Some popular self-help myths

Over the last 3 years I have heard many of my friends and clients come out with little nuggets of self-help wisdom they’ve heard from others. I’ve come to realise that these statements form a kind of New Age dogma that often end up doing exactly the opposite of helping. In this article I’ll mention some of the most popular ones and why I think they are worth challenging.

Some or all of these statements may be true and useful to you along the way. If something resonates with you, that’s great. However I see them often used by people as ways to bypass difficulties, judge others or beat themselves up about what they’re not doing.

Remember: you are always your own best judge!

Jump and trust that the Universe will catch you
This is one of the commonest New Age myths around. Time and time again I see people ‘just jumping’ and then finding themselves paralysed by fear. It’s not really surprising, since it is very rare for ‘just jumping’ to be the right thing to do.

I believe that the place of growth is the edge of your comfort zone, not way beyond it. (Read more about this here.) Often ‘just jumping’ takes us way beyond our comfort zone into a place of terror. And trust is something that builds, not something that miraculously appears through faith and foolishness.

I favour taking a step at a time, discerning what is realistic for us right now and going there as quickly as possible. Step by step we conquer our fears and become braver, without going too far too fast and freaking ourselves out.

Be in the moment
Another common piece of dogma is that if we simply were in the moment, everything will be OK. I see this used to justify a lot of unconscious behaviour. Why? Because most of the time it means acting on instinct at the expense of sense and reason. This is definitely NOT being in the moment, but since most of us can’t be in the moment most of the time, the teaching is used to justify our rash behaviour.

I have no doubt that being in the moment is the most spiritual way of living, and it’s something I wish for myself and everyone else. The question, for me, is how to be in the moment and what is stopping us from living from that place. Because if it were really that simple we’d all be doing it, wouldn’t we?

Follow your intuition / body wisdom / felt-sense above all else
I’ve seen some staggeringly unethical behaviour justified with this one. Our intuition, or felt-sense, is undoubtedly a valuable aspect of our knowing and can help us to see beyond the limitations of the mind. This is particularly true in a disembodied mainsteam culture that prizes the mind above all else and doesn’t give enough credit to body wisdom.

However, as Steve Bearman coherently argues in his excellent article Don’t Trust Your Feelings, the somatic approach is only part of the overall picture. Often our bodies give us a lot of valuable information and guide us towards what’s right for us; but they are also a place where many issues are held and it is very hard to discern where intuition comes from. Is this the Divine speaking to us directly, or is it an instinct that comes from our wounding?

Our bodies are also, often, inherently selfish and pleasure-seeking. The body does not have an in-built ethical sense – ethics are governed by the mind – nor does it have the capacity to keep the big picture in mind. People who follow their body in all things are often selfish and unaware, and rarely holistic or transpersonal in their approach.

The mind is the enemy
We mostly have good old Osho and his followers to thank for this absurd idea. Osho said countless times that the mind is the problem and that once we overcome it we’ll be OK.

We won’t. The mind undoubtedly needs to be placed within a wider framework and not allowed to run the show on its own. Ultimately the mind is concerned with analysing risk and uses the past as its reference point for decisions about the future. But this isn’t always a bad thing, and often helps us to make good decisions and avoid obvious mistakes.

Most often people who disrespect the mind and focus on making decisions from elsewhere fall foul of the pre/trans fallacy, mistaking childish pre-personal ways of behaving for trans-personal states. The transpersonal includes and transcends the mind. In order to do this we first need to make friends with our mind and learn when it is useful and when it isn’t.

A key aspect of this is learning to take control of the mind and not let it run the show on our behalf. I still love Goenka likening the mind to a wild elephant: untamed, it is a hazard; tamed, it is an asset. This makes much more sense than treating the mind as an enemy and regressing into pre-rational states.

Back to nature is better
As a born-and-bred city dweller, I have a personal beef with this myth. There’s definitely something for us to learn from living closer to nature and being less driven by the crazy pace of urban life. However this should be kept in balance and the many benefits of urban living should not be overlooked or ignored. People choose to live in cities for a reason – mainly because living close to nature has historically been very tough. There’s no doubt we’ve gone too far this way and can learn a lot from being more in touch with nature – but there’s nothing inherently superior about rural life.

