Some of us were lucky enough to have been helped by parents and friends to

find a sense of wonder as a child. It may have been the magic of Christmas,

with the beauty of a tree glowing with coloured lights in the evening dimness

of our home, or the appearance of presents while we slept. I remember being in

my aunty Flo’s house on Christmas day, mixed up with four or five of her

children at the foot of her council house stairs; one of her sons climbed

through the trap door into the attic and presents came raining down. It was

one of the first things to nurture the growth of a feeling that wonderful

things could be found in strange or hidden places.


This has led over the years to a conviction that what is intangible or unseen

is not unreal – that the spiritual is a real force in our lives.  Another of

my cherished memories were when my friend John Pusey, a little older than

myself, I being about six, asked if I believed in God. Both of us attended a

church school, but God had not been a very powerful force in my thoughts. I

told this to John and he suggested we make a test to see if God were real.

This seemed important so we went into the garden shed and closed the door.

Once inside it was decided that I would say “God bless John”, and he would say

“God bless Tony”, then we would compare notes. I still remember the result.

As John’s voice finished his solemn sentence, I felt a quiver or thrill run

through me. On comparing our experience John had also felt a distinct shiver

run through him.


I am not going to be simplistic and suggest this proves the existence of God.

But like many similar experiences, it does suggest that we can use ideas, such

as that of God, to produce a different experience of ourselves; to shift us from

one feeling state to another; or even to create a new perception of oneself

and the world. Looked at in this light, perhaps a belief in God or the

spiritual is its own reward.


In his book Beggar Among the Dead, Hans Ulrich Rieker describes how, while

wandering in India in a locality of the most terrible poverty, he came across

a man eaten away with leprosy. The man was sitting, surrounded by a throng of

people, his face radiant and shining despite his body falling apart.  His

spiritual life was its own reward, and was sought and bathed in also by those

around him. He had found a way of centering his life, not in anguish,

physical pain or bitterness, but in a sense of himself which transcended

these. If the spiritual is the ability to create our own response to life

instead of remaining a victim of circumstances, our emotions and sense of

oneself being buoyed or dashed by success or failure, health, or illness,

acceptance or rejection, then Rieker’s leper had found and was living the



At a time when I was running a vegetarian and wholefood guest house at a

seaside resort, I walked out of the front door one day and nearly bumped into

an attractive young woman. There was a fresh clean air about her, and I watched

her walk away. After a few paces she turned and smiled, giving me the

impression she was at ease with her womanhood. Later I saw her on the beach

with her mother, father, and brother. I then understood where she had found

her beauty. Her mother was badly deformed in body from the effects of polio,

yet her face was alive with love and happiness. She had found something, or

done something which had melted away any self pity or anger she might have

felt about her condition. It was at that period of my life that I began to

have an intuition that no matter what our background, no matter what the state

of our body, no matter who we are, we each have a gift so wonderful we can all

shine like the leper, and pour love into other people’s lives like the mother

on the beach.


The gift is our spiritual life. At our most down to earth we might call this

our own power to change or direct our life. If we have been touched by the

power of the spirit, then we might describe it as a shift in our viewpoint.


We all know about these shifts from our experience of everyday life. We have a

different view, and therefore reaction to life, when we are a seven year old

than when we are a teenager. We have a different understanding of adulthood as

an adolescent than we do when we are thirty. We have a changed perception of

our work scene when we are the office junior than when we are the office

manager. When we form a sense of oneself from the viewpoint of just a small

area of oneself, such as a sick or ageing body; our lack of exam results; how

much money we have, we build an image out of just those materials. But

supposing we saw our life suddenly as a part of the whole evolutionary

sweep, supposing we saw it from the viewpoint of the billions of cells which

miraculously coexist and create a whole world of our body; supposing we saw it

as an intimate part of the cosmic process – wouldn’t we build a different

image of who and what we are?


When I left my first wife and remarried I experienced some terrible years of

pain from which I could find no exit. By my own act I had lost the thing which

was most precious to me – life with my children. Guilt ate at my inside’s day

and night. Conflict tore me apart, for I wanted to be with my children, yet I

also wanted to be with my present wife. I was not idle in trying to deal with

these difficulties. As far as I could I altered my outer circumstances, I put

effort into counselling and psychotherapy. I worked hard and tried to live

positively. But the canker was in me – pain. Then one day I was talking over

the situation with friends. It led to the realisation that, despite all my

efforts I had no answer whatsoever. I sat in silence having given up trying

to think or strive further – hopeless. My friends were ones who could accept

my silence without attempting to fill it with chatter or back patting.  Then,

into my silent hopelessness came an image from some hidden part of myself. I

saw a stick stuck in the earth upon a hill. From it, tied by a piece of rough

wool blew a feather in the wind, moving against the background of the sky.


How I do not know, but the image communicated to me a completely new

experience of life. Suddenly I knew a freedom I had never known before.

I saw there was no past and no future. What we called our past was what lived inside us as feelings and impulses. What we call the future is what we weave individually and collectively by what we believe, fear, and want . I stood outside of my guilt pain and conflict, seeing them as habits, worn records which I played again and again as a cigarette smoker might automatically light yet another cigarette despite their terrible cough.

Previously I had felt trapped, but now I saw the prison bars were only thoughts and values which I had accepted as realities, and I was free every moment to direct my life, to move in and out of situations, to experience or leave behind the misery of the last few years. See Enlightenment

The incredible perception lasted for three days. It stood me on a mountain seeing vistas never imagined before. Even the birds in the sky were seen afresh. Then I came down from the mountain and got to work with the new information I had. The vision did not magically wipe away the habits of a lifetime. I had to make the changes myself. I did. They worked.

The mountain is a useful analogy because it depicts the enormous change of  viewpoint and information gathered when situations are viewed from the personal and isolated self, and when from the encompassing and integral self. As humans we have the possibility if a wider view of our life than is offered through our sense impressions and reasoning mind alone. Sometimes this other viewpoint is described as fantasy, imagination or wishful thinking. My personal response to that is if it was imagination and fantasy which showed me the route out of the trap of pain and guilt I was in, then why aren’t we taught it at school as a prime subject?


Having watched other people find and use this wider awareness however, I would describe it differently. Usually we look at the world in two ways. One is a sort of forward direction through our senses. This information tells us that we are separated from others by physical distance, we are solid objects in a three dimensional worlds, we are mammals of a particular gender, and we age and die. The second is to look into ourselves and replay memories, or think about things with concepts we have learnt from others or from our sense impressions. This is rather like someone living in a house which they never leave, and only able to look out of windows at the front of the house which gives a view of other houses. Their attempts to think about the world would be limited by what they had seen. But one day they manage to go to the back of the house and look out of the rear windows. They then have a view over a beach and the sea, which completely changes how they understand the world.


This view over the sea from the back of the house represents what happens when we experience the hugeness of what we are. Our attention is turned from our usual channels – sense impressions, the thinking, the regular feeling reactions, the analysis or remembering of childhood or past experience, the paths I had trodden in an attempt to resolve my guilt – into an awareness of our usually unconscious sense of connectedness with all living beings. See Opening to Life


Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved