Alan Taylor Ph.D.
About the Author
Alan holds a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics which he gained whilst studying at The Royal Institution of Great Britain. For over a decade he was a Lecturer / Senior Lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Imperial College London. He has more than twenty years’ experience of lasers, optics and spectroscopy. He currently exists in a geek / yogi superposition state and jokes that he is a kind of quantum yogi.
He has been exposed to Budō, shamanism, Buddhist literature, Toltec teachings, I Ching and esoteric philosophy. He has meditated extensively doing Rāja yoga and dreaming practice. He has studied widely using his experience as a researcher to guide him.
He lives with his wife in a farm worker’s cottage in the Surrey / Hampshire borders.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”
Henry David Thoreau
This is not for those who are happy, nor is it for those who are sad. It is for those who, despite all the shiny screens in the world, all that social interaction on line or otherwise, have a sense of something missing. Quite what that is, is difficult to say, yet that gap, that vacuum, that hole looms unspoken and somehow large. Because it is missing it is intangible but somehow near. It is not always present though its presence always lurks.
One might imagine that an elixir of happiness could quench it or a bucket list of things to do and see. Maybe it is to be found in social and career success, a new house, a shiny car? Perhaps all one needs is a panacea for stress, a brief glimpse of serenity from time to time. The ideal of a deep font of eternal joy beckons unattainable, a bliss never to be consummated. But such as this must lie forever beyond reach, it in itself is an illusory goal, a yardstick by which to measure failure and breed discontent at non-attainment thereof. The advertised nirvana or heaven fall short of the copywriter’s brief. All that awaits is a hell of sorts and a lumpy dissatisfaction to be the eternal source of complaint and gripe.
This is for those with questions and for those who are sufficiently dissatisfied with being dissatisfied all the time to actually feel an urge to do something about. It starts with a question; surely there must be more to life than this?
This is a dawn question, a question that comes from deep within, perhaps from that still small voice so often drowned in pass times. It is question of stirring, a ripple however feint that can be silenced temporarily with booze or drugs or sex. But after it is still there, nagging. One can try to run from the question and pretend.
This is for those who have had enough of pretending and of lying. It is a book for those who are sick of being fake and living by façade and stories about their façade told to other façades at endless encounters. It is for those keen to go past the face value, the social chit chat, to find a sense of at least some reality. It is there with reality that a sense of equanimity can be found. It does not sound so tempting as bliss, but I’ll wager that as a target it is more realistic. This equanimity is a state less perturbed, more centred and far less oscillatory. It is not coloured by judging others nor emotive when the world isn’t how it is supposed to be. It demands nothing and asks very little, as such it does not want for much and whatever need arises is more readily met. It is not a state of desire or greed and as such is seldom thirsty and hungry. Equanimity is a sense of satisfaction, though in no way smug. This calm in the storm, this eye of the hurricane, is the non-material centre that eludes. It does not beckon, yet it, in its near nothingness is the filler of holes, the plugger of gaps and voids.
With such a sense of balance there is nothing missing any longer, because whatever you need is already with you. One sees clearly and real.
Equanimity is not an absolute, a perfection. It is a relative and with increasing equanimity dissatisfaction or suffering fades; it does not vanish at the waving of a wand or a signing of a therapy cheque. It is hard won and with each increasing measure it carries with it a bounty of peace and occasional serenity. There is no fanfare of trumpets simply a growing into. Like a new set of clothes, it fits and with each growth a skin is shed for further expansion. It cannot be rushed for rush and equanimity do not correlate, rush is dissatisfaction after all.
At first there are only glimpses, ephemeral and passing. In time these extend and blend. One cannot sustain equanimity indefinitely, but one can increase its longevity and relative permanence. Like a recovering addict one has to leave behind, anger, jealousy, lust, desire and ambition. There remains an addict’s itch for these non-temperate states. What will life be like without my soap opera friends? How will I know that I am still alive? The personal climate will remain stormy and turbulent for a long time with only brief interludes, in time these coalesce.
