Monday, 10 November 2014

Love is Not What You Think


“If we want our nightmares to end then we have to inspire minds, not put them to sleep. The best way to do that is with the secret added ingredient we all share in our human mixture - love.”
— Mickie Kent

Somewhere deep inside us we all yearn for affection. For someone willing to scale the walls we've built up over time to reach the real person inside. But that's scary. We think no one could possibly love the real us inside, because we're ashamed of some parts of who we really are. In a 2012 article for Cracked, Ian Fortey discusses this very issue, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as the dark secrets it turns out everyone's hiding.

This is the stuff you never tell anyone. Dark thoughts that might pop in our heads from time to time, which we get crippled with fear over that someone, somehow, is going to find out and judge us on. Fortey writes that you believe - rightly or wrongly - people whose opinions you care about will look at you like a monster, and you, psychologically naked as the day you were born, will have nothing to shield that terrible blow to your psyche. And that makes you and me and everyone else feel bad sometimes.

Such real irrational thoughts are ones few people will ever even write about, and we feel we do so at the risk of exposing ourselves as more monster than human. The point is we ALL do have these thoughts and fears. It's part and parcel of being of being human. You've probably entertained one or two thoughts in your life and you were shocked that it even popped in there for the two seconds you held on to it before you pushed it away. Or maybe you didn't push it away.

Neither makes you bad; your mind is an incredible machine and you're going to think all manner of random thoughts in your life. It's just bizarre that you and everyone you know will live life pretending that those thoughts never happened. We try and ignore a fundamental part of ourselves, when we should at the very least acknowledge it.

It's a fact of life: We will all have sexual fantasies that we feel others will view as perversions. Or a disgusting habit we'd rather not share. Or fantasised about murdering our nearest and dearest in a fit of rage. Anger and frustration are especially hard emotions to master. Worse still, we all let hate get the better of us sometimes, and for some of us this hate is quite misplaced and it creeps out in the most unassuming ways.

Ever been sitting around with a group of people chatting and, suddenly out of nowhere, one of them decides to make an offhanded joke about black people? That's a moment of misplaced hatred, right there. Most people don't know how to react to such profound awkwardness, and usually someone will laugh, if only to allow breathing to resume in the room. The tension may be diminished, but you're all left wondering if you were just party to a hate crime. Why did that person even say that? Because they're racist? They certainly don't see themselves as racist, a fact they'll catch you up on by constantly assuring everyone "I'm not racist", and inform you some of their most respected friends are black. The fact is if they're not actively harming minorities, they feel their racism isn't racism at all, just good old-fashioned observation about the differences between people. Of course, they may be saying it to test the waters. Maybe later they can make another joke if everyone reacted favourably. Because they have those thoughts inside and want to know if they're OK to share.

Many of our more sensitive souls will have wondered why humans hate. What purpose does it serve? Love brings enjoyment and a closeness between friends and relatives that assists in protecting and nurturing each other. Fear is part of our survival instinct. Even anger provides a measure of focus in dealing with situations we dislike and allows us, within reason, to exercise control over such situations.

But why hate? The fact that it's hard to even explain why we hate also explains why we want to keep it secret. It seems wrong. In an accepting environment our hatred is not wrong, and we're more comfortable expressing it, which is why racists congregate together, or why one friend may test the waters with an inappropriate joke. But if we're not sure others share the feeling, it stays hidden and only comes out when rage clouds us, or when we're anonymous and free to say whatever we want - like on the internet. Hatred, in this sense, is a form of inverted escapism, of running away from the real, deeper issues.

Everything we are running away from is in our heads, and our own thoughts have the capacity to destroy us more than mere words ever could. But when we deny their existence, we are not only denying a fundamental part of ourselves, we're denying the opportunity to break our attachment from them. We can't release or forgive the things that remain unacknowledged. It's why people who have suffered discrimination, being so frightened of it, deny its existence in their own lives by discriminating against others themselves. Unable to forgive or release their own experiences of being treated as a pariah by the majority, in denial and as an outpouring of their suffering, they do the same to others.

For example, although gay men and transgendered individuals have suffered the stigma of a heterosexual society at large, commentators on existing gay communities and gay culture have pointed out its overwhelming whiteness - that is, gay communities and cultures are mostly defined by white men enjoying the company of other white men, seeking their rights of marriage, equality, and social equity. This whitewashed image is changing, but only recently.

Out magazine highlighted this in an article for the 20th anniversary of the iconic Australian road movie that took drag queens to the masses - the 1994 film "The Adventures of Priscilla, The Queen of the Desert". Although it's the product of a different era, the whiteness of the three characters is a fact taken for granted. Their sexual and gender orientations are what lead to their pathologisation and brutal homophobic and transphobic battles across Australia. But other moments are riddled with racism, especially concerning the non-white figures of the film.

