Paul Holman - Freedom Through Spacial Awareness
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: So, welcome to Conscious TV. I'm Iain McNay. Today my guest is Paul Holman, who's sitting at the moment in Australia. Eleven hour time difference, so for him, it's time to go to bed, and for us it's, well, it's morning. So, hi Paul.
Paul: Hello Iain.
Iain: Paul has written a book called, “Living Space: Openness and Freedom Through Spatial Awareness”, which I was sent by his publisher, and I thought, that looks interesting. We haven't done anything specifically about spatial awareness before. So here is Paul, and we're going to have a good chat and we're going to find out about his life and how he got to this point. I think I'm correct in saying that you're a doctor and a psychiatrist, is that correct?
Paul: Yes, I've been a shrink for well over 40 years.
Iain: Yes, and you're still practicing sometimes, I think, aren't you?
Paul: I am yeah, yeah.
Iain: So we'll proceed and see how we get on. So first thing, I was going to ask you, Paul, was when we talked on the phone the other day, you were saying that you had this aunt who, when you were in your early teens, she actually gave you some books by Gurdjieff and Ramana Maharshi, which is quite a thing when you're that kind of age. Especially Gurdjieff, which is quite a dense read. So what kind of effect did those books have on you?
Paul: Well, I think that, you know, from quite an early age I had a very acute sense of death. Not because anybody in the family had died, but at the age of seven I remember waking up one night completely terrified, because I realized that everybody died. And I think that just led me to look for ways around the idea of death. I remember reading Marcus Aurelius at an early age and sort of finding that kind of stoic approach appealing. But then when I read Ramana Maharshi, or more strictly Paul Brunton's account of Ramana Maharshi, in his A Search in Secret India, I was immediately convinced that this is somebody who could help me. And the idea of inquiry into who or what you are, was the, I think, essential teaching that appealed to me. Ah, here's the key: you inquire about who or what you are, and that's never left me. I think it's a compass; you're never far from getting back on track if you're inquiring in an open way as to who you are. Whether you're inquiring about your thoughts, your feelings and your awareness. So that was a great service to me, um, learning that this man, Ramana Maharishi, existed, and that he communicated this very simple truth of inquiry.
Iain: But that's quite something to start in your early teens, isn't it?
Paul: It is, and, uh, I am profoundly grateful to my dear aunt, who was, who had been a Gurdjieffian for many many years. And although some of the Gurdjieff books were also left for perusal, I mean, yeah, they're a hard read, but completely intriguing, of course. Extraordinary. And yet I subsequently was in a “G” group in London, but that's for later in the story. At that time, also, I read this extraordinary book by two British psychologists, Claire and W.M.S. Russell, who had written a book about human behaviour, Human Behaviour: A New Approach. It had a very illuminating effect for me on what was happening in my family, and some of the difficult circumstances in my family, and that was the other thing in my teens that really, I think, helped me stay on track. I really understood something about, um, human dynamics and the sort of roles we get forced to play through family systems. So those were great advantages to have, um, when you're in your teens. Especially when you're a kind of anxious introvert and an only child, as I was.
Iain: Yeah, and you also told me that you heard this voice when you were only 12 years old that had a really significant effect on you.
Paul: Yes, um, I awoke one day when I was twelve, and again it's one of those memories that are very very clear, and I heard a very distinct voice. Not my thoughts. I couldn't say whether it was a man or a woman. Saying: “In hote Purusha will come down and settle the ugly mob.” I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know who Purusha was until many years later; Purusha being the divine person, or consciousness, or the spirit. But, um, it struck me as what I would say now was a transcendental, in a transcendental way, it was utterly out of this world.
Iain: And so what effect did it have on you in terms of practically?
Paul: Look, you know, I would be hard-pressed to say now what effect it had on me practically, that voice, but, uh, it was like, when I looked back, it was that, well, it was the spirit saying well, the spirit can come down and intervene. And I think maybe the spirit did come down and intervene. And I got the books.
Paul: Those were the things that guided me.
Iain: So it was part of the process somehow.
Paul: Somehow part of the process.
Iain: Yeah, yeah. And then you went to Cambridge University and you studied medicine.
Iain: And uh again, you were saying to me earlier that the best thing about it there was there was a Buddhist society, and there was a Gurijieff group. So again you could continue your spiritual studies, even though you were studying medicine, which is obviously quite a different thing?
Paul: Indeed. Actually I didn't participate in the Gurjieff group, that seemed to be meeting in Cambridge. But the Buddhist society was quite different. And that was my first introduction to formal meditation, which I found very difficult and just couldn't persist with, but I knew there was something there. Maybe it helped me somewhat. I mean, I found Cambridge at a horrible place. I suffered with a great deal of anxiety and couldn't wait to get out of the place, but I think finding some kindred spirits, um, was helpful. And fortunately, we only did, um, three years of medical science at Cambridge. Then we went down to London to do our clinical part for the next three years and that was a great relief, because it was like, uh, coming out of this rarefied strange atmosphere into reality. And the excitement of London in the 1970s for anybody who was a spiritual seeker or wanting any sort of personal growth.
