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Beyond the freedom to be yourself
Many of us would imagine that the ultimate freedom attainable in life is being ourselves. What I have discovered (as others have before me) is that there is a freedom beyond being myself – the freedom to simply be, beyond any idea of a self. A person will tend to go through several stages to get to this point – I certainly did.
My description of this process has echoes and parallels with my take on the ‘return to love’, to use a phrase of Marianne Williamson’s (which I described in my blog The Seven Stages of Love, below) – in that we may return to an original state, but this time with awareness.
Initially – before we have a name and a separate identity, we simply are – we are simply being. Ahh, bliss! Or ahh, suffering – without anyone to own that bliss or suffering. Hence bliss or suffering simply is, it’s not ours.
Soon we appear to take on an identity, so much of which comes from our parents, siblings, community, environment, world. We inherit, so to speak, much of what we come to know as our self. In parallel, though, are the impulses and creations and expressions that seem to come in combinations and flavours that are uniquely ‘ours’.
Many of us then begin to question this identity. Which parts came from where? Which parts are we happy or unhappy with? What would we like to change? What can we change and how? Is there such a thing as our core or essential being? In this process we come to ‘know ourselves’ – if indeed we have an essential self that can be known (in my case, the process of writing (especially poetry) and of creating films, art, music has been an integral to this journey). At some point, we may feel ah, now this is really me! I know me! Can I be free to be me?
Now we can try (for my thoughts on trying, please see the link of that name above this blog) to really be ourselves – to live life in tune with our values, our ‘core identity’, our aspirations, etc. This feels like the freedom to be ourselves – living life according to what matters to us – but is it?
What may happen next can be very exciting – and certainly was in my case. We can come upon the discovery I mentioned at the beginning: that there is a freedom beyond being ourselves – the freedom to just be. In other words, if something that is naturally arising in what seems to be this separate self does not appear consistent with my idea of myself, I can allow it to be anyway. Or rather, it allows itself to be. I suggested at the beginning that this could be considered the ultimate freedom – but perhaps there is a further, truly ultimate freedom: the freedom from all concepts. This however, does not appear to persist while we are in human form!
Speaking of forms beyond the human, I would like to finish with a poem in which I had aimed to encapsulate the journey towards freedom:
You are the rose
You are the rose that writes itself,
the rose that writes to know itself,
that knows so it can see itself
and in this seeing be itself
and in this being free itself
from the need to be a rose
Creation Before Inspiration
I learned this the hard way – by waiting! I have been happy to have been inspired to create in many different modes in my life from music to painting, film-making to my perhaps my greatest creative passion, poetry. Whilst I have produced a lot of work and taken my creativity very far, I have been limited by often making inspiration a requirement for creation. I now release myself from this limitation as I write a blog for which I had not been inspired – until I realised inspiration was not necessary!
Paradoxically, of course that realisation was a form of inspiration – but let’s not get too complicated!
Had I given myself permission a little earlier to simply write the blog without having a subject, you might have been reading a February blog – in February! – rather than a February/March blog in March. But I trust as always that this is exactly what is meant to be written and at exactly the right time.
How many things in life have we put off because we didn’t feel we were sufficiently inspired or empowered or otherwise prepared? What we – I – can very often forget is that in the doing comes the inspiration or empowerment and by starting we are allowing our creativity to flow, rather than hoping that something or someone will turn on the tap.
In exhorting people to just get on with their purpose – to simply begin – Goethe said that boldness has genius in it, and there was certainly genius in his words. I am suggesting that in fact boldness is not necessary. You can simply begin in any mood or state whatsoever, including tentativeness, and your natural genius will arrive shortly thereafter.
What have you been waiting to be inspired about to start? Why not just start anyway!
This dual months’ poem was written many years ago on a creative writing course that I joined when I was trying (see link to my piece on trying above) to be a novelist, imagining myself to be in competition with several geniuses of the novel. At some point I simply gave myself permission to stop that effortful game and be myself. This was the first poem I had published:
Vonnegut, Kerouac, Mailer
Norman was a fighter:
novelists, poets and drunks
soaked up his fists and his rants
and the sheer bloody punch of his big, meaty books.
Blow, Jack said, just blow,
like a jazzman on his horn!
Yeah, he was in love with life
Enough to let it happen.
Old Kurt was an extra uncle:
I’d swallow any crazy story
he told me on his giant knee.
