The Five Gates of Grief – Gate 3

Episode 3 in the Five Gates of grief series.

St Paul wrote,”We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now..” Romans 8:22
What he didn’t know was how much additional pain we humans would cause to this planet since he penned that line!

In this video we explore our grieving, “The Sorrow of the World” and how this grief can become a resurrection for us and the planet.

The Five Gates of Grief – Gate 2

Following the outline of Francis Weller’s “Five Gates of Grief” this video invites us to locate and mourn the parts of our lives that never knew love.

This is sacred and soulful work. As we examine the deficits and voids in our selves, as we see where our lives were Bonzai-ed by circumstances or the unskilful acts of others.

Now we can begin to allow the light to enter us through those very cracks and fissures.

The video also introduces the Japanese art of Kintsugi as a metaphor for the integration of our loss.

The Five Gates of Grief – Gate 1

Using the headings of Francis Weller as an outline, Peter explores the first of what Weller describes as the “Gates of Grief“.

Gate 1:Everything you love you will lose.
Gate 2:The places that have not known love
Gate 3:The Sorrows of the World
Gate 4:What we expected but didn’t receive
Gate 5:Integrating our Ancestral Grief

Knowing the impermanence of everything is not as depressing as it sounds.

If skillfully integrated into our understanding, knowing that
“Everything we love, we will lose“, is a liberation to love and live in the moment that is with us now.

You can schedule one on one Skype or Zoom sessions with Peter by emailing peterwoods.pe@gmail.com

Winning isn’t everything… or is it?

Being a South African on the weekend that the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup makes the other challenges of living on the southern tip of Africa a lot more bearable!

You don’t have to be South African or even to follow Rugby to know that winning is a great human experience.
We love to win, to be the best, to come first.
It seems that winners win and enjoy the euphoric experience.
Isn’t that what evolution calls the survival of the fittest?

Or is there another perspective?

In this video I explore how competitiveness may not be helpful in certain scenarios and offer a simple conflict transformation tool to alter your adversarial relationships.

The Wounded Angel Network takes flight

I am delighted to introduce my latest project of YouTube videos where I reflect on matters of healing, integration, motivation and clear thinking.

Hugo Simberg, The Wounded Angel / Haavoittunut enkeli, 1903, painting, oil on canvas, 127 cm x 154 cm, A II 1703, Ateneum Art Museum / Finnish National Gallery, Ahlström Collection. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

The project is named after Hugo Simberg’s 19th Century painting (more here) I first saw the image on a study text titled “The Healing Spirit” by Paul R Fleischman and ever since, I’ve seen it as symbolising my therapeutic work.

I do hope you will enjoy the videos and should you subscribe to the YouTube channel, you will be advised of future posts as they are uploaded.

Please click here to go to the Wounded Angel Network playlist and please hit the red subscribe button when you get there.

Slower may be better…

Don't Hurry be Happy

You have heard of slow food?

It started in Rome in 1986, as a protest to McDonald’s opening a branch right on St. Peter’s square in the Vatican. Now Slow Food has spawned an entire Slow Movement.

Norwegian philosopher Guttorm Fløistad sums up the Slow Movement well:

The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on , you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.”

The Slow Movement doesn’t imply conservatism, it simply advocates a return to an appreciation for the simple and artisanal,the hand crafted and home grown.
Part of the Slow Movement is Slow Thought. An important skill for mental health.

When our parents taught us to count to ten before responding, they were onto something.
We now know that the amygdala, our oldest and reptilian brain is a hot responder with fight or flight reactivity. Our prefrontal cortex is our newest brain and seat of creativity and our best thought. The wait to ten allows the impulse to be processed by the whole brain rather than in a knee jerk reaction.
So what are some of the hallmarks of Slow Thought?


Slow Thought is Ponderous. Not usually a positive word, pondering allows whole brain consideration of all aspects of a situation. One could call Slow Thought contemplative. It takes its time to find clarity and wisdom.