Iain: Yeah. I think it was there you met someone called Lawrence Birchall who was involved with Idris Shah?
Paul: I have met Lawrence. Actually, he was in the north of England and I met him through a fellow student at Cambridge. But I met Lawrence Burchell in the 70s and got involved with Shah. I did a 40 day Eureka training, um, did a Bioenergetics training with a woman called Gerda Boysen that was very, very enlightening. Again, as a sort of rather uptight introvert, it's wonderful to sort of be shoved into the bioenergetic scene, the NeoReikian scene...really getting into the body...getting into energy, getting into breathing, getting into expression and getting into quite intense group dynamics, which were terrific for me. So, um, yes I mean there were an extraordinary number of things going on in London in the 70s. And I participated in quite as many as I could, but I have to say, looking back, like people in their 20s, particularly young men in their 20s, I was looking for experiences, not understanding. And by the time I got to 30 I was starting to get over it, i.e., the spiritual supermarket and looking for experiences and excitement and revelations and, you know, lights and transcendental experience.
Iain: But it opens you up, doesn't it? Because I was also involved in that scene in the 70s. And it was encounter groups and all kinds of things that, at the time, just seemed very, very radical. You could be yourself to a degree, which you couldn't in the outside world. You were given permission to say things and act out things. That just seemed so important at the time; I think it probably still is.
Paul: Absolutely. That was the freeing part of it. And the other aspect, which I think we talked about the other day, which was that you realize you're really no different from anybody else, with your hang-ups and your crazy ideas and your fantasies. And that's extremely liberating. I'm not, you realize, I'm not particularly neurotic, everybody's neurotic, and that's terrific, you know, that's terrific.
Iain: Everybody needs therapy, in one way, whether they know it or not.
Paul: Yeah everybody needs it, or nobody needs it, you know.
Iain: But how did what you were doing fit in with your conventional training to be a psychiatrist?
Paul: Well, I don't know exactly. Luckily, I was in a very liberal department at King's College hospital down in southeast London and I had some great bosses. I had some great consultants in our department who were training us; very open-minded people who were willing to embrace some new ideas. Even though they were all pretty, uh, conventional psychoanalysts. But I mean, yes, it was the difference between the left brain and the right brain. I had to do left brain work to pass my exams, but the whole spiritual and personal growth trip was a very right brain, or whole brain, activity. But I seemed to manage to... keep them together in some way. And, you know, going to the pub helped quite a lot as well.
Iain: Yeah, and I know one thing we talked about, which we don't have to go into detail, but I think it's important to mention, is that you got quite disillusioned with spiritual teachers.
Paul: Yeah, yeah. By the end of my 20s I'd been following two spiritual teachers in particular. I carried on following one when I came to Australia in my early 30s, um, but I'd seen too many... I had too many bad experiences with gurus, or spiritual teachers, or group leaders, and I became disillusioned with the whole idea of finding a teacher, finding a guru, uh... and increasingly was persuaded to, you know, follow that idea of being a light unto yourself, following your own authority, at least for a while. And so, I mean, I came to Australia in my early 30s when I met my wife, who's Australian, and I kind of dropped the whole seeking in that respect for a while and became intensely interested in nutritional medicine, but slipped into another search, which was the search for perfect health through nutrition. Again something that was promised back in the 70s and 80s by certain charismatic authors. Again, of course, that proved to be a... a mirage, but I learned some interesting things along the way and found that nutrition could sometimes do miraculous things. Even for people who are psychotically unwell. So that was a revelation to me, and uh, I got a lot of good experiences in that way in the 80s.
Iain: I just wanted to jump back because I just think it's something that’s just worth briefly exploring this, because of my own experience as well, with spiritual teachers, it’s as if sometimes you have to give your power away to find it again at the end of the day, and you've talked about being your own authority, which is ultimately very important. Of course there's a whole learning process that goes through that. And to be your own authority from a base of neurosis isn't very helpful either.
Renata and I are just watching this tv series on Sky at the moment about this guy and it's called The Vow. I don't know if they have it in Australia, but he's a kind of spiritual teacher, or growth teacher, called Keith Raniere and you can see at times his brilliance when he talks, but then underneath there's a whole... there’s a whole series of actions that come out of his own unclarity and he's now in prison, 120 years he got; He’s in prison for all kinds of things. Yeah, there's a brilliance, and there's a darkness; there's a light and a darkness, if you like, and it's, uh, it's something that I feel we have to engage with. And we have to navigate our own path, and yes, you have to be aware, you have to be intelligent, and you have to take risks at times, but there is a way through and there is a way out, but, yes, being your own authority from an intelligent base is the ultimate game at that level if you like. I know you realize that. Which is a very important realization that's not addressed by a lot of people.
