Dear Jack,

 

I wanted to write to you to tell you what I am trying to achieve through my PhD – or at least, my current version of it!  This should then hopefully give us a basis and starting point for our dialogue a week on Monday.

 

I thought it might be useful to send you a copy of a couple of things that I have written recently, and place them in a context.  These should give you an idea of what I am currently doing. 

 

The title of my PhD as it stands at the moment is:

 

Finding Peace:  Harmonising Internal and External Worlds

 

My research question is:

“What needs to happen if I, and all other human beings, are to live together in peace and harmony?”

 

The following paragraphs are written somewhat at random as I seek to create a structure to my inquiry: what initiated it, the various stages along the way, and where I am at with it at this point in time. 

 

1.         Conflict has played a large part in my life, resulting in my often feeling at odds with myself, and with the external world.  I have for most of my adult life felt various degrees of restlessness as I struggled to understand and resolve the roots of the various conflicts I experienced.  Engaging in this struggle has been a far from peaceful process.  It is only in relatively recent years, probably since the millennium, that I have come to feel that a sense of peace is a predominant rather than a rare experience in my life. 

 

2.         The road followed has been a long and arduous one, constantly challenging me on an intellectual, emotional and spiritual level.  Often it is difficult to separate these three out, with each being affected by, and feeding the others.  So although for the purpose of analysis, I will try to separate them out, it needs to be understood that they interpenetrate each other. 

 

3.         My inquiry has its origins in my late teens, when I was struggling to make sense of what life meant, and what I should be doing.  I was experiencing a difficult time on all kinds of levels.   I had had a strict upbringing, with my parents placing great importance on the Christian faith, insisting I went to church and Sunday school each week.  At the age of 16, I rejected this faith, and left the church.  This resulted in a conflict with my parents, who were worried about the consequences of this decision for me.  There was also an internal conflict within myself.   I did have a sense of there being ‘something other’ than could be experienced by the 5 senses- a benevolent Power that was loving and caring.  However, there was no connection between this feeling of mine, and that which I was taught within the church – so I was left with deep questions about the credibility of my own experience. 

 

4.         This sense of ‘something other’ was also challenged when I started work in a children’s home.  I could not reconcile the idea of  a ‘caring God’, and the level of pain that was carried by the children I was working with, usually as a result of having lived in families where neglect, abuse and violence were a normal part of  daily life. 

 

5.         I was also experiencing great pain myself.  Intellectually, however hard I tried, and no matter where I searched, I could not find or develop a theoretical understanding of the world which would help me make sense of all aspects of my experience.  Spiritually, I was feeling torn apart by not being able to resolve the question of whether there was a profound purpose behind the creation of life  which would have implications for how I made decisions;  or whether human beings existed as a result of a pure chance.  Emotionally, not only was I finding it difficult to handle the pain of the children, but my inability to resolve the intellectual and spiritual tensions was creating a considerable lack of confidence in myself.  This was having an adverse effect on my ability to develop good and nourishing relationships.  I increasingly felt an ‘outsider’, not knowing what to do, or where to go. 

 

6.         Even at this stage of my life, I could not separate out what was going on for me, and what was happening within the wider world.  One part of me was tempted to say: ‘sod the world, and just let’s sort out a good life for myself’.  But my intuition would not accept this.  Somehow, I was certain that my own life, and the life of the world, were interconnected.  A phrase of significance for me was and has remained:  ‘as long as one person is not free, no-one is free’.  Consequently, in my search, I have always felt that what I was seeking was an integration of my internal and external worlds.   I could feel the conflict that existed within my internal self; and could see that the intellectual, spiritual and emotional distress and uncertainties I experienced in the core of my being, were reflected on a huge scale in the external world.  Unresolved conflicts existed between individuals, communities and nations, resulting in frustration and anger, expressed through abuse, exploitation and violence.  I have yearned for peace in the world – and can feel the anguish of helplessness when I realise how little I can do to make a difference.  Then I would remember Ghandi’s phrase, which has also deeply influenced me:  

‘If you want peace in the world, be that peace’.

 

 

7.         I realised that finding peace in myself was going to be a large enough challenge.  However, if I were able to discover how to achieve that, perhaps I might begin to be able to identify learning that could help understand how peace might be achieved on a larger scale. 

 

8.         From the beginning, I knew that, although this involved the intellect, it was not primarily an intellectual exercise.  I could think for myself, and talk with others, about how to find peace. However, the important issue was:  would I experience peace?  ‘Knowing how to’ would remain a theoretical exercise, with no real meaning, until peace became an aspect of experience.  Only when the peace was known within experience, would there be a value in the intellectual knowing which helped express the understanding of how that state had been achieved. 

 

9.         This is where I see self study and action research become valid methods of a research enquiry.  The framework I have used for action research follows the process of Kolb’s Learning Cycle. 

                                                             i)                  Immerse myself in the experience.

                                                                ii)                  Reflect on that experience – attempt to understand in a theoretical way what has been going on.

                                                                   iii)                  Decide what may enable me to better achieve my aim – decide a course of action.

                                                                   iv)                  Test it out in practice.

                                                                v)                  Immerse myself in the experience.