While this is a longer dialogue to be had elsewhere, it's important to note that the film "Priscilla" is no different from other films with a common gay theme that continued to marginalise other races, despite these white homosexuals facing their own stigma and shame throughout the course of their journey. I touched upon this in my article "The "L" of Life", when I shared the experience of severing a friendship with a white guy who happened to be gay, because he and his inner circle were racists. They were in denial over it, but it was the same denial over their own mistreatment that lay at the source of their discrimination.

Denial robs us of the ability to empathise. This is why denial is a prime ingredient for hate. And often without realising, we will use denial for psychic relief and transcendence from the pain of daily stigmatised life, when preferably we need to openly acknowledge and release what has harmed us in the past, without worrying what others will think. If the actuality is that the route to many debilitating psychological problems arise from suppression and denial, then instead we need to accept there are times we should simply celebrate and embrace the awfulness of life - because the trauma can eventually be reworked to bring greater inner strength.

It's a strong person who doesn't hate when faced with discrimination, but tries to understand. This doesn't mean allowing it to play a major role in your life, it means being brave enough to acknowledge its existence so you can let it go. Moreover, people who discriminate do so not only to make themselves feel better, but because their denial makes them believe they are better.

And if we believe we are better, then surely we should behave better? Yet all too often, we find ourselves behaving worse than those we wish to ostracise.

Changing the times before they change you

“Those nasty words that come out of people’s mouths, it’s shouting into the wind. They know it’s over. People will shout louder and louder because they know their opinions and their prejudices are not being confirmed by the rest of society. I’m fairly optimistic that things are changing.”
Sir Ian McKellen

I've noticed in my own community how a large (and growing) majority of white people are mistreating people of colour simply on the basis of recent events - irrationally acting as though every person of colour they meet is either going to be an illegal immigrant, religious extremist-cum-violent terrorist or somehow genetically infected with the Ebola virus.

It's also made the extreme right wing hijack our most historic and honourable ceremonies, in an attempt to push their white-only agendas and glorify war. It highlights the signature ignorance of such groups, and the way they tend to whitewash past events. Indeed it was white people who began both 20th Century's world wars, but statistically it was people of colour recruited from colonies overseas (including practising Muslims) who suffered the majority of casualties. They fought and died for ideals of freedom denied to them.

Remembrance Day
...but not glorify war.
It's doubly insidious therefore to treat Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom as a patriotic white event that we pressure others to celebrate, because if we are only commemorating our white dead, then that's not even representative of a fifth of those who gave their lives for the Allied cause. We remember it publicly, lavishly every year. We remember it through the patina of what it has come to symbolise for us - waste and futility. But we rarely hear official sources recognise people of colour in their rhetoric about sacrifice and service. In wanting to push political messages wrapped up in public policy, politicians are more prepared to focus on the enemy of difference rather than the unity in diversity.

Aside from this painting an ugly picture of white megalomania and how it reacts at perceived threats to it, this type of scaremongering fractures communities. There's been a spate of high profile arrests and convictions of white middle-aged men as paedophiles in the UK recently, and yet I don't notice people of colour shy their children away from every white man they see - but I have noticed how people of colour are treated depending on recent events. It's not surprising that your perception will be skewed if you rotate around your ego. If you shine from there, be prepared to remain the dark - no matter what your colour.

Jumping to such rash mental generalisations as though somehow conclusive of our reality are sure signs of paranoia - tell-tale signs of problems rooted in the psyche - however they are not exclusive to the colouring, of lack thereof, of your skin. It happens wherever a common superficiality of sameness in the majority environment feels threatened by an equally superficial difference.

This threat can sometimes be interpreted as all too real, especially with the rise of religious fundamentalism. In August, Britain raised its threat level to the second-highest classification of "severe", meaning an attack was considered highly likely for the first time since mid-2011, as the government fears that supporters of a new Islamic State might try to retaliate to the bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria.

More recently, we've had the Ottawa shooting by Muslim converts, coming hours after Canada raised its terror threat level, and just this week a report was released that Queen Elizabeth II was targeted by radical Muslims on Saturday at the Royal British Legion Festival, a military party held in Royal Albert Hall - to underscore the threat facing Britain, the United States and their allies as they seek to blunt the Islamic State's advance in the Middle East. But I think it's extraordinary that every time we get to a point where there's any kind of trouble in society, people are scapegoated very, very, very quickly.

A spot video inviting you to think for yourself (Coup de filet/Facebook)

It also arises from a failure to think differently, an inability to open up and let go of hitherto unhelpful conventions that our denial has trained us to rigidly cling on to. These fear-based thoughts and actions (or inactions) build up to dam the natural flow and movement of our lives. It's like a body, having adapted to a limited range of motion in its day-to-day activities, that sets these limits as the baseline for all its movements. Any attempt to move beyond these safeguards (to do the splits for example) and its nervous system causes the muscles to shut down to keep it from sustaining what is perceived as a potential injury.

