I believe that we are about to go through a paradigm shift that is unprecedented in scale. The Universe thinks so too, although it has no deeper insight into the future than the rest of humanity. The whole world is standing on the threshold of one way of being and each moment taking a step forward into the unknown together.
Humans have a tendency to see their current paradigm as the one true paradigm. Particularly at the moment, because our paradigm is all about scientific fact and truth. We frame all of history as a linear development firstly of species and then humanity, towards our current way of living.
We are obsessed with money and productivity and tie up our human worth with how busy we are and how much stuff we own. It is absurd.
That our paradigm is true or somehow the best is absolute nonsense and even within our current world and very recent history there are completely different cultures and ways of living. We worship productivity, plan our lives around getting stuff done and value individual control over our choice of how we spend our money. Everyone is overworked, tired and has limited space for joy in their lives, even a lot of the ultra-rich. There are plenty of examples of culture that value things like being in harmony with nature, working as little as possible or cultivating deep levels of servitude to their communities.
As individuals and collectives, we change when we face a problem that our current paradigm can’t solve. The current disruption is an opportunity to make lasting change. Unlike the climate crisis, it feels like we don’t have much choice in this, but we do need a North star. An idea of where we could be headed that is better than where we are now, to ensure we approach this crisis as an opportunity to pull together and build a better future, rather than a descent into pure chaos and a disintegration of society.
On a positive note, one of the reasons we face this moment of huge change is because of the great achievements of humanity. We have actually arrived at the imagined utopias of the past. We are physically safer than we’ve ever been, have machines that do a lot of the worst labour and have managed to scale-up food production to fairly easily provide enough for everyone on the planet.
Focusing on productivity has worked and has demonstrated the enormous capabilities of human ingenuity. Imagine if we could harness all that creative force and put it behind building a more equal society, that was more joyful for everyone.
One of things that this paradigm has clearly demonstrated, is that we don’t find happiness in reaching an end goal. By the time we get to that goal, we have created new problems from the ways in which we have solved the old problems.
We find a deep and lasting sense of fulfilment by contributing towards a purpose. By being in the process of working towards something we believe in, not by reaching some state of perfection. We need to focus on how we can build a world in which we all get space to understand our unique gifts and share them in fulfilling and supportive environments.
One mention of the prophecy of Maitreya is in the Maitreyavyākaraṇa:
“They will have torn the net of the passions, they will manage to enter into trances, and theirs will be an abundance of joy and happiness, for they will lead a holy life under Maitreya’s guidance.”
There is one way of translating what this means from the viewpoint of the original Buddhist paradigm. That we will be more detached from our desires in the physical world, able to sit in long periods of meditation and devote ourselves to some spiritual guru or religious belief.
From the paradigm that I exist in, it has an entirely different meaning.
The ‘net of passions’ is actually the ways in which our confused minds hold our hearts back. It is all the weird quirks and knots in our behaviour that have arisen because it hasn’t been safe enough for us, individually or collectively, to live with open hearts. By clearing all of these away and living my life whole-heartedly, I have discovered that following our heart’s desires and intentions are the best way, in fact the only way, to live in harmony with each other.
I spent a lot of time in my awakening in what I called trance states. I didn’t mean deep meditative states, but flow states, where I was walking around the world and doing things without any seeming input from my mind.
A flow state is a state of energised focus where you lose yourself completely in what you’re doing. We typically get them when we are doing an activity that we love and have some level of mastery over. It needs to be not too taxing for us, but also have some level of creativity or stimulation to it. We often lose track of time and in a deep flow state we don’t have a sense of a separate self, object and activity, everything is just a state of being. This is exactly how I found it, when I was living more wholly from my heart and not from my mind.
It hasn’t been proven by scientists, but I’ll bet you a fiver that flow states arise when we know our activity so well and enjoy it so much that we are free to let go of our mind’s sense of control and allow things to flow directly from our hearts.
