Psychology

Find Your Life’s Purpose, Follow Your Heart’s Desire

Heart's desire
Finding your inner purpose can help uncover your heart’s desire.

This article is part of the goal setting theme for January. See also: The Liberating Distinction Between Hopes And Dreams.

All of us want a purpose in life. The biggest challenge of goal setting is aligning our overall purpose with the actions we take. Finding this alignment can be a painstaking, lifelong process. If we feel our actions aren’t purposeful enough, this search for meaning can be the cause of great stress and despair; perhaps we prioritise the wrong goals, or we feel stuck in a career that, deep down, we don’t enjoy.

So how do we discover our life’s purpose? How can we unearth the chosen career or pursuit that’ll give us meaning? Do you want the good news first, or the good news? The good? Okay…

The good news is that you don’t have to do anything to find your purpose. It is already within you. It doesn’t lie with the career you choose or the city you live in or your hobbies or creative pursuits. This is far from an empty platitude. Changing your outlook and realising this truth is crucial in finding your purpose and following your heart’s desire. Why?

Most of us seek purpose in the outside world. But in doing so, we confuse purpose with attainment, and any sense of reward from things attained is fleeting and temporary. That’s where our inner purpose plays an important role. The importance of inner purpose is highlighted by Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth. Tolle explains how lasting fulfilment comes from the perfect alignment of inner purpose and outer purpose.

But how on earth do we find it?

Finding Your Inner Purpose

“Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is Life itself, it is an insane way to live.” — Eckhart Tolle.

According to Tolle, our inner purpose is to be “absolutely present,” to avoid the insanity outlined in the above quote. By being fully aware, our actions become empowered by present-awareness, by pure being. Being fully mindful of every step of our life’s journey, as and when it unfolds, is the purpose of life itself.

There is no need to strive. There’s no need to live in hope of a better future where your purpose has been attained — your purpose is to simply be.

It sounds so simple that it’s hard to believe the profound impact uncovering this purpose can have. By going beyond the thinking mind and its incessant clinging to a perceived better future, we bring clarity into our lives. Life has new meaning.

An important caveat of this way of living is that it also uncovers the human traits that we all have in abundance — of compassion, love, empathy, creativity, and so on. This is what Tolle means by empowered present-awareness. When seeing beyond the mind’s constant future-projection and accompany fear, our actions are underpinned by a sense of fullness.

Now, I’m aware I may be losing those of you who aren’t spirituality inclined. It’s true, if we follow the notion of inner purpose to the extreme, well, we’d stand still, wouldn’t we? There’d be no need to progress. It doesn’t really fit for most of us. As an ambitious 27-year old, it doesn’t really fit for me, either. A huge part of life is the desire to grow, to mature, to gain insight and understanding.

So how do we balance the apparent blissful paralysis of present-moment awareness with the desire to move forwards? That’s where our outer purpose comes in.

Outer Purpose Is Important, But It’s Secondary

inner outer purpose
The key is balancing inner purpose and outer purpose.

It’s easy to misinterpret our inner purpose. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that at certain points of my spiritual journey, I’ve thought: “What’s the point in having a career or progressing if an ‘enlightened’ way to live is to be fully in the here and now, not striving to the future?” Clearly, there’s a problem with this way of thinking.

Like it or not, unless ordained and living in a monastery, this state of pure being isn’t beneficial to the demands of the outer world. Fortunately, Tolle isn’t blind to this. He separates inner purpose and outer purpose into being and doing, respectively. The beauty is the symbiotic relationship between them. Once aware of your inner purpose, you can act in coherence with it. Your inner purpose moulds your outer purpose. Being is aligned with doing.

“At first there may be no noticeable change in what you do – only the how changes. your primary purpose is now to enable consciousness to flow into what you do.” — Eckhart Tolle

Once we understand that life is a consistent series of present moments, our awareness of being begins to change the way we interact in the world. In the moments we are free from fear, anxiety and stress, we bring direct awareness into what we do. We channel the abundant human traits. We live fully from the heart, not from the head.

It’s Okay If You Don’t Have A Life Goal

If this sounds elaborate, far-reaching and inconceivable, I promise you it isn’t. Aligning your inner and outer purpose doesn’t have to result in a significant change in direction in what you do with your life. As Tolle highlights, the importance is the how, and not the what. Our society puts immense pressure on the what (see: the American dream), but the beauty of aligning inner and outer purpose is that it’s okay if you don’t have a life goal. Your true purpose is with being and not doing.

