This is the final regular post for a while. It is time to take another break from writing, and the events of the last few months have provided an ideal place to rest. Here, I wrap up the recent conversations I have had with Karaj which have generated 10 of the last 13 posts. Hopefully, the reader is left with the feeling that it’s possible for all of us to create a place of love, trust and truth in our lives: a sanctuary for ourselves and others. That’s what Karaj succeeded in doing, even though our evaluation of those early years repeatedly pointed to chaos, confrontation and adversity; and even something akin to failure.
This is a lesson in keeping one eye on the beautiful while you search through the mud of experience seeking to learn and develop. The beauty is always there no matter how obscured or deeply buried it may seem, because life has beauty built into it. So when we begin with an intention to foster it at every step, we are sure to succeed.
‘That’s Why I’m Still Here!’
It was in the afterglow of the conversation highlighted in the previous post, Always A Way Through, that Karaj and I stumbled – almost accidentally – upon a view of the past I have not considered before. We missed it in all our previous dialogues because we were always so focused on the play, the scripts, and the actors, rather than the theatre in which it all unfolded.
It’s a couple of months since that particular talk, and my memory of it is a little foggy, but I do remember Karaj’s response. He has a delightfully joyous way of giving sound to the feeling of things falling into place. It is has a childlike appeal, contrasting starkly with the unyielding aspect of his character and the unforgiving feeling his challenges can sometimes have. My comment was something about love and trust (or maybe truth) being present in the house where it all took place. Karaj responded immediately and gently, as if another light bulb had gone on in his head: ‘Ah yes, of course! That’s why I’m still here’.
Over the years he has spoken many times of the need to leave the house he has occupied for decades, and where years of the most intense personal development work took place. Each time he spoke, it felt as if the place had served its purpose, yet still contained the energy of those who had been such frequent visitors. Spectres of their lives and scripts continued to demand his attention, refusing to allow him to move on without some kind of completion of the journey they had been on together.
A Sanctuary Of Self-Healing
In light of our conversation, however, the reason Karaj is still there turns out to be less about the ghostly demands holding him in place, and more about the sanctuary of openness and courage he created. We can see that now. The veil of analysis and understanding has been lifted, and the truth revealed. Everything we did was embedded in a place of love and trust, and even though our conditioning caused us to stray from those truths on occasion, and even though we may have lost sight of them (especially towards the end), I see now that they were always present.
Karaj’s intention from the beginning had been to bring all his experience to bear on a small number of dedicated people by setting up the Experiment in Self-Healing Community. His conviction was that if people became more aware of themselves, their lives, their culture and their bodies, and committed to discovering the truth about life, they could heal themselves.
Of the many things I know about him, one thing is clear: he never gives up. He will persevere, revelling in each failure as a chance to learn, and continue unabated, trying different things until he succeeds, or fails so gloriously that even the final failure is something to celebrate. (I’m not sure I ever saw him fail in that way, although I am sure there are some who might see the whole self-healing project as a failure. This entire blog, however, is a testament to its success… for me at least, and for Karaj, too, I’d say.)
His drive is fuelled by his strength of intention. It is a formidable one; the kind which needs no words for its effect to be felt. He is able to carry people’s reluctance far enough for them to see and feel what he knows to be true or possible, and thus find their own enthusiasm for whatever lies ahead.
He insisted on love being the foundation of everything we did. As I pointed out in Completing The Cycle, none of us (Karaj included) really knew what to do with it, but still he urged us to ground all our thoughts, words and actions in love:
‘If you cannot do something out of love, then do nothing and wait until you can.’
Similarly, a position he always returned to was that we should see the humanity in everyone. It can be difficult because we have our own conditioning to deal with as well as the other person’s, and both tend to hold us captive at the surface level. In urging us to seek the humanity in each other, he pushed us beyond the superficial, to the deeper levels of self and relationship. There, in the heart of who we truly are, is where love resides.
This is what he wrote on my original, hard-copy version of A Day Like No Other, when I was struggling to offer positive feedback to some of the others in the group:
‘You have to learn to be positive, regardless. There is humanity in everyone. Your job is to touch it.’
As recently as July this year he was urging me to focus on love. In its purest form it can be utterly overpowering, which helps to explain why the uninitiated flee its influence, but without it there can be none of the transformative work about which I have written over the last 20 years. He may not have experienced much love growing up, and he may not have been able to handle it that well himself, but Karaj created a space where love could be nurtured and internalised, and within which all else took place. Maybe, as we have discussed before, he created that space as much for himself as for anyone else.
Trust was another foundational element of his work. ‘Trust the process’, of course, but also ‘Trust yourself’ and ‘Trust others.’ I remember sharing with him my doubt about someone’s response when I asked them how they were. Karaj stressed the importance of being able to trust that people are genuine, because without trust in each other there is no basis for a relationship. (I am not talking here about blind trust in everything; that is just another extreme – the opposite of no trust. What is meant here is a willingness and an openness to trust.)
It’s something which takes practice to develop. It demands courage and vulnerability, too, because trust can so easily be undermined, which is why the best place to start is with yourself. Learn to trust that you are good enough; trust what your body is telling you; trust that you can cope with difficult situations as and when they arise; and even trust that you carry brilliance within you. Invest that trust in yourself and you will find it easier to extend it to others, and to life itself. (Having a genuine trust in life has a peaceful, liberating magnificence about it.)