I’m stuck in the bar with these guys.
Norman looks me up and down.
Hey you, he says, you think you’re tough?
Ah, forget it. There’s home-made
coconut ice-cream in the fridge.
Like the man in the supermarket said,
I can’t decide. I’m going home.
I think about the creamy stuff
as Norman scoffs at the flower in my bag.
Jack flicks ash on my seventeenth draft
and Kurt says what happens next?
Life happens next. Make your own.
The Seven Stages of Love
My beloved has recently moved in, so the subject of love has been much on my mind. I may write more specifically on romantic love soon; today I’m writing about a broader kind of being in love which will often, but doesn’t have to, include romantic love.
I’ll be describing 7 stages of love, but although I’m starting with a baby and describing what seems to be a sequence, the stages are not bound in or by time, because time is located in the mind – and love is ultimately beyond the mind.
Stage 1: The baby, coming as it does from timeless boundless existence, knows no separation from anything, therefore cannot be separate from love. The baby is one with love, in the shape of its mother (or carer[s], from birth onwards).
Stage 2: The baby develops an awareness that it and its carer[s] are apparently separate (the process of naming being a significant part of this), that they can apparently leave, and that it is then apparently alone. The baby’s needs seem temporarily not met, the baby sensing that its source of nurturing – of love – is located in another. The first experience of separation from love: love is now ‘over there’, love can seemingly be withdrawn.
Stage 3: The child, who in a reasonably loving family has felt that although its loving carer(s) can leave, they nevertheless continue to love, typically decides that their love is somehow wrong or inadequate. A further experience of separation from love: love cannot be trusted. There is a hunger for ‘true’, or idealized love – often both a longing for a return to when one felt totally loved at home and a longing for romantic love.
Stage 4: The (often young) person finds romantic love – ‘falls’ in love – and experiences a state beyond separation often as powerful as the original baby-state. This may only last intially for hours, days or weeks, or even just for the seconds of the ecstasy of oneness experienced in orgasm. Love is now a state that can be entered into with one’s lover – but this state is, again, perceived not to last.
Stage 5: Typically in disappointment at the apparently temporary state of oneness in love found in intimate personal relationship, the adult often then seeks oneness in love through a spiritual path. At some point, a state beyond separation is tasted by the individual, and so it is found that love need not be located in another, but can be entered into alone. While there is any seeking of this state, however, there is still the experience of separation from love. I would add that this state can also be reached from childhood onwards outside spiritual practice – through nature, music, dance, art, poetry, sport, or any ‘flow’ experience.
Stage 6: What can happen to the individual with continued spiritual practice (and sometimes without it) is that the state of oneness in love can be entered into for days, weeks, months or even years at a time. This latter time frame has been my experience – and yet I have been able to imagine sometimes that I am, as it were, being plucked from the warm bath of love and dropped onto the cold floor of apparent separation by the cruel hand of ego!
Stage 7: It is perceived by the apparent individual that there is, and has never been, any separation on any level – the separation was all an appearance, hence all my uses of the verb ‘to appear’, above! Now one is not ‘in love’, because love is not a separate thing from oneself. There are no longer ‘things’. One in fact no longer has a separate self, therefore no needs of any kind, including the need for love. Game over, in one sense – and yet the game of life continues anyway, and delight and pleasure continue in the delightful experience of love without an ‘experiencer’.
And so the apparent me continues to love and delight in the apparent her, in love beyond any concept of itself.
Finally for this month here is a poem I wrote about ten years ago, just after I had experienced, for the first time since babyhood, the dissolving of separation for several hours.
Everything seems very appealing,
but I figured it out.
What I really need now
Once at the top of a mountain
and the air was clear and for a second
I realised that nothing was there.
Where does nothing come from?
And because nothing keeps going back
I invited nothing to stay.
But I soon discovered
that nothing doesn’t respond
So I acted
like I wasn’t interested,
and nothing appeared at the window
while I was busy with something.
Letting nothing in
is like being carried by the wind –
a wind so soft
you can’t feel it
because it is the temperature
Carry me, carry me,
I am in love with nothing.
Meaning and the Nose
Winter carries with a lot of habitual perceptions, in other words pre-conceptions. We often think that the weather is ‘bad’ if it’s cold or raining; when it’s snowing we might either think ‘ahhhh, how lovely things look in the snow’ or ‘oh no, I’ll struggle to get to work’. In fact the weather in itself doesn’t mean anything – the meaning is something we add to it. It’s just cold or not, or raining or not: neither good nor bad. And if you’re Siberian, other people’s winter may not even seem cold.