Importantly, most people’s idea of ‘back to nature’ depends on an infrastructure that brings many of the advantages of the urban life to the country – the best of both worlds. I have no problem with this: in fact, I think it’s great. However, it feels naive and short-sighted to me that people want everyone to get back to nature when the nature they are talking about is only sustainable when there’s a balance between urban and rural lifestyles.

Love is all you need
That’s a song lyric, isn’t it? Like a lot of New Age dogma, the catchiness of this line belies its unhelpfulness as a guide to life. It’s used to justify all manner of unconscious behaviour and bypass the very real struggles and pain that arise on our quest to live from a place of love and acceptance.

Like many of these statements, this may be an expression of some kind of ultimate truth. However, very few of us live in connection with ultimate truth most of the time. Our truth right now might be “life is full of struggle” or “love is conditional”. If this is what you believe then start there. Just because someone described the view from the top of the mountain doesn’t mean we should pretend that we are standing there and enjoying the view ourselves. Be real and you’ll make faster progress on the journey to where you want to be.

Everyone’s doing the best they can
Again, this is probably true at a very subtle level. But in my experience most people (including me) spend 90% of our time resisting change and not doing what’s best for us or for others. More often than not this statement is used to justify laziness, lack of awareness and resistance.

If you really feel you are doing the best you can, that’s great. But be honest with yourself and ask the question again and again: is there more I can be doing to help myself grow? If you find a quiet yes, even in the deepest recesses of your mind, then dig a little deeper and find out where you’re not doing the best you can.

Think positive and everything will be OK
This is another of those myths that only helps if we know how to apply it. There’s no doubt that being negative is immensely unhelpful: it is a drain on our energy and the energy of those around us. Trying to keep a positive outlook is definitely helpful, but it’s only the starting-point and not the end of the story.

Often when people think back on their journey, they see everything happening in a beautiful flow that seems inevitable, perfect and easy. This is the beauty of hindsight. In the moment they were subject to fear, doubt and negativity as much as the rest of us. Probably they overcame these challenges through a combination of positive thinking, determination, good judgement and a little luck.

Like most things, positive thinking is a key aspect to achieving the life we want – but it needs to be kept in balance and not depended upon as the be-all and end-all.

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The most important thing to do is to find out what is true and right for you as you progress on your journey to greater depth, wisdom and understanding. In this process it helps to have the support of people who care about you and are able honestly to mirror what you can’t quite see yourself. This can be a psychotherapist, a life coach, a loving friend or a partner: basically anyone who’s brave enough to hold the mirror up even when it’s uncomfortable and compassionate enough to deal with the fall-out.

So approach New Age maxims with the same caution you’d apply to any other teachings. Use them when they are helpful and ignore them when they are not.

Or as Guatama Buddha rather elegantly put it: if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. You are your own best teacher – now and forever.

If you’re interested in my approach, why not read more about a coaching session?

Interview by Cate Mackenzie

Earlier this year, gorgeous love coach Cate Mackenzie did an in-depth interview with me. We talked about many things: how I came to do this work, what it means to surrender, non-monogamy and more.

The interview is in 4 parts so you’ll need to click on the next part once a section is complete.

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In and out of magical space

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Do you remember the last time you felt deeply connected? When I’m ‘in the zone’ I notice how accurate my intuition is, how simply I speak my truth and how exquisitely everything flows. Life becomes easier and I wonder why I worry so much the rest of the time.

This is ‘magical space’: a state of being in which we relax deeply into presence and being.

The first few times I felt the power and grace of magical space I wanted to stay in it forever. For me those early experiences often happened at Radical Faerie gatherings: 7-10 day long events in which the overarching intention was to share magical space together. It felt unfair and deeply challenging that we had to leave these magical spaces, that the gatherings had to end. Why couldn’t we live like this forever?