Slow Thought is also Playful. It is not committed to being right at the cost of relationships. When one is too serious about anything, playfulness is sacrificed and so is the ability to not take ourselves so darn seriously.

Slow thought is also Porous, like a sponge living in the ocean. Sponges are multi cellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them. They also have unspecialised cells that can transform into other types which can migrate between the main cell layers and the jelly like spaces making up the organism. Sponges do not have nervous, digestive or circulatory systems and rely on maintaining a constant water flow through their bodies to obtain food and oxygen and to remove wastes.

These ancient aquatic animals are a wonderful metaphor for Slow Thought which allows ideas and information to flow through it and filters what is most important.
Slow Thought makes no fixed and dogmatic judgments for all time, it simply allows the nourishing of our life in each moment as we ponder and play with creative ways to be.

Slow Thought, like slow food can really nourish our lives.

Don’t hurry, be happy!

“Fake it till you make it”, doesn’t help

HarrySallyFake

In these days of liberated sexuality it’s quite acceptable to openly discuss previously taboo subjects. Feminism has liberated women especially in the area of sexuality and has brought fascinating information to light. In one survey it has been shown that up to ten percent of men and women admit to having faked an orgasm at some time during their relationship. Psychology Today reports that this may not be as sinister as it seems, and may serve the purpose of making a partner feel secure by assuming they have been able to completely satisfy them.

But at what point does this “fake it till you make it” behaviour become nothing more than lying.
Don’t misunderstand me, I completely agree with Dr Gregory House, the rude and brusque lead character played by Hugh Laurie in the series “House”. Dr House’s favourite saying is, “Everybody lies” and he is correct.

At some point we all lie. Particularly to our doctors. How much alcohol do we drink? How many cigarettes do we smoke? Everybody lies.
We lie on Facebook by creating what psychologists now call our “Facebook Self”. A falsely happy, successful, person in a fulfilled relationship who never has anything go wrong in their lives. And what is worse, our Facebook “friends” affirm the carefully curated self we are presenting. If you don’t believe me try posting, “Having a really epic and awesome day!” then count the likes and comments that post gets. Now wait a few days and post, “Having a really pissy day and am feeling suicidally depressed.” Even if you were faking happy at that point, the lack of likes and comments will certainly depress you!

Of course, we want to make each other happy with posts of grandchildren, puppies and cupcakes, but what if House’s aphorism has invaded all aspects of our lives? What if “Everybody lies” is pandemic?

What if even our religious and spiritual journeys have become infected with the “fake it till you make it” virus, accompanied by carefully curated appearances in our spiritual practises where no one ever really knows what is happening inside ourselves?
We speak to each other in religious language about all the blessings and bounties of life,we hear direct messages from God, usually about how great we are in God’s sight and how much better we are than other losers who don’t share our creed.

Now please don’t misunderstand. I know that life is good and blessed.
But what if our over emphasis and curation of what I call our “picket fence spiritual life” creates a false impression of perfection and divine preference that makes people who are really battling to make it through the day feel even worse?
How can all that positivity which denies the fact of our own shadow and humanity, even be helpful to anyone? Worst of all, why lie to ourselves?

Of all the words Jesus spoke, some of the most powerful were, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and when he wept publicly.

Thoughts of extinction enhance life

fossil

Life is very old and tenaciously fragile.

On a table that holds my precious things I have a small black ceramic disk I bought in India. Made from a black clay it has the imprint of a spiralled shell. These disks are common at tourist sites and are made by pressing wet clay into fossil beds thus creating a positive image of the creature that became fossilised millions of years ago. The disk has been fired to make it durable and is iconic.

It records a life that ended eons ago. A bit like the rubbings one can do on famous gravestones in English churchyards, it is a proof of existence similar to the forms pensioners complete each year to verify they are alive to receive their monthly payouts.
The original shell creature fossilised in the sediment of India, had no consciousness of its own existence. It simply went about its life absorbing food, transforming it into energy, moving forward and procreating itself until its life ended.

