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How To Fix A Broken Imagination

How To Fix A Broken Imagination

Who taught you to think? When you were a child did anyone sit down with you and say, "Today we'll start learning how to be an effective thinker. We'll explore wonderous ways that you can use your mind to create abundance and beauty that no one has ever imagined!"?

It's most likely that you were simply taught to memorise countless 'things', including many contradicting beliefs and irrational fears, without being encouraged to question assumptions, let alone perceptions, and with no exploration of the terrain of the mind, or what lies beyond it.

Despite the abundance and accessibility of information, and a general recognition of the increasing speed of change, education still focuses predominantly on rote learning, which is one of the most effective methods for breaking imagination. Rote learning is necessary to some extent, however as Hippocrates said: "The dose makes the poison."

Rote learning serves the function of creating a map in the mind based on a perception of reality. The process starts with naming things and then associating them with specific emotions, and it ends with a fixed world view that may not be conducive to realising the full potential of developing human beings.

With undiscovered talents and untapped potential many children grow up to seek refuge in relationships whose bonding rituals revolve around the consumption of proscribed news and entertainment programs that portray a world of violence, dysfunctional behaviour, and dystopian futures, with a smattering of comedy and romance, leaving them floundering in a slightly euphoric but predominantly anxious daze, until the next round of programming.

At the leading edges of consciousness many spiritual teachings focus on not thinking and not believing one's thoughts. This can be very helpful for people who want relief from harmful thinking habits. But what happens when they need to think clearly, effectively and creatively? Perhaps some can learn to re-imagine the mind.


Expert knowledge can limit your imagination simply because it represents fixed ideas, yet those fixed ideas can be used as components of imagination. Knowledge is a product of perception, information, experience, association, analysis and even agreement. It can also be viewed as a story. When reality is re-imagined and perceived differently then knowledge changes, and so does the story of a life, or a society.

Thinking is self-limiting because its existence relies on the segmentation of the reality at hand into digestible units of information. Every bit of information is made of pieces whose appearance and function often depend on how you look at them. 

In short, Knowledge relies on abstraction. The very existence of any knowledge depends on filtering out information that could be critical to you. This unconscious filtering of information is determined by the programming that you received through rote learning, through your natural ability, and also the way the mind functions. 

Readers who have studied psychology will be familiar with 'Inattentional Blindness', which demonstrates that, under certain circumstances, when given specific instructions,  or having specific expectations, people will fail to see something obvious that is right in front of their eyes. This reveals a critical limitation of the mind.

To escape the knowledge trap you need to transition from conditioned perceptions to a creative mode of perception, and beyond that to a way of knowing where there is no distinction between subject and object. 


It isn't possible to explore your mind without waking up, to some degree, from the trains of thought that dominate your life. Imagine a train of thought like a real train pulling into a station. You're standing on the platform waiting for a specific train, the one that will take you to happiness, abundance and fulfillment. So why get on the train bound for misery? If you're already heading in the wrong direction then why not get off? 

Regardless of the destination, each train is powered by thought. Every thought creates a certain amount of momentum generating great amounts of energy, and sometimes the desire to let go is not enough to stop the train of thought. In any case, aim to get off your trains of thought as often as possible until you start noticing the difference between thinking and not thinking. When you explore your mind in this way you will discover a fascinating truth.

No matter how far you travel in life, no matter how beautiful or ugly the scenery, you never really arrive anywhere until you realise that you were not moving in the first place. It's your mind that moves, not you.


Drop the common notions of new and old. Everything is constantly changing however change is most often only noticed when it is significant or happens suddenly and dramatically. Try seeing everything as new and in a constant state of flux. 

The inventor of the sowing machine could not complete his design because he was stuck with a fixed concept of a sowing needle. One night he dreamed that he was being chased by a tribe of natives carrying large spears that looked like sowing needles. He noticed that each of these spears had a hole located behind the point of the spear. After this dream state observation he relocated the threading hole to the front of his needles. By seeing the possibility of a slight change in a well established design he created a revolution in the clothing industry. In much the same way there is unawakened potential in your life that awaits nothing more than the slightest change in your imagination.

To see things anew stop looking outwards and turn your attention to finding the place  from which your thoughts, perceptions and senses originate.  


Take a moment to re-acquaint yourself with how your world feels. Make a conscious connection through your sense of touch with any tool or object that you often use. Get a sense of its presence as well as its textures.  Avoid using words to describe what you feel, just immerse your attention in the tactile experience. Perhaps you have never noticed that some neighbouring objects feel cooler or warmer than others even though they are all the same temperature. What else might you have missed? 