I define life goal as an ultimate goal linked with attainment, such as making a six figure income, becoming a famous jazz singer, publishing a best selling novel, having 2.3 children and a white picket fence. Many people struggle with a bucket list mentality — the belief that because our time on Earth is finite, our purpose it to attain, to achieve, all that we can before we die. This is why the distinction between hopes and dreams is so important. Instead of hoping to find outer purpose by what you do, you dream of ways your inner purpose can manifest in the outside world.

I fully support Tolle’s definition of success as being a successfully present moment. Tolle’s rhetoric is best on a best-case-scenario; in reality, this journey will have ups and downs. Personally, I have moments where I feel such alignment, and plenty of moments where I feel completely out of touch. I need to regularly “bring myself back,” to remind myself of what inner purpose is. To simply be. As you continually bring yourself back and enjoy successful present moments, your outer purpose begins to fall into place.

That’s because inner purpose is intertwined with our outer purpose. Awareness frees space for our heart’s desire to rise to the surface of our consciousness. Impulses we may have long ignored take on a new veracity. We begin to follow our intuition. We begin to live in tune with our heart’s desire.

Finding Your Heart’s Desire

But what is our heart’s desire? Within us, there is an intelligence far more powerful than the mind. There is a part of us that knows what we want, before we realise we want it. We can call this our heart’s desire, our intuition, or our subconscious desire. Where this intelligence comes from is anyone’s guess. But if you’ve ever faced a big life decision and instinctively knew the choice to make thanks to an overwhelming “gut feeling,” you know the power of this intelligence.

You understand the difference between the heart’s desire and the mind’s logical reasoning.

The trouble is these desires are often buried deep under the fears and anxieties of the ego ((how bizarre that we often make decisions that we know contradict what we feel or desire). To listen to them is to quieten the mind. It’s to feel what it is we want, to let the images, emotions and fully-formed answers rise to the surface of our consciousness.

There are clues in the activities you enjoyed as a child, before the ego fully matures and takes control. What did you always dream of doing, of being? Are there impulsive thoughts that arise at times of relaxation, that you easily dismiss as a pipe dream or unreasonable?

It’s easy to ignore these impulses through fear of the outcome. But when you are aware of your inner purpose and you are committed to aligning it with your outer world, you will begin to look beyond fear and acknowledge those impulses. Listen to them. They know what you want. And when you know what you want, you can set meaningful goals.

Flow: When Mind And Spirit Merge

psychological flow
Tasks which are challenging and require a certain skill level most commonly produce flow.

In 1975 psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi coined the term “flow” to describe the psychological state of being completely at one with a given task. Csíkszentmihályi discovered this theory while investigating optimal experience.

Flow, also known as being in the zone, is common in elite performers — think a top-level athlete competing at the Olympics, a Broadway actor reciting lines like they were born for the role or a musical composer effortlessly conducting an orchestra. It’s performance beyond mind, a joyful alignment of mind, body and soul.

The state of flow is a perfect combination of cognition and spirit. Just take a look at the six factors of flow:

  1. Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
  2. Merging of action and awareness.
  3. A loss of reflective self-consciousness.
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity.
  5. A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered.
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding, also referred to as autotelic experience.

Focused on the present moment? A merging of action and awareness? Sounds a lot like Tolle’s inner and outer purpose, doesn’t it?! And that’s because it is. It’s the sweet spot of enacting your inner purpose (to be) and outer purpose (to do).  And it’s not restricted to elite performers, but available to all of us.

Find The Clues Of Your Heart’s Desire In Flow

We can use flow to find clues in what action creates the perfect alignment of inner and outer purpose. Think of a time now when you experienced flow. Were you absorbed in the immediacy of the task? Did your sense of time disappear? Did you stop worrying about whether you were performing the task rightly or wrongly, and instead just act? Did everything just click? Did you lose yourself?

It can be anything. It’s important you don’t dismiss it as silly or irrelevant. Just find clues. Go with the flow. Whatever the action producing that state of mind, break it down to its essence and meditate on what this means for you. And congratulate yourself — you’ve just started to listen to your heart’s desire.

 

Psychology

The Liberating Distinction Between Hopes And Dreams

hopes and dreams
The liberating distinction between hopes and dreams.

This article is part of the goal setting theme for January.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of goal setting, it’s important to identify what lies behind the goal setting process. Mind That Ego is more spiritual self-fulfilment, less attainment. When working with clients, I want to emphasise internal development — not external — is the key to long-term contentment. For that reason, from a spiritual and wellbeing perspective, I’m incredibly wary of goal setting. Though seen as integral to living a full life, it can impede contentment.

