Author Archives: thedevolutionary

Three ways to increase your awareness instantly

increase awareness making tea
sacred mount Kailash

Awareness may be the mountain, but there are many paths to it.

Here are three ways to increase present-moment awareness that I’ve drawn from books I’ve read this year.

All these ways are interconnected and they all lead in the same direction – towards a more joyful, fulfilling experience of life.

I hope you find at least one of them helpful.

The First Way

The First Way is what Eckhart Tolle calls “acceptance”.

It sounds easy.

You simply accept everything that is going on around you right now – and accept it completely. Another way of saying this is to stop resisting the present moment. Or surrender to it.

As you do that, you can feel the tension in your mind diminish. You can then start to notice tensions in your body, which you can release, too. The more relaxed you are, the more subtle the tension you can find, release, and the more relaxed you can be.

Acceptance, non-resistance and surrender sound passive, but the effect is quite the opposite. You suddenly experience an opening up of the senses. An increased awareness of life going on around you in all its forms.

This is a particularly useful technique for dealing with absolutely anything.

The Second Way

Present-moment awareness on the tube

The Second Way to increase awareness makes every situation friendly. (Photo by Tolga Akmen)

I love the Second Way, which is: Make friends with the present moment.

In the West, we have been conditioned to believe that life will be better in the future. Unfortunately, this means we overlook the present moment, which is the only time there ever is. Even more unfortunately, we treat the present moment as an obstacle, getting between us and the happy life we imagine we are destined for.

This is a particularly unhelpful trick of the mind.

Fortunately, the trick is so obvious you can easily spot it and stop it. Next time you catch yourself thinking the present moment is somehow boring, uncomfortable, in your way, or actively going against you – notice the thought.

As soon as you notice it, the thought becomes self conscious. It shrinks. And in the space between where the thought was (dominating your attention) and where it is now (diminishing rapidly), you can change the way you experience the world. Here is where you can choose to see the present moment as your friend and not your enemy.

Here is your opportunity to experience your life – in actual time.

Imagine how enjoyable life would be if you saw every moment as being friendly (even when it appears not to be). Sounds impossible? You can experience it for yourself with a very simple exercise like this one with the hands.

Upgrading the Second Way

Making friends with the present moment is an excellent start, and the credit, again, goes to Tolle. I propose an extension to the idea – or an upgrade: Fall in love with the present moment.

Imagine loving your experience of life, in the fullest possible sense – all the time. What a wonderful way to be.

The Third Way

increase awareness making tea

The best way to make a cup of tea – with awareness.

The Third Way is new to me, and I also love it. It’s what Eckhart calls “Primary Purpose”.

It’s reassuringly simple: Our Primary Purpose is to do whatever we are doing, right now. For me, now, my Primary Purpose is to write this blog post clearly, to try and communicate these ideas in a way you will find helpful. For you, now, your Primary Purpose is to read these words.

That’s it.

There is nothing more to life than what is going on in and around you right now. (Although the more awareness you have, the fuller that experience can be – ad infinitum.)

Primary Purpose is a brilliant way to bring enjoyment to the most mundane tasks. When washing dishes, for example, the Primary Purpose is: washing dishes. Feel the temperature of the water. Notice the soap. Feel the item becoming clean. If you are making a cup of tea, your Primary Purpose is not “make the tea”. It is: walk to the kettle, lift it to check for water, put it on (etc.). One thing at a time. Fully.

This idea came from a long Tolle video I watched the other night and I’ve been practising since (whenever I remember). Here is a shorter video where he covers some of the same points I’ve made here.

Feel free to ask questions.

 

Eckhart Tolle points to the path of peace (good news – you’re already on it)

Eckhart Tolle, man of peace
Eckhart Tolle, man of peace

If anyone deserves a Nobel peace prize, it’s this man: Eckhart Tolle (Photo: David Ellingsen)

One of my biggest discoveries of this year – of any year, in fact – is Eckhart Tolle.

Here, I’d like to explain how his videos and books have shown me a path to peace. And how they could do the same for you – even in these worrying times.

A close encounter with ET

Last year, I was talking to some guests in écovallée about life, the universe and everything. It’s been my favourite topic of conversation for decades – and one of the reasons I’m often the last to leave a party.

One of the guests, who was recovering from a serious illness, asked me if I’d ever read any Eckhart Tolle. “No,” I said. (In my defence, I’d been living in a yurt in the woods since 2007, creating a planet-friendly campsite, and scrambling around doing various jobs to feed the family.)

He showed me a copy of Tolle’s book, A New Earth, and told me that Eckhart is one of the most important spiritual teachers on the planet. I read the cover, which talks about “personal spirituality”, “self-improvement”, “new levels of consciousness” and “inner peace”. All great stuff.