Paul: Absolutely. I know exactly what you mean by, you know, sometimes. You know, look, you have to go through that whole process of submitting to a teacher and sometimes getting disillusioned, uh, to find your own self and your own authority. And, I mean, I realized that, obviously, some of these teachers, they didn't even have basic human values. Usually, it was men with a wonderful line in chat, you know, a wonderful intellectual grasp. No doubt some extraordinary experiences and insights, but, boy... some of the values they hadn't even got to, you know, preschool on. And that's frightening, and frightening when you see people who you know and like who are getting sucked into that whole maelstrom and not finding their way out again.
Iain: Yeah, I know that well from the people I know. Anyway, you moved to Australia and the first thing that hit you was space...
Paul: Yes, yes. Um, this is the extraordinary thing about arriving in Sydney, we didn't stay in Sydney for very long, but there was this... uh, and then motoring down from Sydney to Melbourne, I just couldn't believe that there was this - endless space. You would just travel for hundreds of k's and not see very much. And the bright blue wide AustraIian sky. I mean, it's uh, you know, I can see how the early settlers were often overwhelmed by the experience of Australia. It's kind of overwhelming in one sense and, uh, liberating in another. And, you know, particularly back then in the 80s, Australia was prosperous and it was pretty free and easy. So it was a spaciousness in the way people behave with one another in matters of social mobility, and there was a great sort of efflorescence in Australia's intellectual life in the 80s, I mean, there hadn't been much going on before then, in many ways, and you know Australia's intellectuals had all gone to London to express themselves; Clive James being, of course, the most notable one. But in the 80s, it started to change, so yes there, uh, there was a sense of freedom and liberation and possibility.
Iain: And you met this guy called Les Fehmi, I think, if I pronounced it right.
Paul: I never met Les, actually, but what happened was...
Iain: Ah, it was his work that had an effect on you...
Paul: It was his work, yeah. In the 80s, the late 80s and early 90s, I came across four authors with remarkable tales to tell. They are all people who found a path on their own authority, and they made a big impact on me. And one of the things I wanted to do in writing the book was to draw people's attention to some of these extraordinary authors, some of whom seem to have been completely forgotten, but had these extraordinary messages about... how attention works. And that's the real nub of the matter, and the first person I came across was this wonderful English woman, Marion Milner, who was a psychologist who wrote a book, published in 1934, called A Life of One’s Own. I regard this book as the most significant book on psychology, written in the English language in the 20th century. That's a big claim, but it's a wonderful, wonderful book with innumerable original discoveries about psychology in it, which were light years ahead of their time. And Milner was, as I said, she was a psychologist. She set out like the Buddha on a search as to what would make her happy. You know, she wasn't taking the Buddha's path, you know, “what's the cause of suffering?”, she wanted to know what made her happy. And she found, in her diary and self-observation method, that she would often get these periods of enhanced perception and delight, and, she wanted to encourage them, but she didn't know how she got there. So she again observed herself and she eventually discovered how she could find openness. And it was, in fact, by using what she called, at that time (remember this is 1934), “wide attention.” She would relax and open her attention to her senses, and she realized there were two sorts of attention: Narrow focus, or narrow attention, and wide attention. And she said, look, narrow attention is what we're doing most of the time; it's our default position. It's the way we attend to one thing after another like a narrow torch beam, which is alway on the go, always seeking, always being used in the service of our fears and our desires. She has a wonderful term for it, she called it “The Questing Beast.” As opposed to “wide attention,” which we can only mobilize when we are relaxed, when we have no expectations, no judgment and when we are literally open, perceptually and cognitively. And I thought, “Wow, that's extraordinary.” This distinction between narrow and wide attention; no one has ever told me about this. I've never read it in a psychology textbook; I've never seen it in a book on meditation. But there it is. So she was one. The next was a woman called Flora Courtois. Yeah.
Iain: Okay, let me stop you there. So how did that affect you? Was that something you understood and you could practice straight away?
Paul: Good question...
Iain: Or is it something that...
Paul: That's a very good... no. I couldn't understand it right away. That was the extraordinary thing. I understood it intellectually, but I didn't understand it in the way of... somehow I couldn't practice it. Although I knew that this was something that I’d experienced when I had first read Douglas Harding's little book, On Having No Head, and this little book, which I’m gonna show my little original copy of Harding’s On Having No Head. And I suspect many people who are watching this may be familiar with Harding's work, some may not, but this lovely little book, of course, is about when he was in the Himalayas and he suddenly realized he had no head, and where his head was, the world was. And I realized that Harding had a sudden experience of wide attention. Of the incredible three-dimensionality and reality of reality when your attention is wide open. And when I read that book first, I had that experience of suddenly feeling my attention was normally like that, and then it suddenly opened back out, and it was completely, suddenly disorientating to be suddenly flooded with three-dimensional reality. I snapped back pretty quick and then subsequently had difficulties re-mobilizing that sensation. And many years later, I understood that I was trying to get back to that experience in a narrow focus sort of way, not a wide attention way. It took me years. Yeah. Go on... Sorry.