If you are living a life under pressure then you are probably eating while doing other things, without really tasting and relishing your food. Have you tried eating without thinking? Take your time before swallowing your food. Eating on the run and while doing other things sends your nervous system the message that something is wrong. Eating slowly and savouring your food is a way of affirming that you are safe.


When was the last time you smelled the things around you? Why not do it more often? Is there some fear associated with using your nose? Perhaps some concern is warranted given the number of toxins used in the manufacture of electronic equipment, binding agents, artificial scents and air-fresheners. However your sense of smell helps you to keep these things at a distance until you know whether or not they are safe to have near you. It might help you to clear out some things that are not serving you. Smelling your environment creates moments of spaciousness in your life, and encourages the relaxing practice of bring your attention to the breath.  


Find a quiet place and stop listening for meaning or warning signals. Just bathe in the sounds that appear and disappear, be it rain on your roof, the wind rushing through the trees, birdsong, a passing car, or the pulse of your own body. With a little practice you will also be able to apply this practice to words. Music has no inherent meaning, which is why so many people find it helpful in calming a busy mind.  You can hear the melodies, harmonies and rhythms of life everywhere when your attention is not hijacked by words and concepts.


Notice things that are unnameable such as unusual shapes, for example, the shapes that appear between objects placed randomly near each other, or the shapes of clouds. But don't try to find obvious patterns or associations. Just look. The moment you name something you turn it into an abstraction of reality, a fixed concept, and you place upon it certain limits of thought. This not only locks the concept into your mind, it also locks you into the concept. Look at common objects, the things around you, without naming them, and see them for the first time.  


Words are so fundamental to people's way of being that they barely if ever notice the creative or destructive effect words have on their lives. Eckhart Tolle, a former victim of relentless negative mind states, once equated compulsive thinking  with a virus taking over humanity. 
Next time you take a break try repeating some words over and over until they lose their meaning. Avoid words that have negative associations for you because they can make this process unpleasant and more difficult.

Choosing an uplifting mantra or an affirmation can have additional associated benefits. Charging positive words with strong emotion can change your state of mental and physical being. However, for now, the key is to experience words or mantras in a way that takes you beyond the meaning generally attributed to it.


Notice how much of your physical movements are purely functional and contracted. Find a time when you can move your body in a way that explores the surrounding space and stretches your muscles.  Move without any sense of destination. If that's psychologically challenging then start simply by moving your fingers and hands followed by your arms and so on. If free-form dancing seems out of reach for you then learn a new physical activity, perhaps Tai Chi, Yoga, or Aikido, will suit your temperament and help free up your creative energies. When moving notice that it happens against the still and peaceful backdrop of awareness. 


You can't hurry imagination. By slowing down you can not only help your imagination but also gain a sense of happiness, inner peace and freedom right now. The more stress you experience the less capacity you have to think clearly, let alone creatively. 

In an emergency you want to call upon all the benefits you've gained from being relaxed, clear-minded and imaginative. In fact the only time you ever need to hurry might be in an emergency, and even then it can pay to take your time. You must learn to slow down so you can re-evaluate what causes you to hurry. Slowing down gives your imagination the spacious conditions it needs to serve you, and ultimately to help others. 


Meditation is the ultimate method for slowing down while still remaining conscious. Try to focus more on your inner condition than your outer posture. Find moments during the day when you can let your attention relax, even for a few seconds, without following any  passing thoughts. Even the intention to do this creates a seed that will eventually grow. Meditation will help you to disconnect from fixed patterns of perception and reactive thoughts. 


Sensations and thoughts appear so quickly in the mind that very few people ever stop to wonder how and where they originate. You can be lost in thought, or lost in the senses, or you can observe and experience your thoughts and senses in a way that awakens you. Notice when thoughts and feelings arise and subside, rather than focusing on their content, and you will start connecting with the origins of imagination and consciousness.


Inspiration fuels a healthy imagination. Inspiring people will give you countless ideas without even trying. That is how humanity has flourished. People shared and copied ideas, and the act of sharing ideas created community and abundance, and in turn inspired new ideas. Imagination springs from the one root and expresses through different branches. 

This is only a tiny part of a very big picture. So find a creative group of people that resonates with your interests and explore these topics with them, or, if you're nearby,  join us for some chanting, music, meditation and stories for awakening.


Awakening Ethics and Morals

Awakening Ethics and Morals

Nisargadatta Maharaj once said, "Nothing ever goes wrong in my world", however most people don't have that experience of reality, and for them, things seem to go wrong quite often. The difference in perspectives can be so extreme that the one will say, "nothing is wrong", while the other says, "this is a catastrophe". When extreme differences in perceptions arise it can be challenging to make sense of a situation. 

The focus of awakening isn't about solving specific problems. Nevertheless perceptions of problems can sometimes be resolved. When people approach spiritual awakening they generally bring with them mental structures informed by moral standards and ethics, not to mention ingrained personal habits. If we are to embody awakening in every day life then it might be worth considering how morals and ethics relate to the ideal of spontaneous action of awakened awareness.


From an awakened perspective everything is arising as a divine spontaneous unfolding of creation. An individual's spontaneous action is ideally in harmony with whatever is arising in the mind and immediate environment, but this doesn't always appear to be so. However this is a very subtle point because in order for anything at all to appear to have an independent existence, it must be, at least ever-so-slightly, out of perfect harmony with its source and with everything else. For example, each branch of a tree is part of the same trunk, and when they grow from the trunk they appear to be seperate, and when the wind blows some might collide, yet they are one with each other and with the trunk. In order to exist they must sprout from and be slightly different from the trunk and each other.

The spontaneous conduct of an individual may or may not be in harmony with ethics or with the morals of a community. If it were so then there would be no need to embody one's awakening in everyday life, and spiritual realisation could become an easy excuse for inappropriate conduct.  As spontaneous conduct is not necessarily rational it is often generalised as either enlightened, genius, insane, or stupid.


Ethics seeks to determine the most appropriate conduct in a given situation through rational means. It investigates the question: "What ought I to do?" The answer can be unique for each given set of circumstances and for every human being who asks the question. You have most likely heard the term 'Code of Ethics' however this is an oxymoron because ethics, unlike morals or legislation, cannot be codified. Ethics explores one's conduct in relationship with one's self, with others, with creation, and it represents the highest rational standard for conduct. Ethics is universal, and an ethical person is one whose goal is to practice universally preferable behaviour. Nevertheless there are numerous situations where ethical conduct can conflict with moral standards or legislation.


Morals are too often confused with ethics however the distinction between ethics and morals is very important. Morals are local social and community standards of acceptable conduct. A capacity for subtle reflection and introspection is not required, as in the case of ethics, and moral standards can be easily copied and codified as behavioural norms. In one society it might be quite common for a man to have many wives while in another only one wife is permitted. In one community free sex is considered the norm while in another it is seen as repulsive behaviour. A moral human being is one whose personal conduct predominantly reflects the locally preferred social norms of behaviour. 


When people lose the capacity to think clearly about their relationships and conduct, uncertain of whether they are thinking about ethics or morals, unable to distinguish rhetoric from rational argument, unconscious of spontaneous tendencies, they run the risk of experiencing and causing confusion and mental suffering. Love, compassion and kindness are fundamental ingredients in dealing with complex realities. However, consider this little tale of misguided compassion from philosopher Alan Watts. "Oh dear!You're drowning!" said the monkey. "Let me kindly help you as he pulled the fish out of the water and placed it up a tree".  

In a time when mainstream media, news and advertising tries to influence your perceptions of reality, it is important to understand how your mind works, how you think, and more importantly, how to be free of thinking altogether. Particularly if you're starting to feel like a fish perched on a tree branch. And there is no shortage of those who will put you there if you allow them. 

Learning how to not think can seem a very attractive escape from a stressful reality. But oscillating between awakened awareness while on retreat and mental confusion while in the world is not an ideal situation. Not thinking is not just an escape into disempowered blankness. Meditation is much more than a rewarding period of rest. The non-thinking of awakened awareness is the field within which clear thinking blossoms. The question is to which thoughts will you pay attention? Will you allow your thoughts to come and go or will you act on some of them? To embody awakened awareness in everyday life is to express it not only through the body and the emotions, but also through compassionate and discriminating thought. 

You have in any moment the power and resources to steer a course, one of your choosing, away from a sea of conflicting thoughts and emotions to a place of calm and clarity, your most inner being, where there is no problem in your world.

Anxiety and the Dissolution of Separation

Conditioned thinking is often marked by an underlying sense of anxiety, and is based on the perception of separation. Clear thinking and awakened awareness seem inaccessible while you are in a state of anxiety, which separates you from others and from your true nature. There are certain techniques that can help you to relax to alleviate anxiety, however, awakened awareness can dispel anxiety instantaneously.

