Sunday 14 February 2021

Ten stages of mystical insight.

There is one account of stages with which I do feel in full accord: the Zen ox-herding pictures (From THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN, by Philip Kapleau.)These pictures don't come out of speculation but rather out of the experience of many mystics. They depict ten stages of mystical insight in a series of paintings of a person and an ox. The person is the spiritual seeker; the ox is the Divine in a wild, unknown, untamed form. Some may find it surprising that the Lord is represented here as an ox.

Well, at first it is as though you are in the woods (1), and now and then you find the footprints of some heavy beast (2). You would like to see it, so you track it. Finally you catch a glimpse of it (3). Many are at this stage, having caught only a glimpse of the beast! Finally you catch him but he's a tough one (4). He once stepped on me and I can testify he is heavy. Finally the ox starts to work with you (5). Finally you two are in accord and you can ride the ox home (6).

This whole book is about the first six stages, in which one reaches friendship with the Divine; one can contact the Divine and learn from it. But there is still some dualism, that of the rider versus the ox, though now there is enough friendship and understanding that there is no longer opposition.


I have felt little need to describe the last four stages because the person who has reached stage six is well on their way, and will be shown the last four stages in time. In the seventh picture the ox is forgotten. The monk came to realize he could reflect on the very Life in himself. Ox and self are now the same thing. There is no other. The life one sees and feels within is the One life. The cut-off self never existed. There always was only Life. The repeated experience of the eternal, of coming back to the Divine, gradually weakens the ego sense of "I am a separate entity." Finding the One in so many people and contexts overcomes the sense of separateness. Finally we experience separateness and ego as illusion (Maya). Just as we repeatedly stepped from time to the eternal and back, we can also step from separateness to no separation and back again. Let us look at the last three stages, but realize that only direct experience makes these stages real. In the eighth picture we see just a circle drawn on the page. Even the seeker has vanished. This is the ultimate illumination. There is only this unity. In the ninth picture the world and all its beauty returns, but this is the world transfigured, permeated with the One. There is nothing to seek. It is obvious the One is everywhere. In the tenth picture the adept returns to the marketplace with helping hands, doing what he/she can. What was given is multiplied by being shared. The Zen ox-herding series represents the experience of many, and they are in a nearly universal language. You may have some sense of where you are in this series.

Wilson van Dusen, Returning to the Source, Ch14 Some Questions Answered

Tuesday 6 June 2017

Swedenborg’s influence on Sibelius

Sibelius, the famous Finnish composer, wrote ‘Finlandia’ and seven symphonies and so much else. He was married to a lady called Aino, who was very much into everything spiritual and supernatural.

His recent biographer wrote a three-volume in-depth life of Sibelius and mentions that Sibelius bought a copy of Martin Lamm’s ‘Life of Swedenborg’ and said that he completely devoured it. And he (Sibelius) went on to say that Swedenborg’s idea of everything being in divine harmony helped him to complete the writing of his 5th Symphony which he had been struggling with.

Wednesday 26 April 2017


By Julian Duckworth

Today, care for the world around us comes high on everybody’s list. This is something we all share and must take responsibility for. We’re learning fast that the world’s resources are not endless and we must clean up the planet and conserve our use of virtually everything.

This stark fact can help to remind us of a number of important things. One is that the human race lives in one community around the globe and none of us can afford to live in isolation or stay unaware of the effect we may have on everybody else. Today it is becoming possible to ‘seed’ rain clouds above heavily populated cities to provide water, but the effect is to lessen the amount of rainfall in the surrounding region.

We have been – and still are to some extent – greedy in terms of consuming resources and taking so much for granted. We are slowly realising that the world works in a very balanced way and to take too much not only deprives others from having enough to survive on but harms the overall harmony of the planet.

At the beginning of the Bible there is the story of the Garden of Eden, obviously a statement about a world that is functional as well as beautiful. It says that God put human beings in the garden to tend it and take care of it. This is how we need to be viewing the world around us, basically as a garden in need of tending.

The present generation are not the ones primarily affected by the longer-term consequences. We need to conserve and sustain the living planet so that our children and their children can look at green trees and blue skies and live safely and healthily in this world which is still a remarkably beautiful and richly-resourced world in which to live. 

By Julian Duckworth

How unbelievably hard it is to lose someone you love because they have died. You are still here but they are no longer with you, at least not physically. It feels like you have lost part of yourself. At such times, words are not very helpful to us, yet when words say the right thing they can be very powerful and healing.

When someone loses someone they love – which is almost certainly going to happen to all of us in our life – it is very hard for the people who love you to know how they can best help or when to be around. But it is very important not to be too much or too long on your own in your loss. It is important to allow your loving friends to be there with you even without much to say to you. It is also very important to make sure you have your own time alone.