Iain: But this is a really important point, though, isn't it? Because this happens to all of us. We have, I'm going to call it experience, it's not the best word, but something happens, something changes our perception, and then we kind of know this is it. This is it. This is it. And we're kind of excited. And it does last. And it can last seconds, and minutes, for some people days, and then of course it goes. And, understandably, we’re so much wanting to come again, but, of course, it's that trying, and that effort, that's preventing it happening. So that's a very human thing that we all do, but, I think the thing to say about Douglas Harding is that, and I think, have you got there...have you got the little guy with you, you can show us in a minute? Because, okay, let me just say, first of all, that I went to, years and years ago, I went to a workshop. Very small with maybe 12 people, with Douglas Harding. And I haven't got a clue what he's talking about. It took me years and years and years to get it. And then of course I talked with Richard Lang on Conscious TV, in the early days of Conscious TV, and Richard was one of his most enthusiastic proponents. But, anyway, why don't you do the exercise that Douglas Harding did, and people that are watching can see...
Paul: Yes, yes, well that's it. Here's Douglas Harding's little book The Science of the First Person; and you open the book and there is a pop out tube. And you put your face in the tube and, uh, if you have another person at the other end of the tube, like, you know, even though you're 20 miles away, you're at the other end of the tube. And you ask yourself the question, “On present evidence, how many people are in the tube? How many faces are in the tube? How many heads are in the tube?” And you have to, if you go on your immediate experience, that is your perception, you find, of course, that there's only the other person's face in the tube, not your own. And, actually, I find the exercise much easier to do just looking in a mirror. And the problem I found with some of Harding's exercises is that, like this one, is that it tends to narrow your focus and uh... but, as you said, Iain, it just takes a long time to understand this idea, that you can open attention. And when attention is opened, you have a different experience of reality. By the way Richard Lang's book on Harding is so delightful. It's just a wonderful book about Harding. And again, a must buy, and it was a very good interview you did with him too.
Iain: Yeah, Richard's still working too, and doing sessions and doing seminars. But, yeah, just to stress again there's this whole such an important point that these things come sometimes with the grace of God. We have some help with perception, with the wider attention, and then it's a question of, how would you describe it? It's a question of recognition and then relaxing into that recognition. What advice would you give?
Paul: Well, as a result of reading some other authors, which I can talk about or not as the case may be, and particularly the American psychologist Les Fehme, who has written a book called The Open Focus Mind, which is all about how to use attention ... I think that, from a practical point of view, you have to start with the idea of spaciousness, and the visual appreciation of spaciousness. And when I introduce this idea to people, say my patients, I do this simple exercise with them, which is to say to them, “Look, just put two fingers in front of you. Look at them very closely. When you look at your fingers very closely, you are using quite a narrow attention. Now I want you to move your fingers to the side, but keep track of both of them at the same time, until they disappear from your field of view. Notice what you're experiencing and then bring them back. Keep them both in view at the same time and then snap back into narrow attention.” We're so accustomed to the idea of narrow attention that most people when they start doing that, kind of want to look at each finger in turn, to keep an eye on them, rather than letting their spaciousness happen, which can accommodate that appearance of both fingers at the same time. And Russell Williams has got a very similar exercise in his book Not I, Not Other Than I, again, someone you interviewed, lovely interview, on Conscious TV and, uh, he makes the same point. He said, “Look, look at an object across the room. Now, there's the object. You can see the object, and here are you. There's no question, is it there? You're the subject, there's the object. Now just imagine the object and some space around it. And now broaden that space out and keep broadening that space out until you're aware of the space of the whole room. Now, where's the object? Now, where's the subject? Nowhere to be seen, just space.” And it's a very neat little exercise, but Fehme has lots of exercises like this in his book, on his CDs, where you experience space in the body, you experience space perceptually, but also space with all the senses, arising simultaneously, in space. And it's a very, very powerful method. And, again, if one can hold expectancy, uh, in abeyance, uh, a very potent way of enhancing perception and this basic sense of space, which is so liberating.
Iain: Yeah, and it's, I know someone else that I don't know if you’ve met them, or you read their work, someone called Ainsley Meares. Have I pronounced that right? Yeah. And the message there was very much about learning to relax. Because obviously with a narrow focus the attention... with the wider is more of a relaxation and that... I know that you... did you actually meet her?