But as far as I was concerned, I’d read enough mind-expanding, New Age-y books for one lifetime. What more could I learn from another? So I put it down and returned to the subject at hand: nature, beauty, living fully as a human being, on the most beautiful planet we know – and everything else besides.

Time passed. And with it, the relationship in was in – and the reason I’d been doing what I’d been doing for so many years.

The right moment

When I should have been at my lowest point, one thought kept occurring to me, like a mantra: Look at what is right in front of you. Have no expectations.

I found the thought so useful, I shared it with other people.

Surprising side note: Almost everyone I spoke to at this time revealed they were in some kind of crisis – I had no idea! Apart from the sense that there’s something huge and important missing in life, I had assumed they were all fine.

One friend, who was not in crisis, said it reminded him of Eckhart Tolle – and I remembered the name. (It’s not an easy name to forget.) He had read Tolle’s first book, The Power of Now, and said it was excellent. He didn’t have it anymore, but said I should read it, and gave me a copy of Autobiography of a Yogi instead (see below). He also recommended listening to podcasts and watching videos of Eckhart Tolle on YouTube.

Which was the next step I took on my path to peace.

Eckhart Tolle videos – something for nothing

There are so many Eckhart Tolle videos on YouTube, it’s hard to know where to start. I watched one or two short ones, like this, before quickly moving onto the longest videos I could find…

By now, I have watched days of Eckhart Tolle videos – and will happily watch many more. I find them calming, funny, enlightening and full of wisdom.

HOWEVER, videos of Eckhart Tolle are not for everyone. This summer, some friends told me they watched one and had a strong negative reaction. There are several possible reasons for this – and they’re all fine. If you have a strong negative reaction, you could pause the video, step back from your reaction and see if you can identify where it comes from.

You might want to come back to the video later. Or never. It’s all fine.

As with my close encounter last year, this may not be the right moment for you. You might be better off with one of the books – and what books!

My first copies of “The Power of Now”

On a visit to the UK earlier this year, partly as payment for the hours of free videos I had already seen, I bought a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s first book, The Power of NowAfter reading a few chapters, I bought three more copies and gave them to some of the most significant people in my life.

Why? 

Because it’s one of the most important, helpful, thought-provoking (and thought-preventing) books I have ever read – and I wanted other people to see what he had to say.

The aim of the book, as with the YouTube videos, is to help us live in the present moment – the Now – instead of dreaming our way through life, distracted by thoughts of the past (which no longer exists) or worries about the future (which will never happen the way we imagine it).

Eckhart Tolle shows us that beyond our thoughts, we can find peace. And we can find it now – the only time there ever is! He provides easy exercises to try whenever you have a moment. And, for me, he makes sense of several metaphysical questions I have always struggled to understand (despite countless conversations).

I cannot recommend the book highly enough. Can you tell?

“A New Earth” reappears


Two weeks ago, I bought A New Earth – the Eckhart Tolle book I picked up last year in the outdoor kitchen at écovallée.

Where The Power of Now points to different ways onto the path of peace, A New Earth points further along it. Not only is this book as helpful, funny and wise as Tolle’s first, it is also profoundly optimistic.

With all the uncertainty in the world at the moment, it is a great comfort to have on the desk next to me now. And when I finish reading it, Tolle’s second book Stillness Speaks will be appearing on my bookshelf.

Previous reading

My path to Eckhart Tolle is paved with books on life, the universe and everything, including those listed below. One or two titles might trigger an emotional response in you, but try to look beyond the cover – and judge the content instead.

Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda

This is the book my friend lent me when he didn’t have The Power of Now to hand. Little did I know, it’s considered one of the most important spiritual books ever written.

It documents the life of the man who brought yoga to the West, from his otherworldly childhood in India to the meeting with his guru and schooling in the mysteries of Kriya yoga.

It’s a fantastically exciting book that opened my mind to possibilities I dismissed long ago. Since reading it, I often see this book in recommended reading lists. I see the photograph, too, in videos and films, and on the walls of music rooms and yoga studios.

The Magus of Strovolos, by Kyriacos C. Markides

I had forgotten about this book until just now, but something about the magnificent-sounding name of Paramahansa Yogananda reminded me.

This is another book I have recommended many times, especially to people interested in healing or being healed. I found it reassuring to know that there are people like Stylianos Atteshlis (the healer the book is about) walking this earth, although he died – this time – in 1995.

Which brings me nicely on to one of my favourite subjects…

Journey of Souls, by Michael Newton

If you have ever wondered about reincarnation, Journey of Souls is a must-read. Written by a hypnotherapist who unexpectedly found himself talking to a patient about a previous life, it tells the story about what happens between the moment of death and the next birth.

Because the writer is a doctor, and was sceptical at first, the journey is revealed in a series of case studies. I have bought this book many times for friends, family and work colleagues. It provides clear evidence, to me, that reincarnation is the process we are involved in. Which I find liberating, as it gives me the freedom to make mistakes.