But by bringing attention to the area of your body you want to flex, you allow the muscle to let go. It seems odd, almost unscientific, but the mere act of bringing your conscious attention to an area or even type of tissue in your body can trigger that release. You have made a crucial shift: from an ego-centred activity (simply doing the splits) to observing the body from a place of witness. This self-realised way to flexibility of the body is the same to achieving flexibility in life.

Spiritual agility is the key to dodging the blows life throws at you, but from childhood onward, you are taught to solely examine and understand things in the external world. Nobody teaches you to look within and understand the mind and its various states. All of your training has been to know the outer world, and to become skilful at manipulating the external world for your own benefit. But unless you learn to know yourself, whatever you do in the external world will not produce the results you want.

Who doesn't want to attain a state of happiness that is free from all pains and miseries? Yet you constantly live with fears, concerns, strain, and struggle. Why? Because you do not live in the moment, you are not fully present and aware. Your inner and outer conflicts prevent you from dealing with the situations that come before you and living in harmony with those who are closest and furthest from you. These conflicts keep you from accomplishing the tasks that you have placed before yourself.

Thus the restrictions imposed on us by our denials, and the narrowness of life it limits us to, can be released once we acknowledge it. Like a shadow growing lengthier in the dark, it disappears once you shine a light on it. Our greatest personal battles in life will always be with our courage to do this. And it's something you have to consciously overcome similar to your body's flexibility, when all of your trigger points are wrong. However, like everything else in life, for there to be strength, weakness must be present. If we intend to change ourselves from a place of ego, we will remain as stiff and inflexible as the egocentric frame of mind from which our actions originate. When that happens, it's time for a rethink.

Not-so-nice Nineties?
Mel B from the Spice
Girls/Yahoo! Celebrity
Only within a wider, open and more aware state of mind can we truly end our denial, embrace or acknowledge and release ourselves from our weaknesses by flexing our spiritual muscle. In the nineties, when singer Mel B was just starting out, she faced many misguided criticisms, but instead of letting it get her down, the X Factor judge said that in fact it made her "a fighter, it made me believe in myself because nobody else did". Like Mel B, eventually we'll come to appreciate that these "weaknesses" have provided the perfect opportunity for us to exercise our soul, while simultaneously exorcising our darkest inner demons.

To get to this "win-win" situation requires a lot of soul searching and conscious examination, and the fine tuning of these energies to our own individual genetic frequency. If a vehicle's tyre is out of balance, no matter how wonderfully it was designed in other respects, it will not function properly. Unless you achieve inner balance, no matter how much you know about performing in the outer world, you will fall short of your goals and private purpose. You will stall at the smallest hurdle - even when it's one placed there by others, and especially when it's one placed by yourself.

Those who will appear to go effortlessly with the natural flow are those aware of it. Those who have examined the objects of the external world and the shadows they cast inside us understand their transitory nature and know that life has more to give. Then they start searching within themselves and conducting "inner research". It is like a ladder with many rungs which finally leads to the roof, and from there one can see the vast horizon all around.

This divulges to us the bigger picture and allows us to get a divine perspective on life. This balanced view will lead you to a state of inner joy and a tranquil mind. At the bottom rung of the ladder you think that pleasure comes from your contact with the objects of the world, but there is an inner and finer joy that you have not yet tasted at its highest step. Once you get there using systematic techniques of inner research, you'll discover that your life becomes a lot more simple and yet complicated at the same time. It's paradoxical, pretty much like creativity.

To create, a person must have knowledge but must also forget the knowledge acquired, must see unexpected connections in things while remaining psychologically sound, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas though most of them might be useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.

So it is with spiritual awareness. And the tools we use towards that aim. Thus, meditation as a systematic technique of inner research becomes much more than simple calm breathing. It becomes a means of achieving inner balance. Likewise, yoga is not what you think. The point of yoga is to develop a level of clarity and self-understanding that brings fulfilment. It's more than just stretching and the quality of our poses, it's about what happens when we're done practising yoga.

As we gain a closer relationship with and better understanding of our bodies, yoga teaches us that we aren't simply our feelings or our symptoms but live in a complex multidimensional relationship with them. One way to grasp this paradox is to picture the Self (or pure, undifferentiated awareness) as pervading all the interlocking and interdependent spheres of influence in and around us without solely being any one of them.

The more we can breakdown our lives into the pure simplicities of mindful breathing and focused stretching, the more its complex landscape opens out to us as we widen our horizons and stretch our perspectives. Our relationships with everything change, from discovering that the dietary picture is more complicated than simply what you eat to the way you care for your hair. Paradoxically again, everything is intertwined, but you only see this once you're able to take a step back (or up) from it.

You begin to join the dots to divinity: how our moods, thoughts, and behaviours overlap across our sense of self. These profoundly affect - and are affected by - our memory, unconscious conditioning, and by our physiology, particularly our autonomic nervous system (ANS). Then there is our remaining anatomy and our relationships with family, society, the world, and the entire cosmos. Therefore two people may start off life with the same personality traits, but will be slowly separated by a world of differences.