A decade on, I understand that the answer to this question is both simple and complex. The simple version is: we can’t. The world we’ve co-created does not allow it: we have to do things like pay our rent and work on spreadsheets, and these are not things we are particularly good at when we’re in magical space.

The more complex version is this: I believe that the human condition is inherently both joyful and painful, and that is how it is meant to be. We are witnesses to our own coming, being and passing, the only animal that knows it’s going to die. This is how it’s supposed to be: our spiritual work on this earthly plane is to find a balance between the perfection of the eternal and the fallibility of the physical. And hopefully to remain compassionate and loving in the process.

The task we’ve been given is, let’s face it, a challenging one. If we go too far one way we become ‘gross’, believing that only the physical is real, with the accompanying existential angst and moral struggles this belief brings. And if we go too far the other way we are ungrounded space cadets, always hankering after the spiritual because we can’t handle life on earth.

So how do we fulfil the challenging, uniquely human feat of achieving a balance? One of the keys, for me, is to get really good at moving in and out of magical space.

Magical spaces come in many different shapes and sizes. Some of the magical spaces I’ve enjoyed over the past few years include:

  • Faerie gatherings
  • Tantra & conscious sexuality festivals
  • Sex parties & BDSM playspaces
  • burningman style events
  • Workshops & retreats

These spaces are protected and liminal. They are created and designed to enable us to take off our armour and dismantle the walls that keep us separate from one another. I believe that being in magical space is a way of connecting with my spiritual nature. So naturally I want to get really good at moving into these spaces.

Going in can be its own challenge. To truly enter magical space I need to feel safe enough to get truly naked. Often this takes time, and there’s a palpable shift at these events around the second or third day, as a critical mass of participants ‘arrive’. Welcome home!

Often in these spaces, people are helped and supported to arrive. It makes sense, since the sooner everyone gets there, the deeper and more beautiful the event. But what I’ve noticed is that they are often not as supportive in helping people to leave. Some, like the Osho Leela Festival of Conscious Sexuality, have simple structures on the last day to bring the energy down and help people ground; but even there, the sadness of disconnecting isn’t addressed as a ‘thing’, and this can result in people crashing a bit afterwards. Sometimes this crash can put people off re-entering magical space for a while, or ever: after the bliss of being hyper-connected it’s tough to feel separate again.

And yet this is exactly what we need to do: to get supple and flexible at moving in and out of magical space. Because this, for me, is the essence of being human. We are both wave and particle, both contiguous with All That Is and separate from everything that isn’t ‘me’. We cannot escape this reality because it’s at the heart of the human condition.

So instead of running away, I recommend getting good at moving between the physical and the spiritual. I recommend developing mastery in this practice because it helps us to become more human.

What I notice these days is that I move quickly into magical space and I am able to leave it without too much misery. It hurts to separate but I embrace the pain as part of the process. And this makes me want to go in and out again and again. On average I spend at least a couple of days each month in magical space, and often more.

I’ve also noticed that embracing the transitions means I’m better at moving into magical space in an ad-hoc way. I do so in most client sessions, because that’s how I’m able to do what I do. But I also find that sometimes an afternoon hanging out with a friend, or a night with a lover, becomes a magical space. All that practice at moving in and out means that I’m able to do so more easily, more casually, more often.

I also believe that mastering the transition between magical space and the everyday helps us to appreciate both much, much more. When we are expanded and connected we revel in it without fear, knowing that when we have to contract again it’ll be OK. And when we are contracted and separate we get on with what we need to do, knowing that we can expand again soon.

In the end I’d go even further: I believe that moving in and out of magical space is a life skill that enriches our capacity to be ‘between the worlds’, and I highly recommend cultivating it. Not only does it enhance the magical spaces themselves; it opens up the possibility of more magic in every area of our lives.

Faerie teaches at the Osho Leela Conscious Sexuality Festival, one of his favourite magical spaces, in October. Find out more >>

The thing about sex

The thing about sex is, once we get good at it, almost every encounter is special. Sure, there are some people we aren’t so compatible with; but as we gain confidence we can sense this early on and avoid even going there with people we aren’t likely to click with.