This is because when mismanaged, goal setting becomes an “I’ll be happy when.” A perfect example of this is the phenomenon of “post-Olympic depression,” whereby gold-winning medalists sink into a depressive state after achieving their ultimate goal. The same can be said of any elite performer, whether an Oscar-winner or a musician with a gold-selling album. In the same manner, those who chase financial success often find that, having made the first million pounds, it’s not enough. Now they want two million, then five, then 10. Harvard University lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the arrival fallacy.

To put it simply, the achievement of goals isn’t a means to happiness. To counter that truth, I believe there is a vital distinction to allow you to remain fulfilled and content during every step of your journey to achieving goals. This distinction prevents the egoic trap of “I’ll be happy when my goals are achieved.”

The key is understanding is the distinction between hopes and dreams.

Abandon Hope

We live in a culture of hope. A prime example is the iconic Hollywood film, The Shawshank Redemption, which uses the slogan “hope will set you free.” This is a lie.

Tibetan Buddhist Pema Chödrön provides an alternative — Abandon Hope. She reasons:

“Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what’s going on, but that there’s something missing in us, and therefore something lacking in our world.”

Chödrön highlights the fact that hope is linked to attachment. Hoping for certain things to go a certain way in the external world becomes a condition for our happiness. But as highlighted by the arrival fallacy, once those hopes are attained (IF they are attained), there is no salvation. Only A New Hope.

It’s difficult to avoid this trap as hope is ingrained in our culture. Knowledge bible Wikipedia defines hope as an “optimistic state of mind.” The opposite of hope is hope-less-ness or despair. But if we understand hope in the new light outlined above, we understand the opposite of hope isn’t despair, it’s liberation. We realise that abandoning hope and the attachment to attainment is freeing. Hope-less-ness becomes a desired state of mind.

When setting goals, we walk a tightrope, with hope lingering below. But abandoning hope doesn’t mean we have to abandon goals. The desire to progress is a huge part of human life. It has immense value. So how do we balance progress and goal setting in a non-attached manner? We dream.

The Value Of Dreams

“Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” — James Dean.

Dreams are different from hopes. Dreams are fantasies created with a mixture of imagination and play. Most of us define our dreams as practically unachievable, and consequently we aren’t attached to their fruition. Apply the DNA of dreams to goal setting, and you’ll be simultaneously liberated and motivated.

In The Idea In You, authors Martin Amor and Alex Pellew provide a model for healthy dreams, referred to as the Two Horizons. The idea is that, in your mind’s eye, you apply two horizons to your goals. The horizon far away in the distance is the ultimate dream. The one closer is the “to-do,” or the just-do-it action that needs to be done, today, to take you closer to the far-off horizon.

The beauty of this model is that you mix practicality with limitlessness. Your far-off horizon can be as elaborate, exciting and flamboyant as you like. It’s the best-case-scenario of your pursuit. Amor and Pellew encourage us to have fun with this; they ask us to close our eyes, to vividly imagine what lies on this horizon, to immerse ourselves in all aspects of it, to make a movie in our mind.

But remember, the key is to not become attached to this horizon. You do not think: “I hope I make it to this horizon. Then I will be happy.”

Examples Of The Two Horizons Dream

Let’s apply this to my goal of becoming a Life Coach.

The far-off horizon is a blissful place. I see myself with the freedom to travel, with a beautiful apartment in Berlin, overlooking the spree. I have a reading room with lots of light and lots of plants, a deluxe coffee machine in the kitchen, an ultra-high definition projector in my bespoke cinema room (materialism is okay in moderation, ha). I’ve continued to develop my knowledge of personal growth. I have a wealth of clients who I work with intimately. I share my knowledge and experience to help them, and in turn, they help me to continue to improve and develop.

Two Horizons
The Two Horizons model for goal setting.

My near horizon, my “to-do,” is writing this post. It’s focusing on what I can learn today. It’s putting in a few hours of study on my course. The beauty of this model is that this far-off horizon is also helping to motivate me to get out of bed, get up, and do those immediate tasks.

Two horizons can be applied to any goal. Take exercise. I love lifting weights. I have goals. Again, my far-off horizon is blissful. I have my “ideal” physique (vanity is okay in moderation). I feel strong in body and mind. I’m lifting more than I ever imagined I would when starting out. I’m knowledgeable of what it takes to help the body reach its potential.

My near horizon is going to the gym, today. It’s eating well, today. It’s getting enough rest, tonight. It’s enjoying how I train, but also making sure I beat the man I was last week. Even if only by one repetition.

Like everything in life, the key to the Two Horizon model balance. Don’t get swept up in the far-off horizon and daydream — you won’t get things done. Don’t obsess over the near-horizon, it can feel monotonous or worth putting off for another day.