In order to seek this state one must be genuinely ready for change and radical change at that. Even a tiny episode of equanimity enhances the quality of life. It is a state that makes sense. To be permeated with it is the destination and such permeation is a marathon endeavour; one that can only be done one step at a time. And of course, by the time one has a modicum of equanimity one ascertains with clarity that there is in fact no destination, only journey. And like all good journeys into the unknown, there is plenty to see and learn along the way.
So, if you have had enough of where you are at and are fed up of the pendant ghost of something missing, perhaps this is for you. Reading alone will only go so far, this is not theory it is practice.
It is impossible to have long lasting equanimity without freedom. A bold statement perhaps, but freedom as I use it here is a state of mind and again is a relative term. With each increasing freedom comes a liberty to be. In this sense one can be free in mind yet physically incarcerated. For mind is where both freedom and equanimity are to be found. Once there is a liberty to be it is possible to move beyond mere existence into expression, and it is via expression that freedom comes. To begin the long journey of freedom one must ease off the shackles of dependency and societal conditioning, to remove the manacles of ought and should.
In normal life there are many dependencies, we each have our hooks and barbs into each other and to these are strings attached. A brief tug on the string and balance is lost, calm evaporates, and emotional turbulence sets in. Pulled in so many directions life is off centre and hectic. This plague of being busy and the terror of missing out is not free. It comes at a cost of dependency and co-dependency. If you are forever concerned about what others think of you and say about you, then you are not free. There is ever a worry. And this worry drains and inhibits. I am not advocating a kind of reckless sociopathy, rather a gradual freeing up and an increasing detachment from the emotional weather; to step back and see it for what it is.
Upon the road to freedom we each have baggage, by the truckload. And it is this baggage that must be opened up and the contents discarded but not before each garment has been examined and unpicked. For each scar, each hurt and anger, has to it something of value to be garnered on the road to objectivity. Holding it up to the sun, some measure of light comes through. This analogy for expression is part and parcel of gaining freedom. To be burdened by baggage is to be burdened and inhibited. Again, I am not suggesting wanton behaviour.
This raises the question; do you want to be free? Do you seek freedom? Or would you like to be just a little freer than you currently are? Even freedom is relative and though politicians bang on about freedom, that in its own context is also relative. The freedom of mind as ideal sounds good but the tendency of hive and herd pulls the opposite way. It takes courage to be free of mind and to step outside the herd altogether. With only relatively little freedom of mind comes only a little equanimity.
The idea is not a step function jump off a cliff, rather a gradual, as and when, freeing up. For unless you own your own mind you cannot have equanimity or a centre. Mind will chase off after in the prevailing weather. So, what I am leading up to is understanding mind, understanding self and going perhaps beyond any notion of self whatsoever. For this self and its image is not real. It is a façade. If you know that your façade is inaccurate and a lie, how can there ever be any lasting equanimity? There cannot be. There will always be a worry that you are going to be found out.
In this it should be easy to see that freedom is sourced in knowledge first of façade then of self and then not self. The key to freedom is understanding. Such a carte blanche statement is true yet simplistic, it is a cover all which has much behind it.
This kind of freedom from dependency may imply loneliness, a fear and a dread to many. A little careful thought might suggest that the dread is a part of dependency and one that can be used to leverage reliance. It is perhaps a desire of many to have friends but there is little true friendship. Much is by way of fragile alliance based upon conditional negotiation, where stock is kept of favour and shared secrets. Very few so called friendships are without condition or some kind of trading. Whilst one may have company, even a sense of camaraderie, rarely is that unconditional. More often there is convenience and expediency. For many it is better to have company, for whatever motive, than to face the singularity of being alone with oneself. This being alone and without filling the time with pass times is terrifying to most. Because of this terror people will endure all kinds of things.