By the time it became a fossil it had probably been dead for millennia. Perhaps its species had already died out completely? Was this creature wiped out in one of the five cataclysmic extinction events that are part of the earth’s evolutionary history?

It’s strange to realise that until the 19th century we didn’t even believe in extinction. So in America, you had President Thomas Jefferson sending Lewis and Clark to explore the Northwest regions in the hope they would find mastodons roaming around. Mastodon bones were fashionable at the time. There was a very famous one unearthed in New York and displayed in Philadelphia so people assumed they must still exist somewhere.

It was the French naturalist Georges Cuvier who around Jefferson’s time came to the realisation that if no one was seeing the animals from which the bones came, they must be extinct. At the same time European colonists were sending all these bones of exotic creatures, that couldn’t be found alive, back to their motherlands . So Cuvier came up with a theory of extinction which preceded Darwin’s theory of evolution by half a century. We knew that some species were extinct before we knew how they originated and there is a significant consolation in that sequence of discovery.

To become aware of the extinction of life before knowing how that life came to be, is to put things in the right order.
It’s why in every spiritual tradition the contemplation of death precedes the experience of what life means.

Ask any person diagnosed with cancer of the truth of this. They will confirm that knowing you have a disease that wants to kill you makes you appreciate every moment you are alive. Being made aware of our mortality enhances our daily living.

So my little black disk is a helpful reminder for me. This imprint of an extinct creature from millions of years ago remembers an extinct life. Gone forever as I will be.

But for me, not today!

The power of the feminine to save. Even from Hell

We all enjoy a love story.

This one from medieval Italy is similar to a million others but is special because it happened to a great poet who recorded it in the most beautiful language. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is famous for writing the “Divine Comedy” which shaped Christianity’s ideas of heaven and hell forever.

He describes how he began to write the epic poem while he was walking along in the afternoon of his life and fell into a deep hole. There is no better description of the midlife crisis than going along with your life when suddenly you fall into a hole. These crises are usually about our unfinished business or unlived life. For Dante it was his incomplete relationship with Beatrice whom he had met when he was only nine. Years later as an adult Dante was standing near the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River in Florence when he saw Beatrice as an adult and fell deeply in love. Dante did not speak to her that day. In fact he saw her very little, and then Beatrice suddenly died, carried off by plague.

Dante was stricken with the loss of his vision. She was the intermediary between his soul and Heaven itself. Dante went on to marry, and he and Signora Alighieri raised three children. Then, suddenly, at the midpoint of his life, he fell into a deep depression. Here his work began.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante is led down through the nine levels of hell by the poet Virgil, symbol of reason and intellect. Dante discovers surprisingly that the lowest level of hell isn’t fire, it is frozen. That arctic wasteland the intellect will bring us to. So he leaves Virgil behind and is led out of hell by none other than his beloved Beatrice. The message is clear. The soul, not the intellect leads out of hell to heaven. The moist, soft feminine soul, not sterile male logic is the way to salvation. Love not reason saves Dante, and us all.

dante out of hell.jpg

Six hundred and fifty years later, during World War II, the Americans were chasing the German army up the Italian “boot.” The Germans were blowing up everything to thwart the progression of the American army, including the bridges across the Arno River. But no one wanted to blow up the Ponte Vecchio because Beatrice had stood on it and Dante had written about her.
So the German army made radio contact with the Americans and, in plain language, said they would leave the Ponte Vecchio intact if the Americans would promise not to use it.

The promise was held. The bridge was not blown up, and not one American solider or piece of equipment went across it. Crazy, isn’t it? Completely illogical. But life isn’t a rational story, it is a love story. Hardened warrior men were turned by creative feminine emotion. In a modern, ruthless war, the bridge was spared, because beautiful Beatrice had stood upon it.

(Many thanks to Robert A Johnson for the bulk of this from his Inner Gold)