Similarly Christmas means a lot to some people; to others, it’s simply December 25th. Whatever meaning the external world seems to have is something that’s been added to it by us. And we can create the meaning we want, or take on a new meaning suggested by someone around us, if it is better than the meaning we attached before.
Until this year, I thought of myself as having a big nose – in other words, ‘too’ big. I felt it should be smaller (you may be familiar with the self-limiting power of ‘should’, something I write about in the book I hope soon to publish, Easier Done Than Said). Had you asked me, I would have assumed that I would always consider it to be ‘big’.
Then an amazing – for me at least – thing happened. I was with my partner and she spontaneously commented on my “beautiful little nose”. The context of her comment was love, and so it was said in a loving way – and received by me as a wonderful kind of bombshell, as a revelation. I started to feel my nose with my fingers and was astounded to find that it physically felt much smaller to me than it ever had. I continued to feel it, almost not believing that it seemed to me to be a completely different nose!
The effect has not worn off: I have not since looked at my reflection and thought of my nose as being ‘big’. My nose has a new meaning, one that feels happier for me. In any situation in your life, with any thought and with any feeling, you can create a new meaning. What meanings would you like to create?
I recently noticed that I was in the mood for a kind of hibernation – and it seemed natural to the season. To this I added the meaning that I was allowed to be myself, or rather created that meaning as I wrote this month’s poem (I plan to include a poem in each month’s blog). Here it is:
Winter is friendly to this
folding in on myself, my
telescoping silence. I’m not
phoning even the ones
I love. The black windows
are cool sheets of empathy,
they know about the
seduction of interiors.
I shrink until I fit inside
my smallest self, where
outer sound is muffled too,
light’s swallowed and nothing
need ever be done. True
quiet is a nourishment to
whatever needs to be noisy
later. It can wait, I need this,
the bare trees agree, it’s time
to huddle in and act like
Spring is just a theory.
The Being of Humans, the Being of Animals and the Centre of Everything
This first entry in the Toal Being blog comes, I’m happy to say, straight from being. Everything does, of course, but sometimes being draws attention to itself! This morning I had a powerful urge to walk long and fast in the glorious October sunshine – for no reason. Being needs no reasons – it just is. I had no idea where this would lead, but in the process of just being in the sunny park and the flow of fast walking past trees and parklife, there arose another strong desire: to write this blog, which I’ve been thinking of doing for some time.
From being comes doing, and from doing comes having. Thinking is enlisted naturally somewhere in the doing. We tend to think that by thinking really hard we will somehow arrive at effective doing. More often, thinking really hard just makes life hard. It squashes being into a small box – and that small box lacks the open sky, the open air, the flow which leads to creation, to happiness, power and freedom.
I say doing then leads to having – but why do we want what we want? Usually it’s to create another state of being – such as bliss, power, love, peace – which then leads to further creation. And so the cycle of manifestation rolls beautifully on, always returning to being as the source of everything to come.
Out of the park and before the blog there arose quite naturally a new poem, prompted by a seemingly random thought about a serious-looking swan. I allowed the poem to be whatever it wanted to be; though my mind thought I was creating a rhyming, more song-like poem, the poem itself wanted to be exactly the way it turned out. As you will see, it’s concerned with aspects of….guess what? Being!
All of it – long fast walk, poem, blog – felt effortless and it’s in effortlessness that you really feel you’re at the centre of everything. You always are, of course. Everything starts and ends with you.
Here’s the poem:
The light and serious business
The severe looking swan swims towards me
and I think: you’re all so serious. Animals
are serious. They never laugh, or even smile.
A chimp will seem to, but that’s fear. Hyenas cackle
when in social stress, or fighting over meat. A dog’s
convincing, but that’s just a way to let more air in.
If an earthworm smiled, we’d never see it. Lighten up!
I want to say to the untold trillions just existing
without perspective, just doing what they’re doing all day
in the water, the earth or the sky. But what’s lighter
than a thought is a thing without a thought and I see
that humour is not just another defence against
the Universe, as Mel Brooks had it. It’s an attack
on something that’s minding its own business,
and while some kinds of business need exposing,
I think I’ll leave the animals alone
to the light and serious business of being,
beyond a joke we call time.