It can happen through spiritual practice or grace. You can't do anything to receive grace however spiritual practice is always available, as long as you are prepared to bring your attention to it, by meditating, chanting, reading, contemplating, doing yoga, or simply associating with people who are interested in awakening, or who are awakened.

Anxiety is caused by conditioned thinking, which is persistent, and will always seek to solve problems in conditioned ways. Consequently anxiety often makes circumstances appear as problems. This is a subtle point because painful things can and do happen through no obvious fault of your own, nevertheless those same painful circumstances need not become ongoing problems.

The cycles of conditioned thoughts and responses must fall away, at least momentarily, in order to gain this insight. Circumstances are not happening to you, but you, in addition to the habituated perception of yourself, are an inseparable part of transient circumstances. In other words, the totality is you.

Your reaction to circumstances gives you the impression that you are separate, however those very thoughts, emotions, and feelings are completely and utterly dependent on that to which they react, and this difference, this apparent separation, is what gives you the sense of individual existence. Your attention being caught up in the situation and the thoughts and feelings about it can never fully resolve the problem, because eternal transformation has no finality. The mind always needs more information, at least until it is distracted by a new situation, at which time the pattern of seeking information and problem solving will repeat itself with essentially the same form, albeit with different details.

To notice this is a matter of subtle observation rather than complex analysis. In this context complexity is a distraction. As long as your attention is drawn into the details of a given situation then your attention is unavailable to explore who or what is really experiencing all this.

You assume that what you experience is what it really seems to be, because your experience confirms your deepest beliefs. Reality is not only a projection of yourself but an integral part of yourself. Your local self, namely your physical body and the awareness of your thoughts, has a limited sensibility that is numb to the rest of you. And the rest of you is whatever you believe is not you. The saying 'what goes around comes around' is more meaningful when you understand this. If you harm a part of your own body which is numb then you will eventually feel the effects when the numbness wears off, and your whole body is awakened to its senses.

When you have compassion for others, you have compassion for yourself. When you do no harm to others, you do no harm to yourself. When you love others, you love yourself. Spiritual awakening is the dissolution of separation and the end of anxiety.


Freedom implies being free of something, and it can also mean being free of everything. You are free of a thing when it has no hold on you, and when you have no hold on it. Then you are in harmony with life.

The freedom that most people seek is really a temporary relief from problems. No permanent relief is possible as long as one is attached to impermanent things.

The common understanding of freedom is that you get and keep everything you want, and avoid or dispose of everything you don’t want. However the things you want will eventually change or disappear, and things you don’t want will continue to appear at unexpected times. Once this is seen and deeply understood then you become open to real freedom.

Are you free to do what you love? Are you free to love what you are doing? Are you free to meet whatever arises with love?  If not then you will experience uncertainty, anxiety, confusion and fear, which announce to you that you are moving away from freedom.

Anything that enters your awareness is a part of you. You know this to be true to the extent that you can see yourself as being greater than the boundary of your own body. This is similar to how a baby begins to discover that its hand or its foot is a part of its physical body. The next stage of spiritual maturity, beyond thinking of yourself as a spiritual individual, is to see everything as being part of your self.

Your experience of freedom increases as you outgrow your limited self, your individual self. That is not to imply that you should abandon your personal identity but rather to simply recognise that your personal identity is a part of your greater being.

As you become increasingly free of the limiting aspects of your personal identity, you give up the strong desire for control and domination in favour of spontaneous engagement and collaboration. Where you once said, “This is how it must be”, you might now say, “This is how I’d like it to be, however I’m open to discover other possibilities”. The latter approach in itself frees you from the frustrations of events not unfolding as you had expected.

A free person understands that psychological stress is caused not by circumstances but by beliefs. Circumstances might cause pain but only dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs can cause suffering. Pain is the physical sensation caused by injury while suffering is the negative emotional sensation caused by thoughts and imaginings of injury. Knowing this, reflect on the stories you have told yourself about past problems. Are your stories freeing you or keeping you trapped in suffering? Can you let them go?

Nothing can upset a person who is free. In practical terms that means they cannot be upset for long because they understand the impermanence of things. Not clinging to things they allow them to come and go as easily as possible.

Your inner freedom makes you a more integrated and functional part of the whole. If you are truly free then you will naturally act in the best interest of others, and your being established in freedom creates an opening for others to be free.


Chanting Now

If you enter a chant with all your heart, you’ll discover for yourself that it's much more than a beat, a melody, and a mantra.