Creative relationships beyond the picket fence

Even when we rule out those folks we don’t have a natural rapport with, there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of people we can have beautiful sex with. Each one is unique, a magic moment that occurs when two energies meet and play. Each one is a dance of delights, an exploration, a journey, a mirror. Each reveals something about us and about the other, and each has the potential to activate something in us that may have been dormant before.

This talks to jealousy. I used to really struggle to imagine my loved ones having fantastic sex with other people. It felt somehow unjust that others could turn them on the same way as me. Gradually I realised that this simply isn’t how it is: others don’t turn my lovers on in the same way as me, they turn them on in different ways. Since each person has a particular energy that has a unique effect on others, it follows naturally that each new connection has a different quality. Why should it upset me when my lover experiences a new type of connection, when I know from my own experience how unique each of my connections is?

One of the hidden core messages from monogamy, which resides deep in our conditioning, is that we are a magic key to our partner’s secret lock: a place only we have access to. It is part of the wider capitalist machine’s indoctrination of us, and I believe that its sole purpose is to make us unhappy so we’ll remain in desire and buy more stuff. (This is a huge subject and I can only gloss over it here.)

By contrast, when we start to find our way beyond monogamy, one of the things we learn is that we are uniquely shaped puzzle pieces that fit together differently, and beautifully, with many other puzzle pieces. The shape I make with my girlfriend M_____ is totally different from the shape I make with my lover S_____, and different again from the shape I make with my playmate B_____. Each one is beautiful and each one can be celebrated and enjoyed, just as soon as we give ourselves permission to go beyond what we’ve been conditioned to believe.

There is something liberating about knowing that we can have great sex with so many different people. As someone who has practiced ethical non-monogamy for over than 10 years, I also know that great sex does not mean a great relationship: as Dossie wisely puts it, there are some people we love to play with at a club but we wouldn’t bring them home, let alone get a mortgage together. Each connection has an appropriate level that is just perfect; as soon as we break free of mono-normative thinking, that suggests that every connection must move towards love and marriage, we free ourselves to discover what is right for us in each connection.

Once we know this, we soon realise that the number of people we can have fantastic sex with is much higher than the number of people we can have beautiful relationships with. The ingredients of a beautiful relationship are many and varied. Great sex is one, for sure: I have never gone into a serious relationship unless the sex has been hot to begin with. (That’s important to me but I acknowledge that it isn’t for everyone; and I do question sometimes whether this makes for more incendiary, unstable relationships.) But there are many other things that are important too, including: how well we get along; how similar our taste in music, films, books and food is; how much our life goals align; whether we both want to have kids or not and so on. There are many factors that determine the depth and length that is appropriate for a certain connection. Once we know that the great sex is not an indicator of anything except great sex, we can look more objectively at what the connection wants to be and let it flow into its natural shape.

This is part of the reason why I believe that non-monogamy has the potential to liberate us so deeply. It forces us to question whole swathes of conditioning around love, jealousy and our sense of who we are. In doing so we begin to find out own way of being in the world – not just sexually but socially and personally as well.

This evening London Faerie presents Permission for Pleasure in Prague, an evening talk about non-monogamy. He is also available for coaching sessions with individuals and couples who are in, or moving into, non-monogamous relationships.

Non-attached relating

Over the last few months I’ve been reflecting a lot on relating without attachment. I notice that the start of new love affairs is often very expansive: it opens up many possibilities for both of the lovers. I drew a diagram to illustrate this expansive quality:

Expansive non-attached love

This is one of the reasons we desire love and romance: when we open ourselves to another, we open ourselves more widely to the realm of possibilities and it feels fantastic.

If we are there because we seek this expansive space, then it follows logically that we wouldn’t want to do anything to limit or shut that space down. And yet this is often exactly what we do: through a combination of conditioning, fear and habit we ‘close’ the relationship and restrict our access to the realm of possibilities. This closing-down also has a shape – it looks like this:

Love with attachment

As my wonderful supervisor Kimaya pointed out, in romantic love we fear three things: rejection, abandonment and betrayal. Often our desire for attachment emerges from these fears: as we grow closer to the other and our fear of losing them intensifies, we seek ways to make the relationship secure. Yet it is precisely this ‘making safe’ that causes the relationship to close down and limits our access to the expansive possibilities that made it so exhilarating at the start.

