simplify for the left brain to understand).
Our right brain thinks in a different way. The right brain seems to come up with an answer suddenly. It doesn’t use the left brain’s linear processing to find the answer methodically and logically. Rather, it synthesises all the information in a different way and seems to then suddenly know the answer to a problem, or it suddenly grasps an issue and understands it. As the right brain doesn’t use words and sentences to think, we often assume it is silent, but it just uses a different process to the left brain.
Neither hemisphere can think in isolation; they are joined primarily by a structure called the corpus callosum, a network of connections that link both hemispheres. The distinction between the two sides is partly academic but it helps us understand the two different processes that occur in our brains. Where they occur anatomically isn’t very important for most of us.
Conventional scientific thought uses both sides of the brain but believes that the left side is superior. Science and medicine believe that reductionism and dualism are a superior way of thinking and working out problems compared to holism. They believe truth is to be found in logic and rational analysis.
As individuals and as a society (which includes medicine), what is needed is not a greater reliance on either side of the brain but the ability to use both sides together and also to use either side in the way it works best.
The left side works best for analysing and logically sorting out problems, by reducing the problem into parts and analysing the parts. The left brain can’t conceptualise the whole thing except by looking at the parts.
The right side works best when looking at the whole picture, establishing patterns, and intuitive thinking and creativity. The right brain can’t understand how the parts fit together except by looking at the whole.
Most of us in Western society are out of balance (too left brained) and the reason for this is because it is what we have learnt. We have learnt, in the past few centuries, to use our logical rational brain over our intuitive non-rational brain.
Earth and water – Body
As well as dividing the mind into two parts we can divide the body into two – the physical body (earth) and the feeling body (water).
Our physical body is fairly obvious, although many of us try to deny that we have a body that actually needs looking after. We try to use the power of our logical mind to control our body, to make it do what we want. In our culture, we are taught to disregard the messages from our body. We run marathons and compete in sports that stress our bodies and then wonder why our bodies let us down. We feed our bodies a diet of junk (both physical and emotional) and then wonder why they don’t work well.
Not only are we taught to disregard our physical bodies, we are also taught to disregard our emotional bodies. We learn early on that some emotions are just not okay – for me it was anger and frustration and hate. I learnt that I should always be happy and caring and love everyone. I learnt the Western idea of ‘good’ and I tried to follow this. That meant I had to suppress any emotion that was not perceived by society as ‘good’.
At its simplest, fire is the part of us that drives us to grow and create. It is the passion that burns, the creative flame that leads us to great works of art or scientific discoveries. It is the part of us that seeks to grow and expand. Fire is our closest link to the spiritual world. Our intuitive abilities stem from fire, but we experience them through our other elements. Like all our elements, fire has two sides and its potential for destruction is greater than the other elements.
So here we have the concept of four elements – fire, air, water, and earth. Western society values fire and has a heavy reliance on left brain over right brain (unbalanced air). It devalues the physical and emotional bodies (earth and water). So most of us are unbalanced, or living in a society that is unbalanced. Yet despite this, the human system has the uncanny ability to find its own balance and to continue living and growing.
Before we look at how the human system does this, let’s just take a step back and look at how we come to know that we are an individual.
Our ego develops during our childhood in order for us to separate from our parents. Our ego is essential for our physical existence because it provides us with our individuality – our firm conviction that we are a separate individual. It gives us a sense of having our own physical identity, which we believe is quite separate from every other person. This is only half the truth because we are also connected to every other person, however our physical presence is the symbol of our individuality.
The ego provides us with our identity and we come to believe that who we think we are is who we really are. Prior to our being able to think in our native language (as infants), there is no doubt we still existed – but we were largely unaware that we existed because we didn’t have a language to think in. So we develop this idea of ourselves as being who we ‘think’ we are.
We all ‘think’ using the left side of our brain. The left side of the brain is where we have the thoughts that are made up of words and sentences and some images. We think using our left brain in what is called ‘linear thinking’. One thought leads to another and another. This is our logic, our rational thinking, and this is the part of the brain that we typically believe is who we are. This part of our brain rules our conscious awareness because this is what we have been taught in Western society. We have been taught to use our left brain and to rely on it for solving our problems.
We are, however, more complex than this, it is just that we are not consciously aware of all our aspects or parts. Some of our parts are below our conscious awareness (subconscious or unconscious).
