‘Platonic Zen’ – A Spiritual Narrative and Exercises

A first-personal journey from dust to God, Dr Nicholas Coleman

Those who attended the 2009 DAN Conference at Old Parliament House in Canberra will doubtless remember the spirited contribution of Dr Nicholas Coleman, Head of Religious Education at Wesley College, Melbourne and World Religions consultant and deputy director of the Interfaith Centre of Melbourne.

Many teachers have appreciated Dr Nick’s Yr 7-9 Religious & Ethics Curriculum and Yr 9 Matrix Unit which he has shared with DAN members. He has recently published au autobiographical narrative about seeking the ultimate reality of everything and finding the supreme identity commonly known as “God”. A first-personal journey from dust to God provides an encouraging account of the spiritual journey to enlightenment from the perspective of the perennial philosophy.  Stories and reflections are accompanied by a wide range of exercises and activities appropriate for all age groups.


Hard copies of the book are available for $25 from the author, Email Nicholas Coleman

DOWNLOAD the Introduction and Sample Exercises from A first-personal journey from dust to God


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EXTRACT from ‘Introduction,’ A first-personal journey from dust to God

…This book explains my philosophy of ‘Platonic Zen’, named after the ideas of Plato and the insights of Zen Buddhism. The philosophy has taken my whole life to formulate and grew out of my efforts to understand my spiritual experience of reality. So, it seems appropriate to communicate my philosophy in the form of stories and reflections from my life which will give an idea of what I mean by the ‘spiritual reality of the universe’. These life-stories and reflections provide a vehicle for recounting my spiritual journey to the remarkable experience I refer to as ‘God-realisation’, which is the goal of Platonic Zen and (for me) the fulfilment of all living.

Advancement to self-actualisation and God-realisation require a sensitive mind and open heart to detect the presence of a reality so obvious it’s virtually invisible. The following story illustrates the ease with which we can overlook the obvious and not see the whole of what is right in front of us.

There aren’t squirrels in my country, so I was excited to visit an English forest reputed to be full of them. Skidding my little, soft-top, Citroen 2CV to a stand-still in the car-park, I bounced out happily imagining myself to be some kind of Enid Blyton character on his way to visit the magical Faraway Tree. Striding purposefully into the musky ambience of the old growth forest, I looked eagerly everywhere for a few minutes in hope of catching my first glimpse of a squirrel, but saw nothing apart from the wood and the trees. Concluding there were no squirrels to be found, I lost interest in looking for them. Walking back to the car my gaze fell down towards the narrow leaf- strewn forest path and my attention drifted inward towards thoughts about work in London, home in Hammersmith and lunch in a minute.

In that distracted moment a flickering movement caught the edge of my sight and mind. I looked up at the trees but there was nothing to be seen. Yet my superhero spider-senses were still tingling. Something was happening just beyond the threshold of my vision and awareness – I could feel it, even though I couldn’t see it. As I vaguely wondered what was going on, it occurred again. In the corner of my eye I glimpsed a quick motion on the trunk of a nearby tree; but the movement was gone by the time I’d brought the tree into focus. For a little while more I kept imagining movements in the trees but didn’t see anything when I looked.

Eventually I realised the apparently empty forest was in fact teaming with squirrels, and all of them were scared out of their wits by my concentrated presence. Whenever I turned my attention inwards the squirrels would come out to play; but the moment I started to look in their direction something in my body-language warned them of my intention. By the time I focussed on the trees the timid little creatures had already scurried into hiding on the far sides of the trucks. My attention must have felt to them like the threatening cross-hairs of a gun-sight.

Interestingly, the squirrels were always one step ahead of my intentional thought – by the time I looked up they were gone. Thus it was only with my peripheral vision that I could catch a glimpse of them. Once I worked out they didn’t like me staring at them, I kept my eyes downcast and hoped to see them in the corners of my visual field. Thereafter, the elusive little creatures emerged from behind the surrounding tree trunks to scamper in plain sight as long as I didn’t scare them away by trying to look directly at them.

That story of looking for wild squirrels in a forest is a great symbol for seeking and finding the spiritual reality of life, the universe and everything. What we’re looking for (be it squirrels, soul, spirit, or God) is always everywhere all the time, but we don’t always see it. As the story suggests, we seek without finding because our way of seeking gets in the way of our finding. When we look with physical eyes at things in the world and expect to see spiritual realities, then we’re often disappointed because we’re using instruments that aren’t adequate to our goal. The principle at work is, ‘like only knows like.’ To see spiritual things we need to look with the inner spiritual eye of the soul, for the inner eye is suited to seeing spiritual realities that are invisible to the outer eyes of the body.


Clearing your conscience

In King David’s Psalm 46 (verse 10) we read: “Be still and know that I am God.” To know God, we must be still in our heart and silent in our mind.

Yet, our mind is often restless because of unhappy feeling we have in our heart. Some people feel they are not worthy of God-realisation. Some people feel they do not deserve love. Some people feel themselves to be unforgivable. The last thing some people will let themselves feel is stillness, silence, happiness and the presence of God. Such unresolved negative feelings often act as distractions to our contemplation.

There’s no reason not to be happy. Give yourself permission. Do what you need to do in order to clear your conscience of concerns that won’t cease bothering you in moments of stillness and silence. Take positive action to dispel negative self-talk. Get on good terms with yourself and others so you can enjoy being present in the unity of life without distraction.

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Breathing God

Jewish Kabbalah teaches that, just as there is a physical environment around our body, so there is a spiritual environment around our soul. Through the practice of “Breathing God” we can tune in on the invisible spiritual world that surrounds and sustains us.

What we breathe is the air of the atmosphere. The English word “atmosphere” derives from the Sanskrit term “atman” meaning “soul” (literally, “breath”). The Hindu Upanishads teach that soul (atman) is God (Brahman). If atman is Brahman and we are breathing atman (soul), then we are also breathing God.

Think about that while you practice this.

Sit upright with your back straight Feet flat on the floor Hands in your lap Now notice that you are breathing Feel the steady rhythm of air incoming and outflowing Breath is life

Think of the air you breathe as “soul-stuff” As you inhale the soul-stuff of the air, imagine you are breathing in God As you exhale, imagine you are breathing out God Just sit and imagine yourself breathing God in and out


Did you find the practise easy or difficult to take seriously? Did you notice any change in your sensory awareness during the practise? Did you notice any change in your spatial awareness during the exercise? Did you notice any change in your inner self-talk during the practise? Did you notice any relation between your body, breath and mind during the practise?

Hard copies of the book are available for $25 from the author, Email Nicholas Coleman

About the Author

Nicholas Coleman received his PhD in philosophy of religion in 1990 from the Cambridge University Divinity School for original research into Platonic metaphysics and the mind of God. Dr Coleman is Head of Religious Education at Wesley College, Melbourne; he is a World Religions consultant and deputy director of the Interfaith Centre of Melbourne. His books include Studies of Religion (Science Press, 2006), The Worlds of Religion (McGraw-Hill, 1999), The Journey of the Soul (Leftbank, 1997) and Perennial Philosophy today (Leftbank, 1994, 1996).




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