If you are to seek a freedom of any depth, then it is necessary to be comfortable in being alone. One could rewrite this all one. For it is in the space of no activity, no company and with time that one can face one’s demons, whatever they may be. It is not necessary to face demons if all one seeks is to be a little freer, but small endeavour leads to small reward. And I can say that unvanquished demons prey on equanimity with an unremitting hunger. Just when a small equanimity arrives a demon starts to gnaw, and balance vanishes in a puff of smoke.
As I have been at pains to point out we are dealing with the relative and not the absolute. I have used the allegory of demons to sum up all the things we do not want to face. I am not speaking of occult or satanic creatures, rather our own personal demons which follow us through life with a dogged persistence unless we turn and face them down. It is difficult to be free when your demons are stalking you.
To put it clearly and simply, if you cannot face being alone then there is always a lever which can be leant upon. This knowing, that you are alone, all one, means that societal negotiation and manipulation is far less effective which means you have choice and with choice, comes a freedom of a kind. This freedom is an availability of options, of possibilities or different ways of being and responding. It means less knee jerk reaction more considered and intelligent responding to life. In the absence of reflexive and reactive behaviour there is some sense of control which breeds equanimity.
In relative terms, what is the outer limit of freedom, to be fully free? Whilst corporeal there will always be some limitation on what your mind, your consciousness, can do, due to the very apparatus of living. The consciousness is as yet anchored therein. And depending upon your take on reincarnation you could say that the outer limit of freedom is the cessation of urge to reincarnate. One is done with all that planetary incarnation has to offer and seeks a discarnate existence thereafter. The shackles of form are ready to be cut once and for ever at death. I suspect that despite some idealism most are nowhere near this state of mind and it must sound abstract and unattainable. If you are not an adherent of this, then the limit is simply to move through life with as few hang ups as possible, easy and relaxed in choices and decisive therein. Because anyone who looks deeply senses an interconnection, this living is consequential and with wider appreciation it is not possible to condone undue damage. This kind of freedom, is a responsible one born out of a profound sense of knowledge that every act matters. Although one could be selfish and destructive, because in knowing self, one knows, one chooses not to act harmfully or recklessly. It depends upon how each seeks to frame things in their own world view. Suffice it to say with freedom comes responsibility, and ability to respond to life and not simply react. This may seem odd to be free and responsible, yet there is no contradiction when sufficient freedom has been garnered. Until that time the notion of freedom is not fully grasped, it is perhaps adolescent and under developed.
Depending on sense of adventure and perceived need to belong, the journey towards freedom is individual. There is no summit per se. There are stages and phases, where one experiences a new-found sense of freedom, however transitory or long lasting. One may get to a point and that suffices, or one may feel the need to go further. There is no right or wrong, there is only what your heart tells you and what the innermost urge of your being demands.
I do not believe that one can unpick freedom of mind from equanimity, they are entwined and cooperative. If you do not have the courage to strive for freedom of mind and in mind, you will not secure equanimity. Unless you own and can control your own mind, there will always be emotional weather, which seldom is serene. And in this context bliss too is of an emotional bent it, like a mirage, cannot last for ever especially whilst corporeal. Do not confuse equanimity with anhedonia, they are not synonyms. True equanimity has to it a tremendous depth of experience simply because it is free of mental noise. Handling this depth of experience is initially unsettling and being able to manage enhanced perception is one of the hills which need climbing on the way to freedom. It is easy to taste the cake of phenomena and gorge thereupon for a long while, but a love of phenomena can breed an addiction which by definition, is not free.
Above I have given a high-level introduction; there are no hows, no strategies. What I have sought to do is to lessen ideal, to make relative and thereby chip away at a sense of the unattainable. For many the perfection, the absolute, provides an insurmountable barrier. Whereas freedom by degree does not evoke fear of failure to such an extent. Roll the world freedom around in your consciousness and see if it resonates there. Is it something however intangible it may be, that appeals? Is there an urge within that may seek this noumenon? If there is and you go in earnest search, then as a by-product you will acquire a measure of equanimity.