Our ego, from which we derive our sense of self in the physical world, takes on various sets of belief systems. These belief systems are ideas we have about how the world works and where we fit into it. They are not truth but we often believe they are truth. We rarely question our own belief systems.
Our belief system comes about largely through external influences. What our parents, friends, families, teachers, churches, governments, and the rest of society tell us influences what we believe to be true.
As children and adolescents, we take a lot of notice of these external messages about how the world works and who we are. Sometimes as adults, we continue to let our lives be ruled by a belief system that is dictated by other people. Our ego (the ideas we have about who we are) helps maintain the illusion that what we believe is actually truth. We believe what we learn to believe and we think our beliefs are truth.
Ego is like a bridge between the physical world and the spiritual world. This consciously aware part of our whole self is what we need to live in a physical world. The physical world is limited – three dimensions of space and one of time – but the spiritual world (I believe) is unlimited. To live in a limited world with unlimited consciousness would be impossible, so we have the protection of ego. Ego lets certain traffic onto the bridge of awareness. It lets traffic on that it believes we can cope with and it closes the bridge to traffic that it believes will harm us.
Ego acts as a gatekeeper – it filters information from the physical world and information from the spiritual world and delivers what it believes is useful to our conscious awareness.
When we are egocentric, we are mostly focused on the traffic coming from our external world. We are living from a perspective that sees us as totally separate from the rest of the system. We focus on the traffic from the material world and don’t pay enough attention to the traffic coming the other way. We often end up with confusion. As we become more aware, we begin to pay attention to the traffic coming from our inner self, our soul, our internal world, the spiritual dimensions. We keep paying attention to the external traffic but now we are conscious that both external and internal realities exist. (Some people might view external as being the spiritual dimension and internal as being the physical. That’s fine. What is important is that we pay both halves attention.)
The soul or inner reality is always sending messages to the conscious part of ourselves – the bridge as it were – but we have been taught to mistrust these messages. We believe that we should pay more attention to the external world. So then the soul, of necessity, creates the experience we need to make us start to question our beliefs. This is the process of life, and it opens us up to the parts of ourselves that we haven’t been paying enough attention to. We become more conscious of how we limit our own growth by limiting our beliefs about what is possible. We close our minds and we shut the bridge.
The bridge works best when it is open both ways, when traffic can flow. We shut it when we don’t listen to our spiritual self just as surely as when we don’t listen to our physical self. Our ego self expands as it opens the bridge between outer and inner worlds.
Part of the trouble as I see it is that Western society has given control of ego to the logical mind. Remember this is a metaphor – it won’t necessarily make logical sense. I am trying to get this information into your ego, your conscious awareness, and so I have to use terms that it understands or it will just filter out what I am saying. When we give control of the ego to our logical mind, we filter out everything that isn’t logical. So we filter out the two main channels that give us information from our spiritual self – our feelings and our intuition.
Soul – Inner Self
Imagine your soul, or inner self, as the spiritual essence of who you are. Most of us will have trouble imagining this because we see ourselves as our thinking brain. We have come to believe that the voice in our head is us. The voice in our head is part of us but it is only our ego, it is not the whole of us and it is not who we really are. Imagine that if there is a part of you that is eternal, what that part would be like.
Imagine then that your soul has been hidden for many years under the accumulated stuff of your life – the job, the hobbies, the relationships, the roles you have taken on, the material stuff you own, the beliefs that you hold in your conscious mind, the things you think you should do, and the ways you think you should act and behave.
Imagine that your inner self is not happy with this state of affairs, that it is sick of being ignored. What could it do?
I imagine it has a number of choices but because we are physical beings, its choices are limited by the physical reality we live in. It has to reach our conscious awareness but to do this it has to get past our ego. Ego, our conscious awareness, protects us from too much information. It protects us from all the stuff in our unconscious mind that we are not able to deal with at this moment. We cannot deal with being conscious of too much information so all information that wants access to our conscious awareness has to go through ego.
So let’s imagine a bridge between our physical self and our spiritual self, where ego sits on the bridge protecting our sense of individuality. Ego assesses all the information coming to it from our external physical world and from the internal spiritual world. It decides what to take most notice of at any one time. Because we are brought up in a Western culture, our ego is a Western ego and it pays most attention to the logical rational information and the left brain.
Ego sits on the bridge and along comes some information from our inner self.
‘Hello ego,’ it might say, ‘I am the inner self, let me into your awareness.’ (Remember this isn’t logical – if you try to make it fit into a logical framework you will drive yourself crazy.)