Unless meditation is your chosen activity of mastery, then flow states are much more inherently rewarding than any meditative state I’ve gotten in to. It’s lovely to be doing something you love, while also sharing in an activity with others, creating something beautiful or doing something of value in the world. A few years ago I did a small research project on flow states and everyone talked about how their chosen activities brought them a sense of joy, purpose and happiness.
And as for living a holy life under Maitreya’s guidance. My guidance is this: if you are able to follow your heart, then everything in life becomes sacred. If we can open our hearts, listen to them and follow their guidance, we can trust their inherent goodness to help us create a world full of joy, happiness, compassion and equality for ourselves and others.
We can incorporate all of the struggles and pain and darkness into a fundamental understanding that we belong in this world and that we are all trying to get to a place where we are loved and seen for who we truly are. We don’t need to reject parts of ourselves to do this, we need to learn to take care of each other, show up to our lives and hopefully have some fun in the process. There’s nothing holier than that.
I’ve seen nirvana and it’s pretty boring. It can help us find some freedom from our fixed ways of perceiving the world, but what is a truly fulfilling and lovely experience is finding a sense of belonging. A place where we want to be and where we are wanted. A space in which we are allowed to express whatever we find inside ourselves. This is true liberation to me.
This is also different to the freedom that capitalism buys us. This freedom allows us to make personal choices that are best for us as individuals. When we have found a place to belong in the world, we will have a deeper sense of responsibility to show up to our lives and give ourselves to our community, but in my experience there is no greater sense of satisfaction. If the environment is right, the sense of belonging that this buys us far outweighs the personal freedoms and individuality that leading an untethered and sometimes lonely life can give us.
We feel at home when we are making a positive impact on our community, doing work we love, with people we like, in a rewarding and safe environment and we have some space to grow and explore. Through my work, my life experience and my awakening, I have discovered that this is the one desire we all have in common. And it is heaven itself to be accepted and appreciated for who we are.
In order to provide this kind of environment for everyone and not just an elite subset of society, we need to seriously commit to building a purpose-based economy.
In a purpose-based economy we are doing things that are inherently satisfying, rather than working to get money to satisfy ourselves at a later date. Helping people is one of the most satisfying things for humans, so organisations that are purpose-driven tend to be more beneficial to the world as a whole.
Agile working and purpose-driven organisations was my work background before I went off on my spiritual quest. Since returning to reality I have discovered that my awakening has given me a deep clarity of how purpose-driven organisations inherently work, based on our human nature.
Our purpose comes from the heart. We aren’t using our minds to strategise about how we can get something, we are tapping directly into our deepest desires and intentions, which is held in our heart space.
Our hearts are only capable of being in these four states: Friendliness, Inclusion, Joy and Compassion.
When we go inside during meditation these states present a certain way, for example, offering compassion to ourselves will help us move through difficult emotions. When we connect with the wider world they will present in a different way.
In the paradigm of capitalism, we are motivated by the desire to get enough money and status to buy us the freedom that we want. If we move from our hearts we are motivated by a desire to connect with our immediate intentions and manifest them in the world. This can only manifest through one of the heart states:
- Inclusion – motivates us to fight for the wellbeing and recognition of ourselves and those around us
- Joy – motivates us to clear out the parts of experience that aren’t working and find more elegant and enjoyable ways of doing things
- Compassion – motivates us to find the stories that need to be told, the parts of experience that have an urgency about them or that are painful for people and that we can heal
- Friendliness – motivates us to find fun and interesting things to do and ways of doing things that are supportive for people
Humans are incredibly resourceful and if we can find a way of helping people feel safe enough to show up to their lives wholeheartedly, we will be able to put all this resourcefulness into creating a better society.
When we can see the physical impact we make on our environment, people are more willing to muck in and are able to find roles that feel meaningful to them. Status shifts from who has the most money to the people who are the most helpful and are the most fun to have around. We have no motivation to hoard money or be greedy, because these things actually stop us from being able to connect with our communities.