A Note On Depression And Hope

I’ll conclude with a note on depression. When I was seriously depressed, I felt it important to hold on to the glimmer of hope that one day I’d feel better. For any of you suffering from depression now, the thought of abandoning hope will seem like a process of giving up.

Firstly, the model outlined above is less for major mood disorders, and more for the destructive traps we can fall into during the “pursuit” of goals. However, in hindsight, I do believe abandoning hope is relevant for depression. And here’s why: it’s not hope you need, but faith.

There is a significant difference between hope and faith. Hope is the craving for a desired outcome — “one day I’ll feel happy.” Faith is different. It’s not craving an outcome, but instead, a state of belief that all of this is worthwhile. Put into thinking terms, this may look like: “I am suffering greatly now. But this is all for a reason. I’ll come back stronger, learn from my experience, grow, and help others in the same position.”

Faith is the belief that you’ll experience personal growth from adversity. Instead of relying on an outcome, looking ahead to a place in time when things are better, you instead accept the situation as it is, acknowledge it’ll change, and take meaning from it by believing that once things have changed (all things do) you will have learned from it.

So if you are suffering right now, you too can abandon hope, have faith, and dream of what it’ll be like once you’ve overcome this challenge.

 

Ego

Defining The Spiritual Ego

ego
Explaining who you really are.

The human psyche is one of life’s greatest mysteries.What is our innermost essence? What is our life force? Is the idea of who we are a product of the mind, social conditioning, and the thoughts we have? Or are we spiritual beings, both material and divine?

The psyche encompasses all it means to be human. It originates from the 17th century Greek word, psukhē, which translates to “breath, life, soul.” Clearly, more than one approach is needed to tackle such a broad subject.

In psychology and theories arising from the West, the ego plays a crucial role in the psyche. It forms our self-concept and is an essential part of human cognitive function. Conversely, on the spiritual path the ego can be an obstruction to enlightenment. If left to its own devices, it can become a monster that needs to be tamed and transcended. My view falls somewhere in the middle.

In this article I’ll attempt to explain the ego’s role in who you are. Then, I’ll turn to spirituality to highlight how the ego can limit your potential, and what you can do to combat it.

Me, Myself And I — The Ego And Psychotherapy

The word ego originates from early 19th century Latin, translating directly to I. The ego is synonymous with Sigmund Freud’s theory on the human psyche. Freud was a renowned neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis in the early 1890s, in an attempt to understand the workings of the human self-image, the I. As well as explaining our motivations and behaviour, psychoanalysis was also used to help treat mental health disorders.

Freud’s theories on the mind have permeated popular culture for good reason; the belief that our thoughts, emotions and motivations are powered by a rich inner universe — most of which we are unaware of — is still relevant today. This inner universe is theorised by Freud in a branch of psychoanalysis, known as ego psychology, which splits the human psyche into three distinct levels of consciousness — the id, ego and superego.

The Id, Ego And Supergo

According to Freud, the subconscious id is the most deep-rooted aspect of the human psyche. It’s our animal instinct. This chaotic aspect of mind is stored deep in the subconscious and seeks instant gratification by following pleasure and avoiding pain. Aptly, Freud coined this the “pleasure principle.”

The ego is an unconscious aspect of mind that acts as a buffer between the id’s overzealous quest for pleasure and the reality of the external world. Aptly (x2), Freud coined this the “reality principle.” Though still looking to satisfy the id, the ego does so in a much more rational, logical manner. In this context, the ego is positive. Let’s call this the “don’t be a dick but still want nice things” principle.

The third and final aspect, the superego, is governed by social conditioning. Moulded around the ages of 3-5, the superego is driven by societal and parental values, and often strives for perfection. This conscious aspect of mind is further split into the conscience (feelings of guilt) and the ideal self (I “should” be like this or like that).

Carl Jung And Ego-Consciousness

This concept of ego was built upon by Freud’s protégé, Carl Jung. In many ways, Jung bridges the gap between Freud’s model of the psyche and a more Eastern approach. Jung believed that while the ego was the centre of the both the psyche and human consciousness, it wasn’t the magic ingredient in the recipe of human life. Instead, he highlights the limits of the ego and placed a lot of importance on the subconscious.

Anyone who has any ego-consciousness at all takes it for granted that he knows himself. But the ego knows only its own contents, not the unconscious and its contents. Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self.

Jung entered more spiritual territory by acknowledging a mystical element of the psyche that wasn’t necessarily governed by biological drives. But Western theories still highlight the ego as part of our core identity. Granted, the ego plays a crucial role in how we function in the external world, but it doesn’t satisfactorily explain what makes us human.