Chanting has played a significant role in yoga, in religion, and in many cultural traditions because it is a powerful way of bringing an individual or a group into an experience of unity. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ meaning to join or yoke. Today yoga is generally understood to mean union. Religion derives from the Latin word ‘religare’ meaning to reconnect. It’s not entirely surprising that enlightened notions of health and wellbeing are also associated with a return to wholeness, often using music and chant to create a healing ambience.

A key element of chant is repetition, which is the basis of rhythm. We generally perceive rhythm as stable repetition. At a relative level that certainly seems true, but the deeper we look the more we discover this to be only an appearance.

Creation is essentially unstable. If it were absolutely stable then it would be unchanging and your body wouldn’t age or die. Most importantly you would never have been born to become the individual that you seem to be. Another way of seeing this instability is to notice that no two things are exactly the same in every detail, and even if they appear to be indistinguishably similar then they can’t be in the same place at the same time. And nothing can be repeated in exactly the same way. 

Every moment is new, even though it might seem very familiar, and each beat of the chant announces the new reality coming into being. A chant can take you on a journey through altered states of consciousness, including the one you are currently experiencing. It can transport your attention away from all that is unstable to reveal that which is unchanging and ever present in all experiences.

At the level of the individual the underlying rhythms of chant are the heartbeat and the breath. Yet all things, all appearances, have their patterns of rhythm and vibration. Any form can be seen as a complex interplay of vibrations and harmonics. For example, the harmonics in a musical note are the less obvious pulses that give it a particular sound quality, and help you distinguish between different instruments and voices. A similar principle applies to light and matter. When we see colour we don’t think of it as being a high frequency vibration. The interplay of many vibrations leads to more and more complex patterns where the beats no longer appear as rhythm but as form.

Words, concepts, stories, and mantras have evolved from the sound of the breath as Ahhh or Haaa, and the primal sounds A, U, and M which are sounded by the vibrating vocal chords. Bringing your attention to these primal sounds can transport you to a state of consciousness prior to concepts, or to a state of consciousness beyond concepts, where concepts no longer have a dominant role in your awareness. Complete immersion in the words of the mantra, and the lyrics of the chant, can reveal the underlying field of reality out of which meaning arises.

Originally a thing was named when a sound was associated with it, then every unconscious repetition of that sound gave the thing a greater appearance of reality until it became a recognised word. There are countless things that are never named because they are too complex, or too subtle, to be generally recognised. The chant can create an opening into these more subtle realms of knowledge which are often overlooked yet seem obvious when seen.

Though many students believe that the words of the mantra have power, it’s actually the student’s belief that has the power, and more importantly, it’s the student’s complete immersion in the mantra that dissolves their conceptual shackles.

You don’t have to make a choice to chant mantras and melodies to awaken, to become spiritually enlightened, because you’re already chanting whether you know it or not.  Look at the words, thoughts, beliefs and opinions and stories that you chant everyday. Repeatedly thinking about complaints and trivia sustains a sense of limitation and suffering. It’s like practising a negative chant. Notice the words or melodies that are repeatedly playing in your mind. This is your chant in this moment.

Creation is singing and pulsing in every direction. The rhythm of life and the music of life are revealed in this one song of the uni-verse. Once we notice it then we can join the song more consciously.

Most people are familiar with chanting as a devotional practice, or as a way of achieving ecstatic states of consciousness, and some people chant as a way to manifest their desires through repeated affirmations. There are many forms of chanting that open up different states of consciousness. No matter what form it takes there’s always the possibility to move so deeply into the chant that the mind is transcended; in other words all concepts about the chant and its purpose fall away to reveal its pure source.

People who have no knowledge of chanting can and do awaken because they are already an expression of the complex rhythms and vibrations of creation, and as such they awaken through whatever avenue opens for them, be it after long years of seeking, or a moment of grace. So while a conscious chanting practise isn’t essential to realisation, it’s certainly a wonderful way to express awakening, or to learn about it.

Chanting offers insights into some fascinating states of consciousness, but more importantly it’s one of the vehicles that can guide you back to your true nature, not the self-conscious entity that thinks it’s a limited person, but the real you that’s aware and present in every experience, positive or negative, beyond concepts and imagination. Anything that appears in consciousness, in time, in space, is subject to change. Yet if you go deeply into the very rhythm of change, the rhythm of the chant, you can awaken to the timeless aspect of yourself that is always free. Chanting isn’t only about doing a particular spiritual practise, it’s an opportunity to realise that you are the song that creation is singing; you are life itself arising in pure awareness, giving voice to the eternal now.


Photo: Kavisha Mazzella and the Fire Choir chanting Love I Call Your Name, from the DVD 'The Final Piece'.