Paul: No. I met Ainsley Meares and used to go down to do his sessions and with the rest of the people who came along for his meditation group. And he would discuss cases with me because I was a doctor and interested in some of the discoveries he'd made in physical, as well as psychological, health. I mean Meares was a psychiatrist who became interested in the East and realized, look, most psychiatric illness, of the non-psychotic kind at least, has added space anxiety and stress. That's what everyone needs to do. Let's cut through the nonsense of psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. Let's just get people to deeply relax. And then he found that the deep relaxation methods that he was using, of course, helped people with cancer and a whole range of physical problems... And I saw... so yeah, sorry. Go on.
Iain: It's like this contraction that we have at many different levels in the cells. They obviously cause blockages, and illnesses start because of the blockages.
Paul: And I think the thing about this distinction between narrow and open attention, or narrow and wide attention, is that narrow attention is very much associated with chronic stress. And is itself highly stressful. When you're in narrow attention, you’re stressed. Stress makes narrow attention worse. Narrow attention makes stress worse. It’s a negative feedback cycle. And wide attention requires relaxation, but it's a virtuous circle; The more you open your attention, the more relaxed you become. The relaxation helps to maintain that openness of attention and the world comes in. You actually come to your senses, and this is what's so, so great about the wide attention process. And I would say that we're pretty confident now that wide attention is very much a process under the control of the right hemisphere, the non-dominant hemisphere, and narrow attention, the left hemisphere. And as Ian McGilchrist has pointed out in his book, The Master and His Emissary, the left hemisphere thinks it runs the show, and is running the show, with narrow focus, but it's getting us into a lot of trouble. And, of course, we live in a narrow focused culture now. You've only got to travel on public transport to see all your fellow humans hypnotized in narrow focus by a tiny little machine. Extraordinary. And it's very dangerous. I mean it's a very dangerous development in human consciousness.
Iain: Yeah. So when you're in sessions with your clients, how are you working with them? Because obviously they want to talk, and I know one of the things you've also told me before, that the most important thing, actually, in that kind of session, is the ability to listen. And someone that can truly listen offers a healing, just in that, but are you.... just talk through what might happen in a session, in terms of someone coming in with psychiatric problems, that many people have these days.
Paul: Yes. I mean when, after many years when I fully understood, I say fully, but when I understood more about the importance of continually opening attention to spaciousness and attention, is, as you said Iain, it's fundamentally a contractive process in most of us. I understood that it had extraordinary implications for, uh, therapy, for healing, as well as understanding meditation and mindfulness. So, uh, I really began to see the conventional way of dealing with, um, psychological problems, which is the current way the broad philosophy now, in psychiatry and psychology, which is to look in terms of diagnosis; finding what's wrong, setting goals and targets for specific therapies devoted and aimed at your symptoms, or the constellations which cause your symptoms. And that's absolutely in violation, actually, of what most people want. Sure, people want... some people just want a pill and want a solution. That's fine, but actually most people are looking for a safe place, a safe space, where they can be themselves, which is extraordinarily rare. Um, you know, you mentioned earlier, uh, the idea of a safe place to be yourself, as something which we might have discovered in groups in the 70s. And this idea of a therapist not having any expectations of someone, not judging them, being completely open to what their story is and which way they want to go, um, I think it's the ideal way to work. And the most essential ingredient in that is that the therapist and their client are on absolutely the same human level. There's no... there's no hierarchy here. Because I have a psychiatric degree, I have to disabuse clients in subtle ways, [that], you know, I've got any sort of solution for them, other than providing a safe, open, non-judgmental friendly space where we can take our time and go slow. But, of course, taking your time and going slow, that's again not a modern way.
Iain: And how long does it take to get results? Do you find that people, certain people, start getting it straight away?
Paul: They're often people who are on a spiritual path and who who’ve done work with themselves. With others, I mean, many people never completely get it, and some people have been so damaged by their lives that they... they're coming for years, and I still see people who I’ve seen for the last 25 years. And that's okay too. Um, you know, there are many people who live in, of course, live in horrible circumstances, who've had terrible lives, and their nervous systems have been absolutely fried by trauma and difficulty.
Iain: And this process of relaxing the nervous system...
Paul: Oh my word...
Iain: That takes time, doesn't it, because the nervous system doesn't heal overnight.
Paul: And, you know, for some people the nervous system is damaged irreparably, but that doesn't mean we can't do things, we can't manage the situation. But, yes, relaxing the nervous system and creating, um, spaciousness, and the idea, I think, that's central to all healing and, particularly psychotherapy, is getting distance on things, you know. We can't, as the American psychologist Eugene Gendlin says, “You can't smell the soup when your face is in it.” And we have to get distance from our story, from our feelings, from our difficulties, to step back and to be able to really give them space, so that those memories, those difficulties, can express themselves and we can see them in context. This all has to do with creating space around our feelings, around our cognitions, and around, particularly around, our senses.