Our own individual, unique blueprint lies in those differences. They hold the key to our authentic selves. So rather than be afraid of our differences - or each other's - we need to acknowledge, accept and embrace them.

Life is what you think it is

“Around a century ago Marcus Garvey said, “If 400,000,000 Negroes can only get to know themselves, to know that in them is a sovereign power, is an authority that is absolute, then in the next twenty-four hours we would have a new race, we would have a nation, an empire, - resurrected, not from the will of others to see us rise - but from our own determination to rise, irrespective of what the world thinks.” Today the challenge, even for us, is the same. Man, know thyself.”
George E. Oliver

We know how powerful and influential our thoughts are - this is why experts say we should keep hold of and nurture positive ones while acknowledging and letting go of negative ones. Indeed, the radicalisation of minds is as a result of an inability to let go of past or present hurt (profilers term such personalities as "wound collectors"). We see many young people today with minds that are closed to the right kind of empathy and thus open to extreme fanaticism, instead of turning the discrimination faced into a positive force in their life - like singer Mel B.

But it can feel disheartening to see how little have things changed for people of colour. Roll back or forward two decades on from the nineties and they are still being discriminated against in sport, music and the film industry (or worse only relegated to these professions) because of the perceived lack of marketability by a white ruling class. And for many, boxer Muhammad Ali, widely considered among the greatest heavyweights in the sport's history, is an icon that symbolises that struggle, often finding that his words resonate as much today, as they did in his day - especially when it comes to the values he exemplified outside of the boxing ring: religious freedom, racial justice and the triumph of principle over expedience.

Boxer Muhammad Ali on the Vietnam War-Draft (1967-71)

While Ali thrived in - and indeed craved - the spotlight, where he was sometimes provocative and frequently outlandish, he kept the fighting for the ring, and used his verbal skills outside of the sporting arena. Similarly, most talents find creative ways to challenge their opposers and become stronger because of it. It poses the question: Could a mind inclined towards achievement and creativity have something to do with how we can positively deal with hurt?

Creative geniuses are inclusive thinkers which mean they look for ways to include everything, including things that are dissimilar and totally unrelated. Generating associations and connections between unrelated or dissimilar subjects is how they provoke different thinking patterns in their brain. And because creative people generally think unconventionally, instead of responding as unjustly when faced with unjust opposition in their lives, they react by thinking outside of the box racists would put them in.

There is a caveat here: talent and creative outpouring can give us a strong front, but unless we truly learn to let go, we haven't released the negativity - merely worked to hide it. Perhaps Ali is a classic example of that, for as much as he inspired, he was a divisive character who portrayed many of the elements he was critical about in white people. Some of his views did become radicalised for a time, until he distanced himself from extremist influences in 1975, and focused on unifying, rather than dividing with his speeches.

Talent and creativity are not always strong defences against negativity, either, merely defence mechanisms. It could possibly be why so many talented people (especially comedians) suffer from depression and related issues, because they are dealing with them creatively - but not fully. Any form of suppression or issue-avoidance blocks us from a joyous mind, and without a conscious effort to pursue a more divine state, our shadow sides (formed from negativity and left unembraced) will not trail behind but overcast our actions and reactions.

Read how to challenge negative thoughts.

As human beings we're always seeking to understand why we react to things in the way that we do. Towards that end, we know that our mind is the most powerful tool that we have, and it can either build you up or tear you down. Some have put forward theories that we have many minds in the brain, which can help to sabotage people as these different minds have separate agendas and their own way of thinking about the world. More often than not these agendas or "drives" are highly emotional, and at times very illogical, leading to a huge conflict of interest with the human part of the brain that seeks betterment through a realignment with its authentic self.

Imagine climbing that ladder, wanting to reach the top, but you have heavy weights holding you down. While one mind wants you to reach the top, another mind holds you back - effectively acting as dead weight. The theory goes that each mind will be characteristically unique, and so will the solution. It must chime with who you really are. You might want to lighten your load by releasing some of its weights, you might accept its limits and stand happy where you are. Or you may strengthen your concious mind to be able to carry the extra baggage, using the negativity as the drive to make you stronger as you push on upwards.

Whatever route you choose to take, two things are suggestive here. You have to acknowledge/embrace/release the negative thoughts of this sabotaging mind to be able to come to terms with its weighty influence on you, and the greatest struggle is not the discrimination of others, but that of your own brain.

If true, is the route to becoming a better person, then, in getting a better brain? Some believe yes. There are many books on the market that focus on treating the brain like any other organ of the body. To improve the brain, they advise eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and avoiding drugs and toxins like alcohol and nicotine. These are very sound bits of advice (I have shared tons of it on the blog over the years). Others, however, place more emphasis on the brain's uniqueness. The secret to improving your brain is in understanding that uniqueness, it's said.