In the post, When Trust Is Present, I offer an example of what it was like to work with others in a trusting space. I write that the environment Karaj had fostered:
‘… was one of trust and commitment. Everyone in that room (there were ten of us) was after the truth. By turning up each week they were agreeing to the terms of the group: to support, share, be open, give feedback, and challenge each other appropriately. […] When trust is present, people move on from the possibility of misinterpretation or offence. They know that whatever is said is offered in the purest possible pursuit of truth. Such an agreement arises out of, and reinforces the kind of relationship which nurtures growth.’
Karaj saw us as truth seekers, which was always the balm on the sores of the development work we were doing. Whenever the challenges seemed to be too much for us, he would remind us why we gathered each and every weekend. We wanted the truth about existence. Fascinatingly, in a 2001 post called Seeking the Truth, Karaj addressed my own feelings of pointlessness by offering me insight into exactly what this entry is about – that by laying the foundations people might have insights of their own:
‘He told me it’s okay because I am seeking the truth and the truth is, there is no point. […] Karaj also pointed out that whilst everything I do may be pointless, it all has an effect on my world. For example, by digging the garden I have created a peaceful place for people to be. Maybe one day someone will be inspired to change history simply by being in the space I have created; and all because I shifted buckets of earth. I cannot possibly know the consequences of my actions. All I can do is act.’
At the same time it was made abundantly clear that the ultimate truth cannot be communicated. It took me a while to internalise this particular ‘truth’, because I saw anything other than honesty as lying, and it was often people’s lying which had so perplexed me growing up. In the post Protecting My Space, a year into my training, it seemed that I was on the verge of accepting what Karaj was telling me:
‘…as Karaj says, because the eternal truth cannot be described in words, all social interactions are a lie, and so long as I do no harm to anyone and so long as I make a contribution to people with my interactions, I can say what I like.’
That particular conversation took place in the wider context of ‘creating space for myself and protecting that space in order that I may walk my path.’ The entry concludes with these words:
‘Once I have created such a space, I have no choice but to face myself. To face oneself is, by its very nature, an extremely difficult thing to do. And that is why we distract ourselves with all the fuck-ups in our lives. We go from one relationship to another, from one situation to another purely to avoid facing up to who we are and, ultimately, sorting it out. The mind and conditioning combine so effectively that it is almost impossible to change. However, with courage, persistence, determination, discipline and a will to succeed it can be done.’
That is what Karaj was creating. A place where we could do the most important work I have ever done. Truth is easily buried and it often felt like excavation work to strip back the layers of deep conditioning to unearth our true selves. We needed the qualities listed at the end of that previous paragraph, but we also needed the ones in the title of this post. Which brings us to the final one: Wonder.
I have written before of being like a child in a brand new playground, full of wonder for where I found myself. It was a place like none I had ever known. A place of wisdom and learning at the deepest level. As the years went by, however, that wonder began to dull as my arrogance grew. I became increasingly cocky because of the progress I was making, the things I was learning and the perceived wisdom I was attaining. By the end I had lost much of my childlike naivety and curiosity and it was time to leave.
Ten years later, in 2014, Karaj reminded me to be in awe of my journey:
‘Be gentle with yourself. Take your time. Be focused and clear. Listen carefully to who you are. Be in awe of your journey, and use every opportunity to be quiet, still, and at peace with yourself and the world.’
It’s the same awe he inspired in me with his insights, his brilliance, and his commitment to the work we did. He was also a constant source of wonder with his own work on himself: He is prone to expressing delight at the workings of his own script, able to laugh at himself and his predicament, as he settles down again and again to observe more keenly and reflect more deeply than anyone I have ever known. Such lightness makes it easier to tolerate the suffering which can arise in this kind of work, and in life, too.
That is what he set out to establish – the foundations for some of the most challenging work any individual can do. It is not something that can be forced on someone (although when the conditions are right, the step into such an arena is an easier one), and it is not something which can be commanded. It is an invitation into a deeply satisfying world of beauty and discovery, but also of discomfort, jagged edges, and difficult pathways, which is why there has to be love and there has to be trust. Truth is also necessary, both as part of the journey and as the destination. And finally, because of what is revealed, and very often how it is revealed, there will always be wonder.
Create Your Own Haven
The final word is one of encouragement: Know that you can create your own environment of these qualities. I spoke to someone only this week who saw an opportunity to expose a colleague’s selfish ways. They had every reason to do so, and they had the evidence, too, inadvertently provided by the colleague themself. We talked about it and decided that the best way would be to ignore the temptation to go down that route (especially considering that a 40-year pattern of selfish behaviour is not overturned that easily, and especially not through accusation or blame).
Instead, as Charles Eisenstein suggests, it would be wiser to offer that person an experience of what it is like in the new story. For that reason, nothing was said about the piece of evidence, and nothing was said about the selfishness. In their place was a willingness to see the colleague’s humanity first and foremost, to understand that there are reasons for their patterns, and that maybe love, trust, truth and wonder are more powerful than finger-pointing, condemnation and victory.
Therefore, in everything you think, say and do, seek to create a haven where people can open up to themselves and to each other; where they feel safe enough to look inside themselves and share what they find, so that in the bright light of discovery the world becomes a little better. There will be times when it seems as if you are far from achieving anything like what you set out to do, and for years afterwards it may even appear that you have failed, but you won’t have. Look closely at what has happened and see the evidence everywhere of what you have brought into being.