Freud and Jung pinpoint that there are elements of our psyche that are out of our control. A driving force that influences our decisions. Now, here’s where spirituality kicks in — what are these mysterious elements? Are they simply biological drives built into our DNA? Deep-rooted conditioned aspects of mind? Or is there something greater?

Moving Beyond The Mind — The Ego And Spirituality

“We are living in a material world.” Madonna.

Though quantum physics increasingly merges scientific theory with spiritual concepts, Western theories of the ego are limited to the material world. The central argument of materialism is that only the physical realm exists. If you apply materialism to the concept of what-makes-us-us, then we are exclusively physical beings. Our brain, made of physical matter, contains the mind, and the mind is the source of human consciousness.

The importance of spirituality is that its focus is beyond the material dimension. When you look beyond the material, the concept of who we are dramatically expands. Looking at the psyche from this perspective, we realise what-makes-us-us isn’t the thoughts we have about ourselves, but instead an expansive awareness behind those thoughts, the witness of our inner world.

In Eastern philosophy, this is our true identity. We are connected to a spiritual, divine dimension of pure awareness, pure being, God (eek!). Our psyche isn’t part of a greater whole, it is the greater whole, with no separation in between.

The video below explains how to transcend the ego, whilst remaining grounded. 

The Ocean And The Onion

Now it’s time for a colourful metaphor.

Think of the universe as a cosmic ocean of consciousness. Each and every one of us, on the deepest level of our psyche, is a part of this ocean. The ego prevents us from seeing this reality by deceiving us into believing we only exist materialistically. When we identify with the ego, our self-image helps create the illusion that we are individual and separate from the ocean. We believe what-makes-us-us is the mind, squished into the confines of grey matter, flesh and blood.

Continuing the aquatic metaphor, let’s imagine the ego as an onion, floating on the cosmic ocean. The egoic onion (I’m sticking with this) consists of layer after layer of thoughts (“I’m useless”), beliefs (“there is no God”), opinions (“Bristol Rovers are the best team in the world”) and memories. Identifying with this self-image means living a life whereby the vastness of the entire universe self-deceptively contained in an onion.

Identifying With The Onion And Negativity Bias

The egoic onion explains why spiritual practice emphasises the importance of not identifying with the ego. The onion is minuscule reflection of who you really are. I mentioned above that the ego is integral to functioning in society, and that is true. The issue isn’t the ego, but how you identify with it. Identifying with the onion wouldn’t be awful if it were fresh, pragmatic, logical, rational and selfless. But most of our onions are tainted by a negativity bias, as hypothesized by Paul Rozin’s and Edward Royzman’s 2001 study.

As well as the thoughts and beliefs we have about our identity (“I’m unlovable,” “I’ll never be happy”) and the external world (“things never go my way”), negativity bias also taints our memory recollection, another significant aspect of the onion’s “who am I?.” Rozin’s and Royzman’s study discovered that the potency of negative experiences is much higher than positive, which means our memories of negative events are much stronger. Our onion’s are naturally glass-half-empty.

So not only is the identifying with the onion drastically limiting our potential and cutting us off from the vast ocean of awareness, it also convinces us we’re not really that great. We live our lives convinced we’re the onion, and the story we create of who we are often discounts the positive. Yes, onions can be mature, logical, caring, successful, inspiring and all sorts. We can work on improving our own onion. But an onion can only ever excel in the material world. It is never our full potential.

Identifying with the egoic onion is a global phenomenon. We live in a mass illusion, which Buddhism refers to as maya. For American psychologist Charles Tart — who is known for his work in the field of consciousness — this is a “consensus trance” that is “much more pervasive, powerful, and artificial state than ordinary hypnosis.”

We’re a limitless ocean believing itself an onion. Is that not a shame?

How Do I Mind My Ego?

“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”  Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

There are two important elements to consider. The first is that you are not the onion and your potential is unlimited. You are not thoughts or beliefs, but instead, part of a greater whole. That greater whole contains peace, tranquility, love, and all nice things. Understanding you are part of the ocean and not separate can liberate you.

The second element is the importance of the onion in the functioning of day-to-day life. I’m aware that I am much, much more than Ricky. But Ricky (sorry, I) has a value to offer the material world. I’m in a unique position where I can become aware of my own divine nature (as we all can be with spiritual practice), and I can balance my material duties (personal growth, achieving goals, etc) with the knowledge that who I am will forever remain the same.

I do not crave to make the Ricky onion perfect, but through channeling divine traits (such as compassion and love) my onion will grow. Spiritually speaking, I believe the ultimate aim is a healthy, mature onion combined with the understanding of our ever-present, divine, spiritual nature. Again — the egoic onion isn’t the monster. It is vital. But understanding you are much, much more than the onion will liberate you. Seeing the onion allows you to ignore the traits that won’t benefit you, and enhance the ones that will.