The brain is the only organ that changes instantly according to how the mind relates to it. You can relate to your brain in positive or negative ways, and depending on which one you choose, your brain cells, neural pathways and areas of high and low activity will be altered. In short, thinking your brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it. Other organs of the body also respond to positive and negative thinking, but their response must come through the brain first; it functions as a command centre for the rest of the body.

Therefore the best way to relate to your brain is to inspire it; the worst way is to ignore it. For starters, we can inspire ourselves by taking care of stress and the fear of social failure. We can avoid dulling routine, and spice up our day by doing something creative every day. Be your own life coach. Read poetry, spiritual material or anything else that makes you feel uplifted. Take time to be in nature. Bond with another person who is heart-warming. Pay attention to being happy. Make sure you take time every day by yourself to relax, meditate and self-reflect. Deal with negative emotions like anger and anxiety. Focus on activity that makes you feel fulfilled. Give of yourself. Follow a personal vision. Attach yourself to a cause that is bigger than you are. Pay it forward. Take the risk to love and be loved.

These tips are not only said to bolster your brain, but according to new science, living purposefully means you'll live longer. Getting help from others doesn't confer a long life. It's giving help. The good do not die young, as the old saying goes. In fact, they live longer, while the personality trait that is tied to a long, healthy life is conscientiousness. In short, life longevity isn't about living forever, but living well with a better brain. And the more such brains we develop, the theory goes, the better it will be for our humanity.

Remember the movie Avatar? Where all those blue people were connected by an "energy"? Remember how they were able to communicate with plants and animals? Well, some say that is not just a fantasy. It turns out that kind of "energy" is real.

Deepak Chopra wrote about a study, where scientists saw monkeys dipping potatoes in salt water before eating it. Then they saw the rest of the tribe doing it. Although the exact count - the critical mass - that was needed for this phenomenon to happen was uncertain, it became known as the "Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon". But get this: Monkeys in different parts of the WORLD started dipping potatoes in salt water. There was no way they could have communicated with each other. The popular explanation is that they communicated through an invisible, "intelligent energy".

The Japanese call this energy "Ki". It stands for "life force". In fact, a man named Mikao Usui developed a system of healing called Reiki. And this system of healing uses this intelligent energy to heal people. It is believed one of the most ancient, profound and powerful healing arts in the world. Reiki masters are said to heal just by touching someone with their hands. They can also heal people remotely using their intention.

And according to some biologists, our consciousness is connected to unseen collective fields called morphic fields. Every member of a group contributes to the collective morphic field and the total awareness of this morphic field is accessible to each individual of the group. There are countless morphic fields, at least one for every species.

Studies were conducted to see if the "Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon" effect is applicable to humans, and they revealed that humans also share knowledge unconsciously as if we share a common database. When certain puzzles were taught to single members of a group, the puzzles could be solved significantly more easily and quickly when the "hundredth monkey" of the group had learned the trick.

It seems great as a theory: We not only benefit ourselves by boosting our brains, but the more of us that do could mean change on a global scale. However, let's take a step back from this euphoric utopia for a moment to ground ourselves in surrounding reality. Doesn't this database of bright minds ring empty, when there is hurt aplenty to deal with today, and we have so much still to learn about how to let go effectively? Minds seem ever narrower, or we feel so weighted down by an illogical one we can't be bothered to look up, never mind begin to climb to a new height of understanding. And we futilely search for love, not knowing what it is.

Love is not what you think it is

“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”

As a society we are collectively ignoring our brains. We have become set in our ways. We refuse to look beyond our opinions, likes and dislikes. We isolate ourself from others. See our loved ones as possessions. Take relationships for granted. Reconcile ourselves to going downhill as we age. Look upon the past as the best time of our lives.

We forget about having ideals, or trap ourselves in an idealised image. We act on selfish impulses. Or we can't be bothered to stand up for ourselves and others. Refuse to examine what makes us tick. Assume that we are automatically right, or secretly fear we never are. We give in to destructive anger and anxiety. Put up with stress. Take no emotional risks. Distract ourselves with mindless diversions like watching sports or television for hours on end. Avoid anything new or challenging.

The difference between the ways in which you ignore your brain and the attempts to inspire it is pretty stark. In one case, you are approaching the brain as if it had great untapped potential. In the other, you assume that the brain runs best on automatic pilot. Sometimes we might need it to, but refusing to be aware is just laziness. Racism is just laziness. And like a sedentary lifestyle, both will kill the brain and shorten your lifespan.

So, why do we do it? It's undeniable that the brain is endlessly adaptable. It turns into whatever you expect it to be, and how you relate to your brain is never passive; you are always instructing it to function in a certain way. Thus the whole package of beliefs, expectations, likes and dislikes that you hold inside are creating change - or blocking it - at the level of brain circuitry.