                                                                   vi)                  ……………..and so on ………………………..

 

10.   My enquiry has continued from my early twenties till the present day.  Throughout that time, I felt I was learning a tremendous amount that was of value – too much to easily create order from.  The motive for registering for a PhD was to give me the incentive to create a structure that would help me make sense of my experience and learning – and to gain feedback from others which would hopefully help me articulate it in a way that made sense and was helpful to others.  Perhaps, in the spirit of my interpretation of science, it would provide a basis of understanding, the validity of which could be tested out by others through their own experience!

 

11.   The following table attempts to track some of the key stages of my inquiry, differentiating between what I perceive to be the spiritual, intellectual and emotional dimensions.  Age ranges are given only to give a general idea of which phase within a 35-year span I can particularly relate to these experiences.  However, in real terms, it is difficult if not impossible to identify a start and an end to various stages.  Often, there is an overlap, with a merging of one phase into another, feeling certain states at different times ………………

 

 

Approx

Age

Intellectual

Spiritual

 

Emotional

16 - 20

A rejection of church dogmas and doctrines.

A distaste for materialist explanations of the world.

An intuitive sense of ‘something more’ than could be perceived by the 5 senses – but very precarious due to influence of intellectual and emotional factors.

Confusion, uncertainty, distress – sometimes panic at the unknown.  Feelings of depression – a fear that ultimately, life is meaningless.

Conflict between spiritual and intellectual understandings of the world.

 


 

18-19

Lack of understanding and knowledge about why there should be pain and distress in the world. 

 

Decision to seek relevant knowledge though university course;  also learn methods to help young people in pain. 

 

The ‘sense of the spiritual’ often submerged and overwhelmed by the strength of the intellectual challenge and the negative emotional experiences.  Feelings of meaningless dominate.

 

Great distress at the levels of pain and distress I was experiencing, both in myself, and in the children I was working with.

 

20

Study of Religions at University – gave me a different perspective on spiritual belief systems.  Realised that churches, and other institutionalised forms of religion, were not necessarily properly representing the truth of spiritual traditions – and that there was much more to explore.

 

Content of some of these belief systems – e.g. Buddhism – giving a believable explanation for human pain. 

 

Reassurance that intuition of spiritual dimension was based in valid reality – more trust developing. 

 

 

Mind blown about what I had learned – excited about the possibilities of finding out more. 

19-22 and beyond

Through Carl Jung’s autobiography, and ‘Experiment in Depth’, became acquainted with the idea of the unconscious – and also learned how to access it. 

Through journaling, experienced myself as producing a knowledge and awareness from a source far beyond my rational day-to-day self – felt as though I was accessing a source that was spiritual in nature.  Usually, I would not know what I had learned, what was going on, till I read what I had written after the writing was completed.  Began to feel a stronger and more active connection with a spiritual dimension. 

 

Felt increasingly more stable and grounded as a consequence of the journaling.  Not an overnight process – developed over several years. 


 

21 - 29

Studied sociology, social psychology, social work methods, criminology for first degree, and during my professional training as a social worker.  Realised that the knowledge base to alleviate distress in young people not known.  Ignorance about basis of human behaviour profound – needed knowledge and a way of understanding the world that came from a deeper place than any of the academic subjects I was studying.  Considered that my experience of, and connection with, the unconscious as experienced through journaling, was a key element to finding the way to a more helpful knowledge base.  

 

Continuing to build my relationship with what I experienced as the spiritual – and actively seek help from a source beyond myself. 

Gradually becoming happier in the external world – building good relationships – becoming increasingly confident at work.  Establishing a good professional reputation, which also feels great.  However, still feeling helpless in terms of what I could do to make a difference in the lives of distressed and abused young people.

29-41

Despite my apparent experience and acceptance of a spiritual source, I could not believe in the validity of that experience completely.  There were several belief systems in conflict – I might know which one I wanted to believe in, but how could I be sure?  Main belief systems in conflict:

1)        Reality of the spiritual.

2)        Materialism based on assumptions of scientism.

3)        The dualistic reality of my parents version of Christianity – with a ‘separate’ judgemental, God. 

Held to what my intuition told me as a ‘working hypothesis’ – gave that primary place in my life – but was not able to have complete ‘faith’ in it – so still a considerable amount of doubt and uncertainty, which affected the commitment to spiritual practices.  Allowed my sense of the spiritual to be diluted by the acceptance of other possible ways of understanding life. 

Generally happy – but would experience periods of depression when I particularly doubted the validity of my experience of a spiritual dimension to life.  When I held as a complete possibility that all that aspect of my experience was illusory, then I would re-experience the feelings of possible ultimate meaningless to everything – which could affect my motivation and energy in the world.  Had to sometimes push myself through these feelings to get back to a true acceptance of the value of my intuition.


 

41-42

At Jerry’s death, threw into complete focus the conflict between my different beliefs about the world.  Suddenly became essential to make an intellectual decision one way or the other.  The trauma of the experience was so much pushing me towards accepting that there really was no meaning to life, that I was going to have to find much stronger evidence to continue to support my belief that there ‘was more to life than met the eye’.