We can also stop dividing time so harshly between ‘productive’ and ‘unproductive’. Lots of the above work that is expressed through the heart states arises best when we are in a state of play and relaxation. It is the emotional labour that currently goes unrecognised, but plays a huge role in keeping our society together. It is important for us to recognise how fundamental this is to our humanity and wellbeing.
If we can value it as highly as it deserves, then we can move towards a state of being where every activity has a sacred element to it. Even if we’ve got to do a job that we hate or find boring, we use these states to support each other in finding a way to make it fun or at least more tolerable. You can have a good craic doing a boring job when you are all in it together. When we are in our hearts, we are not separate from those around us, so we automatically take into account the emotions and needs of other people in our prioritisation and decision-making process.
Ultimately, life and work can become part of the expression of our beings rather than a way of turning us into a commodity that has to produce something to prove our worth. It is a fundamentally different way of approaching life’s challenges.
In order for a purpose-driven organisation to function, it firstly needs a purpose that people can genuinely get behind. Then it needs these three things to be in place:
- Psychological safety – the belief that we are safe in our environment and aren’t going to be attacked or belittled
- Wholeness – the welcome to bring the whole of ourselves into our experience and the ability to share our emotions, ideas and intentions authentically, even when they are challenging
- Self-management – a lack of hierarchy and a belief that each person has a responsibility to show up and contribute to the organisation
This is reflected in the things we need in order to live from our hearts.
All of this may sound unrealistic, but there are large organisations that are already functioning within this paradigm. Some of them are wildly successful. Lots of them have absolutely no hierarchy. In most of them, people agree their salaries amongst themselves.
This is all documented in Frederic Laloux’s book Reinventing Organisations. If you would like to learn more about the technicalities of running a purpose-driven organisation then I would highly recommend reading it. It is an incredible resource and has been a huge inspiration to me in understanding my world-view and navigating my paradigm shift.
If we want to change the world, then we need to fundamentally change how we are approaching business and our work lives. This book presents a well-researched and proven solution that is more fulfilling for everyone, from the CEO at the top, to the employees, to the customers.
As a project manager, I have experience of running teams and small organisations in this format as well as offering business consultancy to help organisations move towards this model. I am passionate about the benefits of doing this. It can truly change whole swathes of people’s lives in a meaningful and lasting way. I am always very happy to have a chance to chat about it with people, if it sounds interesting to you.
Back to how spirituality fits into this picture. We don’t need to be snobbish or strict about what counts as spirituality. Anything that helps us go inside and know ourselves better and connect with something bigger than us, counts in my book.
Surfing was my first spiritual practice – it gave me space to go inside of myself in a way that I didn’t have access to in normal life and the sense of moving with the waves and the sea allowed me to find a feeling of connecting to something bigger than me. As someone who had a lot of trauma, it was much easier to connect with myself and the Universe in this way than by sitting in silence.
Starting a serious meditation practice can be like opening Pandora’s box and my experience of chatting to people on the spiritual path is that they are called to it when the time is right for them. People don’t need to be convinced that this is somehow a higher path or to be forced down it.
People should be encouraged to choose practices that feel genuinely joyful. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are easy, but they are things that are engaging and interesting for that person. Not another stick to beat ourselves with. We have enough of those already.
I am part of a women’s group that meets roughly once a month over a bottle of wine and a self-reflection exercise. It is a space for people to talk honestly about their hopes, dreams and challenges in life. We share our joys and sorrows and support each other to grow using people’s natural gifts and wisdom. It has grown organically over the years into one of the most supportive environments I have ever experienced and I’m sure it is far more effective at developing compassion, presence, joy, wisdom and altruism than a lot of religious communities.
Retreats can function as a way for us to experience these sacred community spaces. Meditation can form a fundamental part of this, but they can also be themed around different interests. I have heard of retreats for choirs, crafting, ritual, nature and wellbeing that can probably be as deeply transformative as a meditation retreat.
As long as there’s time and space for self-reflection and a chance to connect with others then I believe that it will naturally deepen our relationship with life. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
There will always be space for mystics and people interested in rituals and journeying through the different states of consciousness. If that sounds like fun to you, then creating a shared retreat space is probably a safer and more rewarding way to go adventuring.