Needless to say, it's better to inspire your brain than to ignore it, and in forming a better relationship with your brain the first step is to realise that you have a relationship. Once you realise this, you are in on a secret that escapes countless people. Take advantage of it. Choose to pay attention to the relationship and nurture it. Potential is a terrible thing to waste, but ignoring your brain also cuts the link to yourself and your true identity.

There is a saying: You don't have a soul. You are a soul. What you have is a body. But historically we have been identified by what we look like, and today identification technologies continue to serve to consolidate people as objects of knowledge into discrete political units (such as Facebook and its attempts at reinventing human identity). Their regulation is then easily rationalised and demonstrably justified. The question of what should be done with you is much easier to answer when people in power can definitively say what you are.

But that is never going to be an easy answer, because who (not what) you are is a lifelong question with no definitive answer. Labels will fit for a time, but like the clothes we wear, they don't always last. You may identify yourself as gay, others may frown on you for being homosexual - but what do these terms define exactly? Do they tell me who you are? Do they accurately serve to tell us about ourselves?

On this point, I received an insightful email from a regular reader, Gavin, who identifies himself as gay. I reprint an excerpt of his letter to me with his permission.

QuoteI remember flying back to the UK from a fantastic break in Istanbul, and there was a young gay couple on the plane with their baby boy. No one batted an eyelid on Turkish Airlines. No one said anything, or bothered them, they were treated like a regular family (in fact they got extra special attention from the cabin crew). I had a mixture of feelings... I would be lying (and not human) if I said I wasn't a teensy bit envious, but what I felt most was happiness mixed with pride that things are indeed changing about the way people view us - and I hate saying that, because to me I feel normal! The only "us" I belong to is the human race.

In my opinion, the main issue and problem is that people in the main define homosexuality about who you sleep with, which is why many choose to see it (or excuse it) as a chosen perversion by a certain fringe element. I even believe some homosexuals define themselves as gay when they're not really. The truth is that human sexuality and attraction is much more fluid and complex than that. We all go up and down the Kinsey scale throughout our lives all the time, and can find attractive or engage in sex with the same or opposite gender (which we are learning can be just as fluid and complex to pin down) at one time or another. None of that makes you gay, it makes you naturally curious.

I have slept with women, can sleep with women (and with no complaints). And while I like women, and the sex is great (but without the emotional dimension it falls a little flat) I know I could never fall in love with a woman. Now if you defined my gayness in terms of sexuality and attraction you would say I'm bisexual, but I'd say I'm 100% gay, because I know I can only love a man the way most men want to love a woman. To have a relationship, build a home, make a family. Not necessarily officiated by a tax deductible marriage. Marriage is a heterosexual concept I would rather my community wasn't assimilated into. That is a dubious patriarchal convention invented to treat women as chattel, but to be recognizably married in the only way that really counts - by joining two lives as one. Sex is a necessary expression of that, part of the glue to the relationship, but it isn't the defining characteristic of it. Truth, faithfulness, friendship - all the things that are required reading for when a man loves a woman goes for a gay man, too.

What defines a homosexual then, to me, is not who you sleep with, or are attracted to, but who you can love. This is why I love your blog, Mickie. You actually understand. It's not about a fetish, a sexual preference, a subversive lifestyle, or even the freedom to sleep with whoever you want - it's about who you can love. It's a deeper intimacy that attraction is only the gateway of. In my opinion the gay community need to start getting that view across, and I believe we are... Like that gay family I saw on the plane."

What Gavin's mail highlights, and what many of us find difficult to accept is how complex we actually are. Gavin is not alone in embracing his complexity. Author EJ Levy describes herself as a lesbian who happened to fall in love with a man. She goes further in that she believes her sexual orientation doesn't pin down who she can love. For Levy, her sexual orientation hasn't changed. She simply fell in love with a very unexpected person. But conversely, as complex as we are, shades of grey equally confuse us. We like to see things in black and white. We like to label people like empty/full jars on a shelf. It comforts us, gives us order in a chaotic world - but it also stifles our humanity.

It's the product of an ignored mind. It deceives us into believing in the perfect ideals of identity, too, which actually damages our ability in maintaining the different relationships in our lives. In truth, there is no one that can demonstrate the perfect ideal, because it's a myth. It doesn't exist. For instance, we may think the ideal man is one demonstrating integrity, responsibility, caring, loyalty, firmness, perseverance, plus some more good things about being a man among men. But isn't it really the flaws and missteps in between these ideals, as our man attempts them, which we find most enduring as women?

Think of your favourite, attractive and well muscled hero in literature or on screen. Invariably he'll be a miracle mixture of what we think a man should be. A man who knows how to be alone, how to overcome rejection, how to lead colleagues, how to embrace his children, how to accept his wife as a person even when she acts unfairly (and vice versa), how to be fearlessly honest. A man who can get extremely frustrated and angry, but allow it to happen without picking on someone else. What man can live up to that?