Iain: Yeah, in your book that you have, you have quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and the quote at the beginning of the first chapter is, “Now and then it is good to be...” sorry, “Now and then it is good to pause and just be happy.”
Paul: Isn't that great? Ha, ha.
Iain: It still makes you laugh!
Paul: I love that quote. Uh, that's right, and it is the, it's our head it's our headlong pursuit into the future, isn't it, that, uh, does us in? Uh, and that's why you know my, uh, my way of meditating has changed so much over the years. You know, for me now, sitting in the garden and allowing spaciousness to unfold, and the sounds and the sights to, um, arise... this, for me, is all I need to refresh me, really.
Iain: Yeah, and it's so interesting the different approaches to meditation, and we've had so many people, obviously, in Conscious TV that are big meditators. And some of them have gone to, like, extreme, extreme situations to meditate for, and I'm not exaggerating, 12 to 14 hours a day, in very difficult conditions in terms of cold, and discomfort, and sitting through that physical discomfort, and for some that works. It seems to produce a state of enlightenment, freedom, whatever we call it, doesn't matter what we call it, but it produces something that's extraordinary. And it changes their life. Yet for, I suspect, the majority of people, sitting in that situation actually does more harm than good. It is very much an individual thing, but it's not the best to sit in pain for hours and hours in the cold.
Paul: Absolutely, and I agree. I think as much harm is done, certainly, as good by those extreme methods. I mean some of the extreme methods, as you appreciate, are based on the idea of exhausting narrow focus. Just your concentrating, concentrating; the pain, the difficulty, is narrowing your focus on the pain, and you're just going through this corridor, and sooner or later this contraction has to give up by sheer exhaustion. And then bam, something opens up. But it seems a very circuitous way, and often a very, if I may say so, Japanese way of, you know, doing it. Because the extreme Zen methods, uh, seem to top the list with regard to, uh, putting people through great difficulty in the name of, uh, enlightenment.
Iain: Yeah, and it is very much, as I said earlier, a personal thing, and it's up to us to, I guess, keep changing and [asking], “Is this the right way for me?”, because what works for someone else doesn't necessarily work for me ...
Paul: And, sorry I just want to make my one point...you know, often people are motivated, uh, in spirituality, as well as in psychology, by this premise that there's something wrong with us. Uh, if we can get over the idea of, actually, that there's nothing wrong with you... uh, you've got an anxiety state, actually... you’ve got an anxiety state, but there's nothing wrong with you. You're hearing voices... yeah, I can understand that's distressing, but there's nothing wrong with you. Um, you're not in a state of spiritual darkness, you're alright. You're an okay person. Relax. Enjoy. Open up.
Iain: And, yeah, open up. That's pretty much the key in so many ways. And you also talk in the book about space being the visual equivalent of silence...
Paul: Yes, I think the experience of mystics, uh, I think, often in the writings of mystics, you often find that interchangeability of silence and space. You find this in Franklin Merrell-Wolfe, in his wonderful book Pathways Through to Space and his, um, his working out of his experiences in the philosophy of consciousness without an object. You find it particularly in Bernadette Robert's book, uh, The Experience of No Self, which is, I mean, uh, just a wonderful, wonderful book. You know, here's someone who's experienced deep silences from an early age, but the crucial turning point in her spiritual path, which gave way to her ultimate seeing, was what she said was developing 3D glasses. Of having this extraordinary experience of space opening up. And the interior silence had kind of given way to a kind of Douglas Harding experience, if I can. She would, I'm sure, she would be offended by my saying this, but... an openness to a new way of seeing, perception, space.
Iain: Yeah, um, yeah, I've read all those books, and certainly with Franklin Merrelll-Wolfe, I didn't get it, to start with. It's kind of... Bernadette Roberts was a more interesting read, but on the other hand, I know someone that spent time with her and she chain smoked and, yeah, you know it kind of... you wonder... that's not to say, in a judgmental way, but it's... people go through, yeah, strange paths, which are right for them and, uh, one has to somehow accept that, and whatever works for them is... that's good. And, yeah.
Paul: Well, I just wanted to say a little bit about mindfulness. I don't know if you were going to bring that up again, but the idea of wide attention and opening up to space really solved the mindfulness thing for me, because I've been trying to do mindfulness off and on for years and it was just too tiring, uh, to be in the present. To be concentrating on the present. Once I understood about wide attention, opening your focus, then I understood that I'd been trying to do mindfulness with a narrow focus, and it was just exhausting, just being aware of one thing after another. Can't be done. And I've wondered since why there isn't more free and immediate discussion in the teaching of mindfulness. But actually, first of all you've got to stop, of course. Then you've got to relax, breathe, and open your focus to be mindful. You can't start being in the here and now, because that's not an instruction which is helpful for using your attention.