Daniel Ingram runs fire kasina retreats, where a group of friends get together to go really deep into their practice and journey into strange and magical states of consciousness. He has published recorded conversations about what people have learned from the retreats and which elements they have found supportive on his fire kasina website. These are a great resource for anyone thinking of running a retreat that facilitates people accessing deep states of concentration and magical powers.
I believe that spiritual practice should be about creating sacred space in our life to connect with each other and dedicate ourselves to the things that feel most important to us. It’s not about practicing for some future that will never arrive or reaching some state that is going to solve all our problems.
Sometimes people get the urge to detach from society and go inside on a big quest to understand themselves better and this can be hugely beneficial.
However, it is my strong belief that keeping people in strict full silence on short group meditation retreats does not benefit anyone very much. We are unlikely to be getting into really deep states of consciousness on these retreats, it doesn’t strike me as the purpose of them, and the benefits of bringing in even some really simple interaction is undeniable.
When we are in a group of people that we have not been introduced to, our bodies are on high alert. We are in a low-level fight or flight and we spend the whole time dealing with this, rather than relaxing into our state of being. As a minimum, every single group retreat should have a check-in at the start and the end.
Self-reflection is really hard in our own heads, so some simple joint enquiry once a day, or the chance to chat over meal times, can lead to huge breakthroughs and insights that are impossible for us to reach on our own. Teachers get plenty of space to explore and share their immediate experience and I think it would benefit everyone if students had some opportunity to do this, too.
Things also need space to percolate through our beings, in order for them to have a lasting impact on us. The space that humans can hold for each other is deeply transformative and much more powerful than the space that we can hold for ourselves as individuals.
If we build relationships with people on the retreats and maintain some contact afterwards that is even better. We are the product of the people we spend time with or have contact with. If we can find people we have shared interests with, be inspired by them, go through transformative experiences with them and then keep in touch with how that is percolating through everyone’s lives, that is the easiest and most fun way to make lasting change.
Retreats are an enjoyable part of our life, and they can be framed as an inspiration for how we’d like to live our lives all the time. A reminder to connect with our deepest desires and intentions, to share space with other people and to trust in the inherent goodness of humans.
When we are open-hearted, hearts talk to each other all the time. They can share and communicate meaning directly to each other, building up a shared language of experiences. As a group, if we share whole-heartedly, we can create a collective conscious that has a magical sense of shared purpose and connection behind it. It is a fascinating, beautiful and deeply satisfying way of opening into the mystery of life together.
The most magical thing about all this, is that people know all this stuff inside of themselves already and when you create the right conditions everyone talks about it in ways that can be spookily similar and wildly different. Everyone creates their own beautiful version and understanding of what is happening, all built on the same framework of life that we have arisen from but each with their own personal flavour.
Spirituality for me is not about trying to convince people to adopt a specific belief system or practice. It is about facilitating an experience that allows us to open to what we already know to be true in our hearts.
To summarise this rather epic story of my awakening and the teachings I have discovered from it, here are the main points that I would like people to consider:
- The purpose of spirituality is not to achieve some state or level of awakening, although those things can be fun. It is to get a felt sense at all the different layers of who you are and to learn to be able to give yourself more whole-heartedly to your experience.
- Our paradigm shift is about creating communities where we can find people who long for the same thing as us and find ways of working together towards those things. Not to achieve them necessarily, but to enjoy the process of it.
- A less defined separation between spirituality and life would help us all connect with a way of being that was more aligned with our deepest aspirations and our ability to naturally take care of each other.
Ultimately, we need to create enough safety for people to feel that they can open their hearts. We need to find the courage within us to do this so that we can live authentic and purposeful lives that benefit ourselves and each other. From this place, we will be able to find faith by trusting that a human heart is full of inherent goodness.
If we can create good environments for ourselves, we will be able to thrive and find a deep sense of belonging, moments of happiness and satisfaction from contributing our gifts to the world.
This is how we fall in love with our lives.