One of the commonest ways in which I see this happen is when people limit each other’s actions out of fear. Often it is precisely the thing that drew us to the other that becomes a source of fear later. For example, we might have loved how open, free and flirtatious the other was when we were the focus of their attentions. Now we see them out at a party, flirting freely with others, and it freaks us out. What if they like someone else better than me? we wonder. And so we ask them to tone it down a bit rather than facing our fear of not being good enough. They agree because they want us to be happy, and either they start feeling trapped and tamed by the relationship, or they simply damp down that quality we liked so much to begin with.

This process of taming and domesticating something that is, in essence, wild and scary, is the birthplace of co-dependence. The more we focus our way of being in the relationship on making things OK for the other and not tending to our own needs, the more unhealthily entwined we become.

The alternative is more challenging but more desirable in the end. It’s ‘non-attached relating’, a way of being in connection with others that keeps us open and expansive rather than focussing us inwards and shutting things down. Looking back at the diagrams above, it is a way to stay in the first shape and not succumb to the temptation to move into the second, more closed one.

Non-attached relating is often misunderstood. People assume that it means being free and easy, keeping our options open and not making commitments. To me these are immature, pre-personal ways of relating that reflect a desire to be at the centre of one’s own world. By contrast, a commitment to non-attached relating reflect a desire to move through the personal, ego-led ways of relating into a transpersonal space of conscious and open connection. (For more on the difference between pre-personal, personal and transpersonal states, check out Ken Wilber’s amazing book Sex, Ecology, Spirituality.)

Non-attached relating involves staying in our truth and communicating consciously around our needs, desires and boundaries rather than getting mired in the unhealthy intricacies of co-dependence. It is the meeting of two ‘I’s who want to connect deeply and openly, rather than the bound-together-ness of an unhappy ‘we’. It is a challenging path, for sure, and one which involves both of us really showing up for the relationship, even when we have something difficult or unpleasant to share. It’s a way of recognising that, however close we feel to someone, we still exist as an independent entity who needs to take care of him/herself at all times.

Ironically, from this space of non-attachment and being aware of our own needs we are much more likely to move through our ego-fears and into the transpersonal than we would ever manage in co-dependence. Because in co-dependence we are so rarely happy: by compromising ourselves so deeply for the sake of the relationship, neither of us ends up feeling much joy.

There is no need to change your preferred relationship structure to practice non-attached relating: it works just as well in monogamy as it does in polyamory. Naturally polyamory is a great place to explore non-attached relating, since sharing our lovers forces us again and again to challenge our attachment issues. This however doesn’t make it a superior relationship structure, since non-monogamy can support people to spread themselves thin as a way to avoid intimacy. No relationship structure is a guarantee of healthy, open, non-attached relating – this is something we have to choose to practice consciously by really showing up for each other in every moment.

But the principle applies just as much in monogamy: just because we choose to commit to one person sexually doesn’t mean that we need to allow our attachment to grow. In fact I encourage monogamous couples to negotiate just as much as poly couples might: for example, whether it’s OK to flirt with others, how much of this is appropriate and so on. Just because we choose not to be physically intimate with others doesn’t mean that we don’t ever connect with anyone but our partner. These negative assumptions (which amount to the idea that “you’re mine and I’m yours”) are a big factor in closing down the energy of a relationship and making it less and less expansive over time. By recognising that non-attached relating is just as important in monogamy, we can keep a connection open and vibrant even if we are choosing only to have sex with one person.

This is a huge subject, and I will be writing more on it in time. For now, I am getting clearer on the importance of challenging attachment as a way to keep any relationship open and vibrant.

This Friday Faerie leads a workshop on this theme in Prague. You can find out more about the workshop here; or if you prefer to explore this theme one to one, why not book a coaching session?

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