A common experience when you lose someone you love is to find yourself moving through all kinds of different feelings. You may feel anger, or emptiness, or a strange sense of peace, or such things as guilt or blame on yourself or others. These will come and they will go, because they are the way in which your mind is managing this shock to your system. It is running through and trying out every emotion. Let it do that and don’t be troubled by it all.

It’s often said that time is a great healer when death happens. That is really the case but you can’t set the timetable. It will in all probability take a full year to begin to get back into being yourself which surely is what the person you love would want you to do. And don’t be surprised at a number of personal changes that come to the fore, because life is going to be different from what it used to be.

Many people believe in life after death. Let them help you in their way at the right time for you. This belief is universally shared by all religions across the world. Let it help you.

By Julian Duckworth

Sometimes, when people laugh, it’s at someone else’s expense. That’s a rather cruel kind of laughter, though. A nicer laughter is to be able to laugh at some of the foibles of life and not to take it all too seriously. Being able to laugh like that eases everything and it’s a good place to be. Perhaps we could stretch this idea even further and say that seeing and sharing the funny side of life is the normal way we’re meant to be because it is healthy and healing. It immediately dissolves tricky moments and tensions that come along.

It’s lovely watching a group of people, perhaps over a meal, being together, and noticing the relaxed friendly laughter coming from among them as a group. They are right into it and nobody seems at all self-conscious but catching everyone’s fun. Laughter is contagious of course. They say it even does our body good, lowering blood pressure, letting off steam and having a good chuckle. There are even groups of people who get together, say in a park, simply to be together to laugh.

Jesus talked about having joy. This isn’t exactly the same as laughter, but it still suggests a lightness of being, a feeling of well-being through having joy in yourself.

One telling statistic that has emerged is that little children laugh (with that wonderful open children’s way of laughing) about 300 times a day, but adults on average only laugh about 15 times a day. Something got lost in the business of growing up and we’ve forgotten the therapy and spontaneity of this precious gift of laughter.

So let’s aim to reverse that dreadful statistic and allow ourselves, more and more, to be caught up in letting laughter do us good.

Wednesday 12 April 2017


By Julian Duckworth

This is a situation we all have to cope with from time to time. What is the best way to deal with someone who, for example, gets angry or is rude to you? Or it may be as simple as someone who never gets around to doing what they said they would do.
Perhaps it will help to appreciate that in some way we are probably all a bit difficult to deal with at times. You may be habitually unpunctual and always turn up late – how annoying that can be. I may be someone who never puts things back where they go. That can be maddening! These situations just need a bit more courage and clear communication, to let the other person know that their habit is something you aren’t prepared to accept. Say it and then get over it. If it still happens, say it the same again. But don’t smoulder over it or else everything about that other person will submerge under one grievance, which is a great pity.

But some situations can be more full-on, and be almost a direct attack, or feel like one to us on the receiving end. There are some techniques that can help when it’s like that. Having an opening phrase perhaps – Excuse me, can you tell me exactly what your problem is? Or, Look, if I’ve upset you, it certainly wasn’t intended.
You have every right to stand your ground and be assertive against unwarranted aggression.

Jesus said, Love your enemies. He did not mean be soft with those who oppose you. He meant something quite simple. When we do not retaliate but keep love as our energy towards every other person, this takes away the energy coming to us and makes it truly powerless. Anger feeds on anger but it can’t cope with love.

by Julian Duckworth

Maybe asking yourself if you are contented is better than wondering if you are happy. Being happy implies being cheerful and bright, and nobody can be like that all the time. But we can be basically contented even though easy times and hard times come their way, as they do.

Contentment is about being glad to be who you are; it’s about accepting yourself and feeling satisfied with what you are like, what you are able to do, and your overall circumstances in life. It helps us to make the most of everything and it keeps us away from all those niggling comparisons and envies. It can lead us to be very thankful for what we do have, and make us more compassionate and generous towards people who have less than we do. We can then start to help other people towards their own contentment and acceptance of their life.

God makes each person completely unique and different from any other person around. God knows that each of us is a special person and he loves us as if he only had each one of us to love.

When you come to know yourself reasonably well, and find out what you are good at doing and also what you can’t do very well, then you’re in a position to find your best niche in life. Then you can throw yourself into life, enjoy being yourself, make your contribution to what’s happening around you, and trust the whole process.

And perhaps in the end the question we first asked ‘Are you contented?’ starts to disappear because you’re no longer needing to ask it or to wonder if you are. Getting on with life leads on to contentment so that if someone asked you the question, you’d stop, pause and think, ‘Well, yes. I guess I am contented.’ And that is a good place to be.