This is the second Blog regarding ‘Gamifying’ life and how helpful that can be. In meditation there are lots of games we can play. Buddhists call this ‘Skilful Means’ - ways which make the useful practice of meditation accessible - to make it meet you where you are. To do this here is a game I sometimes play:
"I imagine my feeling body is a 'deep ocean' and the thinking mind is the 'sky'. Every time I meditate I am taking a voyage of discovery into the feeling body; into the depths. I'm deep sea diving!"
This analogy is striking to me because of some common understandings about the Ocean. This quote from NOAA describes it well:
“The ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet's surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms.Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes.
In the same way as we have only about a 5% knowledge and understanding of the great interconnected oceans we also feel and really intimately understand or ‘know’ our feeling body to about the same measure (give or take… feeling is a very hard thing to quantify into a statistic!) So if each time you meditate you are taking an exploration into your depths there is always something new, interesting and beautiful to discover.
In my imagination I see the mind as like an iceberg in the ocean - the surface of the mind, above the ocean, is consciousness - this is where we (the being that is you, which is more than just a mind) launches from. Below is subconsciousness.
Above water your thoughts reside, where they can easily take off and fly - like a bird or a cloud - they can go off into the sky… but in meditation we bring the attention back to the ocean - meditation is a practice of focusing on feeling, not on thinking. So we are not here to follow the clouds and birds - we let them continue to fly and swirl be and we take some time to explore the depths.
Taking the plunge
I imagine the attention is like a diver - using his hands and a spotlight to experience all the depths have to offer. This reminds me to pay attention to my breath, much like the diver does, and to the body - the ocean full of life: which includes slippery fish of all shapes and sizes (emotions), old wrecks at the bottom of the sea (physical and psychic wounds / traumas) and of course, hidden treasures within them.
If it is your first time, it can be a weird idea to meditate. It’s a very simple thing, but also a skill, that requires practice just like diving. Until we have tried it we can only imagine what is under the surface. The reason we meditate is the same as we dive - to explore, to know oneself and one's environment. Here I’m going to look at some of things you might expect to encounter in that environment and one way to deal with them:
Fishy Emotions (and learning the art of fish tickling)
Emotion is energy (E) in motion – like a school of sardines – they can be very fast and slippery fish –and if I approach them too fast they slide away. I want to observe them, understand them, and feel the very essence of them - even ‘make friends’ with them... but in order to do so I have to become an expert in the subtle art of emotional ‘fish tickling’. This is very different than using a hook, net or harpoon to catch a fish - which are brutal methods and often damage or kill the fish, in the same way that trying ‘too hard’ to catch a thought or emotion often kills it. If I kill it I can’t study it, appreciate it in its living form and then let it go. In exploration we want to study and appreciate the environment in a respectful way.
One method is to learn the art of fish tickling, sitting patiently and is open and waiting for the emotion to move into my presence – and then I can tickle it, kindly; touch it be with it - see it for what it is – just a little fish moving around my body. Sometimes this fish feels like heavy or warm or spiky - when I see this and practice ‘feeling’ it I come to realise that all emotion is just sensation - energy moving and tickling me in various ways.
So here are my tips for learning to appreciate emotions, via emotional fish tickling:
Spiky Urchins, Jellyfish and Electric Eels (Pain)
Not all fish are pleasant to feel - some sea creatures require careful study - they can give us pain. If we experience pain as ‘bad’ and then either swim away from it or suppress it - force it away. In doing this we miss the beauty and the understanding of this part of the ocean. So when it comes to meditating on pain I sometimes imagine it as a spikey fish, and again I can come to it slowly, with patience and tickle in a different way - You can pick up a sea urchin if you do it delicately, same with a Jellyfish or an Electric eel. Come at them skilfully and cradle it. Then examine it, watch it, I listen to it; really see it for what it is.
With Urchins the only way to do that is to really try and see the centre of that pain, which is constantly moving - it undulates along with the spikes of the creature. After a while and with practice we can approach pain in a new, more appreciative and understanding way. Whatever pains you have in your body if you examine them carefully you can transform them into something interesting, beautiful and maybe even useful.
Murky depths, old wrecks and lurking sea monsters
(Exploring the obscure parts with memories)
When we explore places we are not familiar with it is sometimes difficult to ‘feel’ sensation , or to see through the murkiness (instead we experience numbness) - and it can feel uncomfortable to stay at these depths for long. These are parts of the body that we haven’t visited in some time or have been disturbed - perhaps there is an old wreck lying on the seabed or the perception of a monster here?
To me, these represent forgotten and difficult memories, wounds or traumas - the ‘feelings’ left behind from an event. Physiotherapists define a trauma as ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’. This could be something seemingly very small (being told you were stupid and you adopting a posture that expressed your feeling at the time) or something very strong (a physical abuse or damage).