Iain: Yeah, you know, I just... I find there's so many dilemmas here because in a way you need a certain discipline which comes from narrow focus, not only to discipline yourself to meditate or to be mindful, and yet that narrow focus discipline is not really going to take you deeply into being mindful. [You] want to be in meditation, but it's a starting point and it's, I guess, I think it's an individual thing for everybody. That you start with that, and then you have to allow... space.
Paul: I mean it's interesting that there are precedents, and I mentioned them in the book that, um, for starting Samatha meditation, for example, um, obviously traditionally focusing on the breath in a rather narrow focus sort of way, but you can start with focusing on space and that's your anchor, you know, that's the discipline. You come back to space every time. Um, I presume that's not a way that's recommended for most people because I think it's harder, but yes... there's a balance there, and that balance, I think, is also the balance that we have to strike between narrow and open focus in everyday life. And as Fehmi points out, you know, we're not advocating one mode of attention at the complete expense of the other. Um, being aware of how we're using attention, and how appropriate it is to the situation we're in, that is true attention training.
Iain: Yes, um, and something else you mention too in the book is about the, uh, hyperactivity disorder, which again comes from the extremities of the narrow focus, and as you said earlier with the whole thing with the mobile phone, it's people going in narrower and narrower, and ,sadly, it's the way society is going, and to have a wider focus is something that is unusual, when it should be natural.
Paul: Absolutely, and you know we're becoming... we're becoming an ADD, uh, society. Attention deficit hyperactivity society. And that's a very frightening prospect, because it means that the right hemisphere is never going to get a look in to... give us a big picture. And, I mean, it's the right hemisphere which knows about the body, which has its... which knows about how the world works, which has intuitions about what we need to do, um, and which holds our whole body image and sense of self. If it's not getting a look in, um, there's trouble.
Iain: Yeah, so we're going to finish the actual interview in about five minutes and then you're going to do, I think, a short exercise afterwards. How would you like to... you know your book, which I haven't read the whole thing, um, but I've dipped in and out over 300 pages; there's a lot in here. What would you like to say just triggers for some of the important things that are in the book we haven't covered in this interview so far?
Paul: I think the only other thing which we haven't covered is that, um, is that, and I think as you were implying a minute ago, Iain, spaciousness is also dependent on being very centered. And being extremely centered, and being spacious are co-dependent on one another. The American author Judith Blackstone, who uses a lot of spacious exercises in her psychotherapy, she points out that the more grounded and centered we are, the more spacious we naturally become. And in spaciousness we naturally return to a centeredness, and it's like, it's a lovely breathing that goes on. Centered, spacious, centered, spacious. So I devote three chapters in the book on, um, the three dimensions of space, and quite a lot of stuff about how to be centered in those three dimensions. And when I do my meditation, I often start by centering myself in the three directions: my left and right axis, my front and back axis, and my top and bottom axis. And that puts me in space that centers me. Then, um, I mean there are many other centering exercises which you know all about, um, and that is very promoting of. Now I have my center and its spaciousness can follow on more naturally from that. And, interestingly, the most challenging of the directions is front/back. It's easy to visualize your left and your right, your above and your below, but feeling space at your back, that's hard, all the space that's behind you. And that's because we're so frontal. This is, you know, narrow attention has made us completely frontal, uh, and I don't think that would be the natural perception, perceptual modality, of say a hunter-gatherer, who's in their environment. Um, they're, I'm pretty sure, they have a much broader sense of space, because they have to be aware of everything around them. And the only parallel to that in meditation is the Japanese, the Zen Shikantaza, sitting like a mountain. Where you're absolutely aware of all the dimensions and what's actually happening around you in a very alert and present way.
Iain: Good. Thank you. All right. Well, we'll close the, uh, the interview now, and very much appreciate you staying up late, well past your bedtime I'm sure.
Paul: It's been a real pleasure Iain and I thank you so much for, uh, for giving me the opportunity to talk to you.
Iain: And if people stay with us, you'll do a short meditation after the end, after we close this and, uh, yeah. Thank you. Thank you very much, Paul, and thank you, all the guys out there who’re watching Conscious TV. It's always great you stay with us through the years, and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
Paul: So we might do a five-minute meditation on space, on our sense of space and on our sense of our body in space, our whole body in space. So I want us, first of all, to relax, take a deep breath and relax on the out breath. And feeling the whole body, feeling the whole body all at once and feeling that, as we breathe out, the whole body relaxes, quite naturally and easily on the out breath. Quite naturally and easily on the out breath. And I want you to be aware that you're sitting, or lying, in a room. I want you to become aware of the space in that room, and try and become aware of that space all at once. The space of the room. And relaxing on the out breath and becoming aware of the whole space of the room.