To become aware of the onion, meditation is vital. Taking a step back and witnessing the part of the psyche that contains the ego is highly valuable. But always remember: You are not the onion. You’re the ocean. And the ocean is vast. And it’s here. Always.

How do you relate to who you really are? Let me know in the comments section below.


Spirituality

How ‘mother!’ Tells A Story Of Divine Femininity

Like a perfect storm, mother! is chaos. It drags you from your seat, punches you in the face, grabs you by the shoulders and shakes, leaving you with an emotional palette that mixes feelings of disgust, awe, and astonishment. It is, essentially, a masterpiece. But it’s a masterpiece only Darren Aronofsky can make, technically accomplished on the surface but elevated to greatness by its context.

Huge spoilers for mother! from now on.

It’s not a surprise that analysis has delved into metaphor. Outwardly, mother! is a dark psychological horror that tells the story of a couple, known as Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem) whose quiet, isolated home life is disrupted by mysterious visitors, known simply as Man (Ed Harris) and Woman (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Behind the veil, the film is a metaphorical representation of mankind’s most deep-rooted religious parables. Following the spiritual dive into the metaphysical with The Fountain (2006) and an exploration into the Book of Genesis with Noah (2014), mother! is Aronofsky’s attempt to produce an allegory of Christianity, and in particular, the biblical tale of creation.

Bustle has eloquently analysed the biblical correlations in mother!, highlighting the film as a condensed history of Earth told through the doctrine of Christianity, ending tragically with the forewarned apocalypse. The links aren’t all ambiguous, either. Mother is a representation of mother nature. Him is the masculine, Judeo-Christian god. Man and Woman are Adam and Eve, their feuding sons Cain and Abel.

As frantically manic as it is, the plot also follows a biblical trajectory. At its core, it becomes a story of man destroying Earth against mother nature’s wishes. People pay the house no respect, they do as they please, they take renovation under their own control. The ignorance of those unwanted visitors leads a broken sink, which floods the house in a clear reference to the Genesis flood, where God reverses creation by turning the Earth into a flooded wasteland.

In an oddly niche mother! based Inception, I’m going to dive even deeper down the parabolic rabbit hole and look at the meaning behind the parable behind the allegory. Having digested Aronofsky’s work, I don’t think mother! is a straight up, like-for-like metaphor for Christianity. I believe it contains commentary on the belief system that underpins religious doctrine. Now, let’s metaphorically peel back the blood-soaked floorboards.

The Distinction Between Religion And Spirituality

Before we go on, it’s important to make a distinction between religion and spirituality. The former can be see as dogma, a set of held beliefs that are taught in a structured way. The definition itself is: “a particular system of faith and worship” — emphasis on particular system. Spirituality, on the other hand, is more open, encompassing a belief or experience with the metaphysical, or the soul. It isn’t assigned a set God, it doesn’t follow rules. It’s religion in its distilled state.

All religions, at their core state, generally agree on the same principles. They just package them in different ways. In his book, Essential Spirituality, Dr. Roger Walsh identifies seven central spiritual practices across all religions: finding the soul’s desire; cultivating wisdom; living ethically; calming the mind; recognizing the sacred in all things; awakening wisdom and understanding; expressing generosity and service.

Another facet of spirituality is the conflict between the ego and the soul. The ego is a manifestation of the thinking mind, the barrier blocking our soul’s true desire and the discovery of God. For many Eastern religions, our true selves lie in the quiet clarity that sits beyond the mind’s “chatterbox” nature — the part of ourselves that resides beyond the thinking mind (i.e., the part of you that is aware of your thoughts) is awareness. While the ego sees itself as separate entity cut off from the world, our true selves tap into a universal, interconnected consciousness.

What on Earth does this have to do with mother!? By viewing the film through the lens of essential spirituality, it leads us to a new set of comparisons, that provides further understanding of the message behind it — Him is a manifestation of the ego, Her is awareness.

“I Am I” — Is Him A Manifestation Of The Ego?

While watching mother!, there was one particular comment that caught my attention. After she has destroyed the home to rid the unwanted guests, Mother is dying in His arms. She asks him, “who are you?” to which he responds, “I am I.” This statement is crucial. The ego is often referred to as a false sense of a separate self, a set of belief systems separate from the soul that sees itself as an “I.” By referring to himself as “I,” Bardem’s character reveals he isn’t God, but masculine, man-made representation of God.