And as women, we can neither compete nor compare ourselves to that ideal - so why would we want that in our partner? Someone so perfect that our own flaws stick out like a sore thumb? For women, debate about the media's unrealistic portrayals of females is nothing new and there has been searing critique since the early seventies. The term "male gaze" was coined to describe how mass-media images of women - from films to advertising - prioritise a particular view of women. In her 1975 essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey discussed how the viewer is inevitably given the perspective of a white, heterosexual male. This has leaked over to gay media, too.

There is undoubtedly pressure for men to look a certain way and it has been suggested that men are under-diagnosed for anorexia and other eating disorders, despite making up around a quarter of cases. However, what's different is the barrage of images women are subjected to when it comes to the simplification of perfection. When did you last see male politicians lined up and rated according to their looks? Or an utterly unsexual object sold with images of a semi-naked man? We live in a society which places undue emphasis on a woman's appearance. Men may aspire to be good-looking but, if they're not, there's an array of other attributes to choose from based on which society may confer them with respect, whether they're deemed hot or not. Women, not so many.

And how many women are so genetically blessed with the idealised form of the 21st Century, without the need for digital alteration? The enthusiastic photoshopping trend has been put down to cultural preference by some commentators but it's hard to get past the fact that already beautiful women have been made to look like plastic dolls. And let's not forget the tiny-waisted shape favoured by Victorian women. Corsets were so restrictive women suffered from lack of breath, indigestion and even deformations of the internal organs. Hardly halcyon times.

Yet, we end up chasing ideals because it's something clear-cut and simple to believe in, however unrealistic. It's easy; it doesn't force a sleeping mind to wake from its simple stupor. Unfortunately, it's in such a dumbed state that we pay more attention to single issues. There is a level of complexity beyond which you lose the interest of the media, of the public and, crucially, of politicians and lawmakers. There is more interest in sound-bytes and personalties, rather than whether political policies can deal with the subtleties the issues raise, or if they're just a play for the popular vote.

And so the disintegration of communities into such simple, but disparate blocks will continue while we continue to shun a more complex, but cohesive, whole. And while minds continue to sleep, politics will continue to shift to the simplicity of the far right - the results of which we are living with today. People are generalised, herded into groups, for and against, patriots and traitors, and, so, too does this extend to the rhetoric of politics, filtered into language easy to understand by the mob. We see once tolerant countries removing support for humanitarian aid in a misguided attempt to curb migration, forgetting what they used to stand for - and recruited so many to fight for. Wrapped up in terms of monetary cost and mythical ideals seen from a white male view, theirs is a specious argument that really does not stand up under close examination, but our sleeping minds are unable to challenge the injustice of treating humans like cattle.

Are we so surprised, then, when we get caught up in pointless wars? Or when teenagers massacre their fellow students in our communities? Or when Muslims, so disenchanted with Western foreign policy over their religious beliefs, copy the vicious tactics of past white European terrorists to hit back in the only language they think a white male dominated world will understand? Is our mind even lucid enough to ask why a person's wrongdoing seems doubled in our eyes the minute we realise he or she is "the wrong colour" or a foreigner?

Martin Luther King Jr., in his 1964 acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, said that for all human conflict we must evolve a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. He told his audience that the foundation of such a method is love. So how did we all become so discriminating and mistrustful of others in the intervening years? Instead of understanding our neighbours, why are we hell-bent on demonising them? Is it because we have been ignoring our minds for too long? Have we all gotten lazy in a sedentary mind that needs to be spoon-fed the world in unrealistically simplistic terms?

Sure, mashing something down to its basics is a handy and useful way to simplify things for expediency, but only a simple, sleeping mind prefers the simple. An awakened mind can grasp the complex. It's confident enough to. And while a mind ignored will use religion as a weapon, a mind inspired will use it as a refuge to believe in the darkness what it holds true in the light. The function of faith, not its content, is what's important to keep us brave in times of danger. To wield it not as a sword, but as a purpose to do good - to make belief about a body with spirit rather than about a body spilling blood.

This isn't a cultural thing, or specific to one colour, race or creed - it isn't that one person is of a superior quality of genetics than another. Although our genetic combinations are all unique to the individual, the material of those genes are universal. Thus, if we are more susceptible to radicalisation from our baser natures, it's because we ignore or refuse to wake a sleeping mind. Any religion can be hijacked for terrorism, any person irrespective of skin colour and cultural upbringing can shut itself off from its humanity. The line crossed is one between an inspired mind and one woefully neglected and ignored.

However, it doesn't seem that the inspiration we should seek for the brain can be wholly on a conventionally educated level, either. The mind of a medical or law student is just as much susceptible to lean towards extremism as a brain with no formal training - as we have sadly seen with the spate of suicide bombings and terrorist plots in the last few years. This is why we read, too, about shootings and gang rapes at university campuses. It's why politicians aren't immune to corruption, or all teachers necessarily wise.