Children’s Past Lives, by Carol Bowman

I discovered this book while looking for a TV show I remembered watching years ago. In the show, a young Indian boy could clearly remember his wife and children from a recent past life. Eventually, a member of his new family tracked them down.

The TV show was called Forty Minutes. It was on the BBC in 1990. The boy was Titu Singh, and here is the clip about his previous life as Suresh Verma. (It’s still a convincing piece of film.)

Carol’s follow-up book, Return from Heaven, talks about cases where children have reincarnated into the same family. Which is one of the reasons I smile when people claim, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”

Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch

Probably the most challenging title on this list, but the content of this book is exceptional. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have bought it and given it away. Or lent it and never seen it again. Some books are like that.

The first time I tried to read Book One, I only managed a few pages. Then I had a very strong reaction to something it says and slammed it shut (it was a hardback). A couple of weeks later, I tried again and absolutely loved it. I’m not alone in this – the book was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 137 weeks after it was published back in 1995. (Two years before The Power of Now.)

Book Two is also wonderful.

Life, the universe and everything, by Douglas Adams

I could add The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. And Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. And something by Paulo Coelho or Richard Bach (Illusions is particularly good). But instead, I will come full circle with a book by self-proclaimed “radical atheist”, Douglas Adams.

At the tender age of 19, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (of five books) inspired me to write, then crushed that ambition. It inspired me because of its unparalleled comedic genius. And crushed me because, after I finished Life, the universe and everything, I couldn’t see what else there was to write about. I mean… He had written… Everything!

Fortunately, Douglas wrote several more books, including the brilliant Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. A “thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic” (in the author’s own words), that explores “the fundamental interconnectedness of all things”.

He would have had a very strong negative reaction to some – or all – of these books. And that’s fine. From an intellectual point of view, it’s entirely understandable. But the intellect – even for a genius – is limited. The constant “mental noise”, as Eckhart Tolle puts it – the endless stream of thoughts that pass through our heads and distract us from the world that’s staring us in the face – is why we cannot find peace.

When we go beyond the noise, there is it. Like the blue sky behind the clouds, it’s always there, waiting to be found.

External links

Eckhart Tolle – official site

Eckhart Tolle – on Wikipedia

Eckhart Tolle – YouTube channel

Why you’re not at peace (article from Oprah’s website)

Help me to help others

All the book-cover links on this page direct you to amazon.co.uk. If you actually buy any of them, I will receive a commission through the Affiliates program. After paying tax on this, I will share the commission with organisations that help people in crisis.

I hope you feel this is fair, and will give details of the organisations that benefit as it happens.

Or buy me some coffee

If you found this post useful but do not live in the UK, do not use Amazon, or would rather buy me a coffee, you can click on the button below. I won’t actually buy a whole coffee, but will pay the tax on what you give and share the money with (non-religious and non-political) organisations that help people in crisis.

One day, if we meet, I’ll make you a coffee to say thanks.



ALEX’S NOTE: Although, with a final push from Eckhart Tolle, I am finally on my path to peace, I am not very far along it. In fact, calling it a “path” is not accurate, but it’s an image I think we can all understand. Is this the “journey of a thousand miles” that “starts from beneath your feet” mentioned in Chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching? Possibly. Should we be put off by the length of this journey? Absolutely not. In the words of another comedy genius, Steven Wright, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.”

Are these the films mentioned on “The Retreat”?

Yoga image from The Retreat
Yoga image from The Retreat

“The Retreat”, presented by Nick Knowles, started last night. One to watch, I think.

Episode 1 of “The Retreat“, fronted by TV presenter Nick Knowles, aired last night on BBC2 and makes interesting and entertaining viewing. (Apparently, it also makes long blog posts – this one takes 3.5 minutes to read.)

During this first broadcast, they mentioned some films that talk about the benefits of a vegan or vegetarian diet, based on whole grains. Possibly because it’s the BBC, they didn’t give the names of the films. So I’m going to hazard a guess, and hope someone will correct me in the comments if they know.