There’s more evidence of this. The seven deadly sins on the surface appear to be rigid religious doctrine on “how not to have fun.” Instead, they highlight the different desires of the ego, “sins” in the respect that they remove oneself from the soul, or true being. Him is clearly captivated by a number of these sins, most of all pride. His attraction to fame and adulation takes him away from his soul, Her. It becomes an obsession that leads to him neglecting the most important thing he has.

This is also reflected with the visitors, who can be seen as challenges that entice the ego, to lure it into false fulfilment, away from the enlightenment that lies within the soul. In many ways, the visitors are manifestations of such ego-desires, or sins; they act freely without inhibitions, they fornicate, they steal, they crave salvation. Interestingly, in mother!, celebrity worship replaces religious deity, a nod toward fame being an ego-driven, modern substitute for God.

Mother divine feminity
Mother and Him [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

When Mother gives birth she introduces the purist element of the film. The newborn has no ego, no doctrine, no religion. It’s essence is spiritually free, explaining why many eastern religions advocate the need to “be more like children.” However, the ego-driven hoards can’t handle purity, they literally devour it, their own craving causing the death of the untainted.

Bardem’s character shows signs of gluttony (often referred to as a sign of selfishness), greed (in the manner he seeks adulation), despondency (his struggle with writer’s block) and wrath (his outburst of anger). As an interesting side note, Mother takes on the role of temptress for Him to commit the two final sins — she provokes him into seducing her (lust) and doesn’t let him hold their newborn child (envy) — thus completing the set and potentially unveiling the film’s true message.

Is Mother The Divine Feminine?

On top of testing Him’s ability to show restraint and avoid sin, there are more signs that Mother is ushering Him toward enlightenment. After supporting him through writer’s block, she cries as she reads his finished poem. In that moment, she believes, having attained his goal, Him may be close to enlightenment and overcoming his ego-driven desire (“will I lose you?”). However, he immediately informs his publisher and the press, seeking fame. Mother realises, to her disappointment, his work has become another extension of his ego.

This leads me onto the crux of this article. I don’t believe Him is God. In fact, there’s enough to suggest Mother is God, or at least the true divinity of the film. At the end, we’re shown that the Him is masculine God, the creator. He takes pride in his creation. He takes pride in the fact that he remains, while Mother does not. But out of the two, it’s Mother who acts Godlike. She surrenders, wholly. Despite everything, she gives her heart, her essence, to allow Him to continue. This leads me to a biblical quote, Galatians 2:20, which states:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it’s no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Herself up for me.”

This text, it’s the Son of God who surrenders, and gives “Himself” (I’ve switch the gender pronoun for clarity), so it is no longer “I” who lives. In a biblical bait-and-switch, I believe that Aronofsky is making a claim that the divine feminine is God, and man’s masculine creation only “thinks” he is God — but as explained, thinking is a manifestation of the ego. If this is the case, the ending takes an interesting twist.

Him makes out Mother didn’t live up to his high expectations, but instead he’s the one being tested, and failing. Like Sisyphus, he’s forced into repetition until he learns his lesson. What’s the lesson? To avoid the cycle of destruction, “I” (Him) must transcend his ego to become connected with being, or pure awareness (symbolised by the poem which shows them connected, holding hands). In short: Him is responsible for attaining enlightenment to prevent the cycle of egoistic living and thus become one with God — “You never loved me, you loved how much I loved you,” says Mother.

The question is: Is there a basis in reality to motivate Aronofsky to pursue this as a story?

The Suppressed Sacred Femininity

Unequivocally yes. Divine femininity has been seriously suppressed, throughout centuries. As highlighted by spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle, the Holy Inquisition — an institution founded by the Catholic Church — tortured and killed between three million and five million women across a 300 year period. Conversely, pre-Christian civilizations such as Sumerian, Egyptian and Celtic societies, revered and worshipped the divine female. The Holy Inquisition rebranded sacred femininity, making it demonic.

Why? As highlighted by Tolle in A New Earth, sacred femininity was rebranded due to collective ego desires taking control. Tolle argues females are more in touch with the soul, thus the ego takes a stronger hold in men. Historically, as the collective ego grew, dogma and fear-based religion was introduced. In order to flourish, the enlightened form of spirituality, in its feminine form, was censored and silenced.

Tolle adds that as a result, women were pushed to the sidelines, reduced to child bearers and objects owned by men. We see this in mother! — throughout the film, Lawrence is seen as an object of Him, her hospitality and life-giving qualities are overlooked. When Mother fulfils her child bearing purpose, she knows immediately. In that scene, the camera focuses on the sun, shining brightly. This could be an illustration of good weather…

Or, in a parable of a parable, a film abundant in metaphor and deeper meaning, it’s more likely the sun represents something else — the Son of God.


Originally posted on Movie Pilot.