 

I experienced Jerry’s death, and the six months following, as a ‘spiritual emergency’ (Christina Grof).  My acceptance of an ultimate Loving Presence / Power / Intelligence severely challenged.  Continued the journaling frantically, which was the source of helpful information – but was a long uncertain road.

Devastated, traumatised, confused, despairing, grief-stricken – but determined not to give up yet …………

42-47

‘Found’ the Scientific & Medical Network – and discovered there ways of understanding the world that helped me develop an intellectual framework that made sense of my experience of the spiritual.

 

Also, began to develop an intellectual understanding of the conflict between different belief systems. 

 

Implications of modern science helped me realise why the materialist world view was so dominant and extensive.

 

Gradually, I was able to resolve the conflicts in belief systems that I held. 

 

Did the Scientific and Medical Network find me?  It seemed so absolutely what I needed at this point in time, that I became reassured that there was some kind of Divine Guidance influencing my life – and it would help me make sense of Jerry’s death, and the level of pain that that created. 

 

Hopeful, and a beginning of an optimism that there was a way to find the kind of knowledge I was seeking.

 

Also, the emotional benefits of developing deep, rich and nourishing friendships with people interested in the same kinds of questions as myself.  For the first time in my life, I felt I had found compatible companions for me on my journey. 


 

47-48

A realisation that the SMN was largely an organisation interested in intellectual ideas – and did not want to involve itself in exploring how these affected how we should live our lives on a day by day basis.  Spiritual and emotional dimensions of life were there to be talked about, not to be explored.  There was no interest shown in trying to find ways to integrate intellectual, spiritual, emotional – nor how to reconcile inner and outer worlds. 

 

Developing more disciplined spiritual practices – for example, long periods of quiet and contemplation - (meditation?). 

 

More frequently in contexts where I felt spiritually connected to others.

Feelings of frustration that what seemed to be huge potential within the SMN was not being realised. 

 

However, happy about some of what was emerging out of that – a continuing development in enriching relationships. 

48-50

How to move forward in terms of ‘knowing’ at the level I was seeking.  Realising even more clearly that the source of knowing lay in experience – that experience with all its dimensions was primary – and intellectual understanding was merely one aspect of experience.  When the intellect was allowed to be too dominant and powerful, experience could become more arid, and less enrichening. 

 

Three year co-operative inquiry into ‘what do we understand by transformative living?’

 

Continuation of spiritual practices, and feelings of spiritual connection with others and the wider universe.  Experiencing a shift in consciousness, where I perceived the whole world as a unity, with everyone and everything interconnected within that unity.  The more I was able to experience this consciousness, the more rewarding I was finding my actions and interactions in the external world. 

Very happy about the experience of the co-operative inquiry - provided experiential evidence in a qualitative way of the reality of ‘divine guidance’, and the existence of a supreme Loving Intelligence, a vibrant and creative Living Presence, which, if we were sufficiently open, could enable us to learn more about the potential of the world, and realise it in practice. 


 

50-51

Intellectual explanation taking a ‘background seat’.  Made a conscious decision to immerse myself in experience, living, holding in my consciousness the learning that I felt I had gained so far.  Reading books such as Chris Bache’s ‘Dark Night, Early Dawn’, and Jorge Ferrer’s ‘Revisioning Transpersonal Theory’.  However, could integrate what I read with how I had come to understand the world.  The intellectual conflict was not now there for me. 

My ‘connection’ with a wider reality appears real and vibrant.  More than that, there does seem to be a direct connection between the intention held in my consciousness, and what transpires for me in the external world.  Am aware that more people now respond to me in a more positive and constructive way than was the case several years ago. 

I am generally more happy and content with all aspects of my life than I have ever been.  There are rare times when I find I am experiencing some anxiety – but in the main, they last a short time, and are followed by some particularly positive event in my mind.

 

I seem to have found the peace for which I had been searching …..

 

Jack – I am aware that in the writing I do, I need to develop much more what has been happening over the past 3-4 years.  I feel that there is an increasing amount of connection between the details and quality of my personal experience, and the ‘theories’ about what is going on in the world that are appearing in many, many books and magazine articles.  I guess I want to show how the ideas and the experience reflect and re-inforce each other. 

 

A group has emerged out of the co-operative inquiry – with the explicit intent of exploring what it means to develop a ‘group consciousness’ – and what the ‘power’ of that might be. 

 

I have enclosed 2 pieces of writing that I have done recently for specific contexts.  One is the letter sent to group members prior to the first structured meeting to explore some of the ideas presented by Lynne McTaggart in her book ‘The Field’.  Lesson 1 is downloadable from her website, if you are interested.  I will give you the address when I send you the email attached to this. 

 

The second is writing I did after a meeting with several academics coming together to explore ‘Spirituality as a Dimension of Lifelong Learning’.  The brief for this is on my work computer – I will forward it to you tomorrow.  Cheryl Hunt at Exeter University is the convenor of this.  At the meeting, we all shared an account of where we had gained our experiences and understanding of spirituality.  Afterwards, we each agreed that prior to the next meeting, we would put into writing that account;  and would also give some presentation of our reflections following the meeting.