A college or university degree is just a way to certify knowledge. College is not the only place to learn (or to cheat). You can glean the same information at a library or on the net. The only problem is you don't have the proof of your education; but life doesn't require proof, just that you have the right answers. Heavyweight boxer Ali is a prime example that you don't simply need a collegiate or higher education to hold your own. Thus I believe there is a difference between smart, intelligent and wise. Smart is having knowledge, intelligence is knowing how to use that knowledge, apply it to life, and make a difference. But wisdom is doing this with a mind awakened to the relationship it has with the world. So it is, that an educated mind is not a defence alone from the barrage of negativity we have to deal with (not deny) and let go - sometimes on a daily basis.

It could be that the boost the brain needs is something different than just (or in addition to) training the mind. In order to change the way we feel about a situation, we must first change the way we think about it, but paradoxically, we also know we can diffuse the influence of our negative thoughts and emotions by realising we are not simply what we think. Although everything is said to be a manifestation of thought, it's also true that nothing is manifested by thought alone. The issue is not simply what you think, but how you think - realising that as much as we think, life will be nothing like we think! (Get your head around that one.)

We will all have bad thoughts, sides to us we want to keep hidden, and white people aren't inflicted with less or more than people of colour. It's just the system is geared towards highlighting a particular view and all the flaws that come with it. The key is not to deny or excuse this, but to recognise and release our bias and interconnected negativity without moralising - for we all emerge from the same gene pool. We all share the same hardware, the same bodies, but we all have very different software in the mind. That software comes from a myriad of sources: our destiny lies not only within us, but is manifested from all around us. It's a fact of the intertextuality of life. The shaping of our meaning by another: we are all in part allusion, quotation, calque, plagiarism, translation, pastiche and parody.

Yet, because we see things as we are, and not as they are, our individual perception will mean that our take on the world and its contribution to our lives will be inherently unique. Our life lessons, our emotional intelligence, our physical well-being all have their part to play in the theatre of the mind, but for an awakened mind, we need to not only nurture it as an organ, educate it as a brain, but inspire it as a mind - with purpose and goodness and a wise awareness of its place in the universe. And the more minds that awake, the larger the database an awakened mind has to explore.

Such a mind, in turn, is not a conduit for the ego, but the spirit. Most of our life regrets stem from acting from the ego, because the ego is happy when it is able to take something. But what you have done for yourself alone dies with you; what you have done for others and the world remains. It's based on that legacy that an inspired mind is happy when it is able to give something. Like love, which is a willingness to give without a thought of receiving anything in return. The simple act of giving is the return we value. And while loving someone deeply can give you the courage to be selfless, being deeply loved and valued by the right people can give us strength in return. That's why we shouldn't worry about the people who hurt or hate us; we need to worry about the people who love us, because they are the ones who value us.

In fact, here is the final paradox for the day; love is not only the most complex process to awaken a sleeping mind, at the same time it makes everything simple. It is the greatest inspiration of the mind, simplifying the things that matter not by dumbing down, but by clarifying the essence of who we are. By clearing away the clutter and showing us what is really important. It tells us a beautiful face doesn't mean anything without a beautiful heart, and we shouldn't hold in our arms what can never hold us, or what we could never hold in our hearts. It tells us to let go what doesn't serve to inspire in its name.

Sometimes people don't notice the things we do for them, until we stop doing it - but that means we're giving to the wrong people, no matter how beautiful they appear on the outside. Love awakens us to the truth that it's the inside which counts, and what matters to an awakened mind will take commitment, patience, and a certain level of generosity to yourself. Despite any initial resistance, such loving commitment will eventually take on a life of its own - to a deeper part of yourself that yearns for the connection only love can provide an awakened mind. As George Harrison put it:

“Like we’re The Beatles, after all, aren’t we? We have all the money you could ever dream of, we have all the fame you could ever wish for. But it isn’t love. It isn’t health. It isn’t peace inside, is it?”

Yes, love is complicated. It has a lot of different meanings, and people use it in a surprisingly high number of ways. We can love things, each other, and ideas. We can show love, give love, receive love, lose love, and even beat love down. A dictionary definition may not help you find love, but it can certainly help you understand all the ways that people use a word that has so much meaning to so many.

And as we practice love in our day-to-day, life will reflect back to you the places within that are connected or disconnected from love, because we ARE all connected by this promise to love. No matter the amount of melanin produced by your skin, once you go deeper inside you will discover we all yearn for affection. For someone willing to scale the walls we've built up over time to reach the real person inside, with the promise of acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

Remember, love is not just a matter of what you think, say or do. Love is who you are. It's a promise we make to ourselves and others, and which is made to us in return. That we'll be accepted for who we are: a mind woken by inspiration simultaneously to its very complexities and inherent simpleness that we are billions and yet all one.

Yours in love,

Mickie Kent