Psychology

When Depression Strikes

This isn’t easy to write. But I’ve promised an open and honest relationship, to lead by example. So it’s only right I share the personal challenge I’ve been facing.

Up until recently, I’d been surfing the electrochemical wave of energised neurons as they vigorously fired through the synapses of my brain. My mind felt free and abundant with ideas and exciting prospects for the future. My imagination vividly presented me bright, lifelike visualisations. An unconditional zest for being alive powered me forwards with purpose.

My energy — all that makes me “me” — flowed beyond my physical body, meeting the energy that makes everything “everything,” connecting me with the rest of the world, and beyond.

Then depression struck.

I don’t know why it surprises me, I’ve been here many times. But try as I might, it returns. And with it the reverse of what I’d experienced moments before. Zest replaced by numbness. Forward motion replaced by a sinking sensation.

Those neurons, they slowed as they attempted to fight their way through the thick grey sludge of a weary brain. My energy returned from distant stars and compressed into the confines of flesh and bone. “Me” no longer connected with “everything,” creating a bubble, leaving me isolated, stuck in the mud of the mind. My imagination now a perpetual loop of sepia-tinted memories, encasing me in a nostalgic amber of better times.

I’d been meditating. Eating well. Exercising regularly. Avoiding alcohol. Practicing mindfulness. Journaling. Taking multivitamins and Omega-3. Bathing in ultra-bright artificial light. I’d been studying the human mind, training for the time when I can hopefully help others.

But it doesn’t matter. There’s a simple truth about depression: no matter how much you prepare, no matter how much you know, or how self-aware you are, depression can strike. No matter your status in life, how happy you seem, how much money you have in the bank, how healthy your body or how healthy your relationships, depression can strike. No matter how you eat, sleep, rave or repeat, depression can strike.

An anti-emotion.

Depression is a defect of the very core. It’s the extinguishing of the sun that nourishes the body’s solar system. Yet I can still laugh at jokes, appear happy, appear motivated. For those without first hand experience, this can be a strange concept. Planets continue to orbit an extinguished sun.

In my experience, depression doesn’t really strike. Striking is filled with energy. But depression is the opposite. Putting aside beliefs or scientific understanding, depression dims the special element that gives us life, whatever the source or the nature of that element. It’s an anti-emotion, too numb to qualify as numb. It’s beyond emotion, beyond sadness.

We’re the architects of how we see the world. Everything outside of us is filtered by us. That’s what makes depression so consuming — life is filtered through bleakness. In the eye of the storm, it filters your future projections, your view on your relationships, your view on who you are, your view on your worth, abilities, importance.

Then comes the shame.

“FFS Ricky. Come on. Stop being stupid. You know these are self-destructive thought patterns. You know not to identify with them. You know how to be mindful. You know how to focus on sensation. You know things will change. So why are you stuck? This is your making.”

Then came the kicker.

“How will you ever become a Life Coach if you can’t manage your own emotions?”

Ouch. Way to kick me when I’m down and shit all over my dreams, brain.

But always remember these truths.

I’ve been vocal about depression and anxiety because I’m all too aware — no matter how knowledgeable or experienced you are — of its ability to deceive. I know what it’s like to feel isolated, and I remember reading other’s experiences in times of need, which reassured me. Still, it’s incredibly hard for me to be open and honest when I’m not hiding behind hindsight.

But this post isn’t intended to be negative, full of despair or hopeless. Instead, I want to throw a metaphorical life-jacket to anyone out there drowning a little. If you are in need of that life-jacket, please, please remember these crucial truths:

  1. You are not alone and people love you. Ignore any thoughts telling you otherwise.
  2. Your negative view on yourself and your world is temporarily misaligned. Do not take it seriously. It is not the truth, it is a perspective influenced by your current state.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion is a massive fuck you to depression. Take the day off work, switch off, be kind to yourself.
  4. Reach out, talk to someone. Your brain might tell you they don’t care or they won’t listen, but see point 1.
  5. Start rebuilding by focusing on one or two positives. Anything. Morning coffee? A smile from a stranger? Surprise December sun? All valid.
  6. Keep going.
  7. Remember impermanence. Things will change. This too shall pass. Soon the sun will shine and the view on yourself and your world will be bright again.

A message of hope.

For our muscles to grow, first they must be damaged. Then they repair and grow stronger. What’s to say depression isn’t the brain’s equivalent of this process?

Thank God, I’m coming out the other side. Again. And you will too. Every time you do, you’ll recover quicker. You’ll return stronger.

When the sun reignites, it’ll shine brighter than before.

Depression deserves respect, but it’s not something to be defined by.

You are not depression, and neither am I.