Now, become aware of all of the space that you feel on the right side, all the space in the room that you feel on your right side. Continue to relax easily and naturally on the out breath. Aware of the space on your right side. Filling the room with space. And now becoming aware of all of the space in the room on your left side. And relaxing on the out breath, and feeling that space. Feeling the space. As you feel that space on your left side, feel that your eyes are soft. You're aware of space, you're not looking at anything, simply aware of space on your left side. And on your right side, and now aware of space on both sides. Aware of space, relaxing into that space, and feel how your body is on the left and the right. And relaxing and feeling that your eyes are soft. Soft and easy. Aware of space on the left and the right, and now feeling space above you. The space above you in the room, and feeling the space below you in the room, and fitting your body in the space. Between above and below, and relaxing on the out breath. Naturally and easily. The eyes are soft and easy.
Now, aware of the space in front of you, and see if you can be aware of the space behind you. Space in the room behind you, or even the space outside. Outside of your room, behind you, and relaxing on the out breath. The eyes soft and easy. The eyes soft and easy. Aware of space above and below, to the front, behind, to the right, to the left, fitting your whole body in space. Now, without closing your eyes, just be aware of the space inside your body. Mainly inside your torso, your abdomen, your chest. Feel the space inside. Relaxing on the out breath, easily and naturally. Eyes soft and easy. Feel that space inside. Feel the space inside your body. And can you feel that that space inside your body is the same as the space outside your body? The space in the room, space above and below, the left and the right and in the front and behind space, and can you feel that that space is very relaxing? It's very easy. It's very natural. It's good to relax into that spaciousness. Spaciousness outside and the spaciousness inside. Relaxing on the out breath, into that spaciousness, and aware that at any time, when you remember, you can feel that spaciousness. Outside and inside. And that spaciousness is very good. It's very good to feel that spaciousness. It's very natural. It's very easy. It's very safe to be in that space; a natural space which is inside and outside, and is all one space, your space, and the space of your awareness. And remember, you can feel that at any time when you remember and feel that ease and relaxation of space.
So taking a deep breath, ah, and moving around a little bit. What is in the body? Focus your eyes. Look around a little bit. Take another deep breath. Make sure you're in your body, you're not spaced out now. You're in your body, you're able to focus. You know where you are, you know what's happening. And that is the end of our meditation.
End of meditation
Iain: So hello and welcome to a brief Conscious TV advert to promote our two new books which are Conversations on Awakening Part One and Part Two, and of course they follow up our first book which came out, or about, five years ago Conversations on Non-Duality, and then we had Conversations on The Enneagram. And they're all transcripts of interviews that we've done over the years, many of them kindly done by volunteers, and we still have volunteers that are helping with that. If you would like to help then let us know. Um, I think these two are probably, in a way, the most interesting books, the new one, Conversations on Awakening. They’re each 12 interviews. Um, a good variety. There's some Renata interviews, there's some interviews done by me, and what we've learned over the years is awakenings, and different levels of awakenings, happen in so many different ways. Often the real jump can be completely unexpected. Other times the person has worked for years to raise their consciousness and then something happens. So I won't read you all the, uh, all the people that are on here. If you're interested you can obviously check out on our website, or on amazon.com, or indeed with the publisher. The publisher is called White Crow Books. They have a couple of pages with lots of dealers of the books. So we have, uh, A.H. Almaas in part one, Jessica Britt, Linda Clair, John Butler, Billy Doyle, Cynthia Bourgeault (Iain pronounced it as Beaujolais). I'm just picking out a few names... Philip Jacobs... and in Part Two...
Renata: Ha, ha. Bourgeault. Beaujolais is a wine. A very nice wine.
Iain: So we only have the finest, both in interviews and wines. You see I don't drink wine, but Renata does, so she knows the finest wines. And then we have Susanne Marie (is that pronounced correct?)
Iain: Jolly good. Uh, Richard Moss, Mukti, Meek Pot, Reggie Ray, Russel Williams, Jurgen Ziewe, is that pronounced right?
Iain: There. Ziewe. Okay. Martyn Wilson and Jah Wobble. That’s a great name, isn’t it, Jah Wobble. He’s a good friend of mine. That's John who was the bass player in Public Image. For any of you guys who like, uh, who like noisy music out there. Anyway, they all have their own unique stories. They all talk from their hearts and I think they're all fascinating, and sometimes, when you read a transcript, you get something different, you don't necessarily get from the interview. Obviously, when you watch the interview, there's also transmission, but by reading it, it also affects you in a different way. So it would be lovely if you ordered the books. They're physical and they're also available as e-books and, uh, that's all I have to say, really. Do you want to add anything?
Iain: No. Okay. So hopefully we'll see you again soon. Hopefully this advert wasn't too intrusive in your life.
To watch the original video
interview click here. This programme has been transcribed on a voluntary basis. If you would like to offer to transcribe a video on the same basis, then please
All text copyright © Conscious TV Ltd.