Ego checks with logical mind, who most likely says something like, ‘Ego you’re going crazy there isn’t anything there. Listen to me you idiot, I am in control, there is no such thing as inner self or soul. Someone is playing a trick on you.’
So inner self has to use the channels open to it. It can’t just jump into our awareness fully formed, it has to creep in bit by bit. The way it does this is through the four elements.
Inner self might try to reach our consciousness through feelings. In my experience this will often manifest initially as a feeling of sadness or loss, or anxiety and depression. Most of us ignore these feelings, try to rationalise them away.
‘Why should I feel like this? I have a great family, a good job, and good friends,’ the left brain rationalises.
But still we feel slightly unbalanced, slightly discontented. Or we develop addictions to try and fill the hole inside. This hole is not empty, it is just that our society hasn’t developed a useful way to teach our children (or our adults) how to access the spiritual side.
Some of us may become overly emotional and feel overwhelmed, as if we have no control. We think we are victims and so avoid what we are really feeling. ‘Why is this happening to me?’ ‘It’s not fair.’ ‘Everyone is against me.’
Alternatively, the soul might try and reach us through our rational conscious mind – ‘I’m not happy in this job’ might be the thought. Again we try and rationalise such thoughts away. ‘I need the money.’ ‘I should be happy, it’s a very good job.’ ‘I’m good at the job and I don’t know what else I could do.’
Or we start trying to bargain with ourselves. ‘I only have to do this job for another five years, then the children will have finished school and…’ Or ‘I only have to work for another seven years and I’ll be eligible for superannuation/long service/retirement.’
Our soul might give us a message through our physical body leading to physical symptoms. Usually these are small things at first, like a dose of the flu so we must lie around and have a break from our busy lives, or a troublesome sore knee, or maybe a pain in the back or neck. Then something bigger that demands we pay more attention – chest pain, severe headaches or a broken leg. We tell ourselves that such physical problems arise from things outside of ourselves and we go to experts to have them fixed.
Our inner self might send us messages that all is not right in our world through our right brain and our intuition, through our dreams, our gut feelings, and through other signs.
Our souls might sometimes send us messages through other people and things. Have you heard the same song five times today? What might the lyrics have to say to you? Does that bumper sticker have a particular message for you? Is that phone call from your friend telling you anything?
The inner self can try to get us to pay attention through these five aspects of ourselves: feelings, thoughts, physical symptoms, intuition, and our interconnections, but we have got so good at shutting ourselves off from our souls that it may take a truck to make us pay attention.
Some of us get hit by trucks, often metaphorically but sometimes literally.
The person who is diagnosed with cancer and suddenly realises that the life they have been living is not the life they were meant to be living. The person whose heart attack makes them realise that the important things in their life are not money and power but their family and friends. The person who gets chronic fatigue and is forced to re-evaluate their whole life.
Trucks are for those of us who live so out of touch with our spiritual self that the only way to get us to pay attention is to ram a truck right into us. For me, there were two big trucks. The first was when my marriage collapsed, the second when Angela died. Soon after Angela died, I began to understand why our soul sometimes needs to send us messages in a truck. It is because many of us just aren’t paying attention to our inner selves. We are only paying attention to our left brain. So in 2004, I finally began to pay attention to my life’s process. The process happens when our inner self tries to enter our conscious awareness.
I quit my main job and followed where my soul was pulling me. Around the same time, in that wonderful synchronistic way that the world works, my parents gave me a large sum of money. This meant I could concentrate on writing this book, which I had unsuccessfully been trying to start for a couple of years. Everything seemed to fall into place.
I began this book with no idea of what to write, just a relentless urge to write. I roughly mapped out a plan but as I began to write the plan disappeared. The whole book was written mostly from a place deep inside of me that is usually not consciously available. As I wrote I began to understand how all the experiences I had had, and that I was still having, were helping me write.
I would be stuck on a concept or a chapter and then something would happen in my life that would suddenly make sense and enable me to continue. It was as if I was learning to listen to my own soul and in the process write a book about it. For a long time I had great plans for this book until I realised that I had to write it for myself most of all.
Our inner self speaks to us in many ways. Even when we aren’t conscious of its presence, it is speaking to us. As we become more conscious of its presence we can begin to pay attention to how it talks. There are messages from our inner self in our feelings, our intuition, in signs and dreams, from our thoughts and our physical symptoms and via the connections between us all. The trouble is we don’t understand the language most of the time because it doesn’t make logical sense to us.