Either way, here are four of the most compelling food-related films I have seen in the last few years. They all had a strong impact on me, and helped prepare the ground for becoming almost completely vegetarian this year. (More on this below)

forks-over-knives-film

Forks over knives (IMDB link)

When I saw this film, I immediately wanted to become vegan. All vegan food has since looked and tasted incredible, but I currently don’t have the knowledge to go down this route. Before you say, “Yeah, but what about muscles…” just have a look at the film.

food-inc-film

Food Inc (IMDB link)

I haven’t seen this for a couple of years but it had a similar impact to “Forks over knives”, coming from a different angle. As we become more aware of the consciousness shared by all living things, we are naturally keen to limit the suffering endured by others – human and non-human alike. (I watched this with my children, and my daughter wanted to be vegetarian for several days…)

fat_sick_and_nearly_dead_film

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead (IMDB link)

The one I’ve seen most recently on this list. If I told you what it’s about, you would think I was making it up. This film saves lives. (I started watching Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead 2, but it didn’t have quite the same impact on me. Sequels are hard. I will go back and finish it, though.)

p10935874_p_v8_aa

Cowspiracy (IMDB link)

This is the “Gasland” of food films – and well worth a watch. My takeout was that you cannot seriously called yourself an environmentalist (if that’s the label you feel like using) if you eat meat. I know the exterior environment is an existential crisis, but it’s not something I’m going into here.

The more-on-this bit

I decided to stop eating meat after rearing, killing, butchering and eating my own animals, when écovallée was a smallholding (here’s a link to the blog about that nine-year adventure).

  • We kept pigs for several years, and ended up growing and harvesting a crop – by hand – to cut down on their winter food bill. Seeing how much human energy went into that exercise, it’s obviously more efficient to grow and eat the crop, than grow the crop, feed it to an animal and eat the animal. (Factor in the amount of fossil fuel normally used to transport seed corn, prepare the ground, sow it, harvest and transport it, prepare it for bagging and move it again – with our finite resources and the noxious fumes released – it’s even more ridiculous. There are currently over 7.4 billion of us, increasing every day by around 200,000, as you’ll see on world population clocks like this one. We can easily feed this growing population on a vegetarian diet, as you can see here. I read here that fossil fuel use is the equivalent to having 22 billion slaves on the planet – if we come off fossil fuels, we could have full employment – but that’s another story.)
  • We also kept rabbits, which are an excellent source of meat for the smallholder. I’ve been told that, with two breeding pairs, you will always have meat on your table. (Although only eating rabbit can lead to rabbit starvation – a form of malnutrition, so you shouldn’t rely on it exclusively.) On a practical point, rabbits have litters of around 12 kitens (yes, they are called that) and they all reach their eating weight at the same time. I only ever killed and butchered two rabbits at a time, so that’s a week of killing when they are all ready. The last time I did this, I asked myself this question: If an animal is going to be allowed to be born (by me, who decides when to put the male in with the female), then kept in a cage – even with a view – to be fed (by me) only to be killed for food, would it be better that the animal was never born at all? I decided it would, we stopped breeding rabbits, and I stopped killing.
  • We also kept chickens, for eggs and meat. (We were like Escape to River Cottage, only more extreme.) They are considerably easier to kill than rabbits, although I find the butchery more time consuming. As with the rabbits, the first chicken I killed was a shocking experience. (If you find yourself doing this at some point, you will understand. I only talk about this in person.) When I made the move to become vegetarian, I decided to leave my remaining 14-odd chickens to die of natural causes. A few weeks later, they did – in the shape of a fox or hunting dog, that broke in and killed them all. The bodies were left uneaten, in the most outrageous display of food waste I’ve seen in person.

Be careful

One final thing before I sign off this post-that-somehow-turned-into-an-essay.

I suspect I’ve been undernourishing myself for a while, and had a couple of moments of unexpected weakness last week. This has made me look more seriously at what and when I eat, and I’m finding out about vitamins and proteins I may have been missing. As further episodes of “The Retreat” will no doubt show this week, it’s apparently not as simple as leaving meat off your plate.

Although, if you’re a habitual meat eater, that’s a great way to start.

 

“The Retreat” is showing every night this week on BBC2. I am not connected to the show in any way. And the retreats being held at écovallée from next year will not be anything like this. Yoga, meditation, mindfulness, present-moment awareness, joy, peace, stillness, space, love and connectedness, yes. Detoxing, no. Although juices and veggie boxes will be used.

Why people are the same as trees

People are like trees
People are like trees

“People are like trees” explained.

Earlier in the summer, one of my lovely guests wrote this blog post about her stay in écovallée. In it, she says:

Alex… announced during one mealtime together “People are the same as trees”.

Like I said on the Facebook page, I think this needs some explaining.

Alexplanation

I can’t remember where this idea came from – it could be another one lifted from Eckhart Tolle, or someone he was quoting – but I love it and I’ll try to do it justice:

When we go through the woods, we pass trees of every kind. Some are young and spindly. Others huge and healthy. Everywhere, there are trees bent into incredible shapes, broken by storms – even rotting back into the ground.

As a rule, we don’t judge them. We simply accept them for how they are. We could build a story around why a particular tree might be a certain way. We could look at them closely, and admire how perfect they are – just as they are. We almost never try and change them – why on earth would we do that?

Now, when we pass people on our way through life, we can treat them in exactly the same way. For exactly the same reasons.

« Older Entries