Traumas and wounds sit at the very depths and require skill and care to explore - we often need to come back to the safety of the shallows or even to the surface. It can take many dives to explore these uncharted and murky depths and doing so can reveal unexpected and unusual emotions that further disturb the seabed and cloud the water with murkiness. This is all metaphor for what happens when we explore difficult sensations, emotions or parts of the body. There is usually a reason why these parts are difficult. In mediation we are not looking to the thinking mind - back on land - for the cause, but we are patiently and physically exploring the depths - the sensations of this part of the body.
Sometimes we stumble across an old wreck - perhaps a memory that you forgot or a sensation that you relate to a specific time. Sea monsters are the ‘imaginary creatures’ our mind has created that stop us from going into these depths or wrecks. Sometimes they seem very real and therefore the mind feels them as real - your body creates sensations and responses. A good example would be my shoulder blades - I experienced uncomfortable emotions and bodily shaking and tears when I explored my shoulder blade areas. In regular life I felt numbness and pain across my back. I realised, on some level, that this was to do with my back operation, but when I explored it more I was fearful of a monster - this was the reminder of the physical and emotional pain (including shame) that I experienced within the operation. With time I took lots of little excursions to explore these areas and it was tough - it’s not easy to stay at these depths… at first.
When we have explored the shallows for some time and built up our skill at diving we feel ready to the depths, knowing that no sea creature can really harm us. Until then it is wise to practice caution in mindfulness - to face these creatures only when we feel ready to do so.
In my case it took me 6 months of kind, gentle meditation before I became more comfortable with exploring these parts. It was a time of my life I found difficult to accept. Why couldn't I meditate!? This is all part of the process of treasure hunting! Soon after I began to dive deeper I could see how fascinating this all was. In amongst the wreckage I found something - treasure! The treasure was that of ‘discovery’ - this area was transformed from a painful, scary, murky and numb place to a beautiful, interesting location. This old wreck has history and depth and soon became an attraction for regular excursions. Nowadays, whenever I meditate I find it a pleasurable and interesting experience to explore the sensations of this part of my spine and back, but I know that there are many more treasures to find, as I’ve only really begun to explore.
My current areas of exploration
I’ve got several regular expeditions on the go - the pelvic and genital regions of of great interest (lots of traumas there no doubt, in all of us). I’m also currently exploring the ocean when it is movement - when I move my body. This makes it much easier to ‘feel’ but harder to notice subtlety. I have found that when I rotate my body the areas around my lower spine are in mild pain and there is emotional schools of fish flashing across my body. I wouldn't have noticed them before, but as I become more attuned as a diver/mediator I’m able to see and experience more subtle and smaller creatures and life within me.
Have a go - see how your body feels when looking at it like a vast ocean, ripe for exploration via meditation.
Life is a play, a game, of sorts. This is the first Blog of a series, looking at GAMIFYING life. In this blog we look at a concept called the Drama Triangle - a game which we all play - and I see this as kind of like 'Level 1' of the game of life. Here I'll explain that and also my ideas on changing the game to Level 2, with Playfulness and Presence!
This short video explains it well, and looks at the level 2 game, Presence:
The drama triangle is a social model of human interaction – the triangle maps a type of destructive interaction that can occur between people in conflict. It was first created by Stephen Karpman, M.D., a student studying under Eric Berne, M.D., the father of transactional analysis. It was later revised with the addition of ‘The Winner's Triangle’ by Acey Choy in 1990 and then by David Emerald (2009).in his book ‘The Power of TED (The Empowerment Dynamic).
Basically it’s the idea that when we are acting out in life - when we are in drama - we all choose roles, and we switch roles rapidly. These 'scripts' are encouraged in modern society, which is based on 'justice'. These are the roles of:
We can imagine it a bit like in a courtroom - where the drama is played out and everyone has the intention of claiming they are the hardest done (right) by and that others are wrong. Hence it is a victim-blame-game. Ultimately we all claim to be the victim.
So I’ve been using Choy and Emerald's models, but with my own twist, to help people raise awareness of these roles and then figure out ways to move away from the Drama triangle, without completely disengaging with people or problems. I call it the 'Presence Triangle' - a game of connection! That name was inspired by the fantastic video at the top. My diagram below shows how it works:
Moving to Level 2
In the same way that you can’t fight emotions with thinking, you can’t fight drama with diagnosis, defence, or distrust - it all starts with stopping the reactivity and doing one (or more) of these things:
These shift you away from the negative thoughts and into the body. Into Presence. We can then move towards these roles, in which we all take personal responsibility for the choice:
But all of that will be for nothing if the intention behind it is resentment, trying to change, educate, fix or disprove - then there is no natural compassion and we will slip back into Drama. My belief about the intentions required to ‘really’ connect fit nicely into the acronym: LET GO & B, which is also what we are doing! We are letting go of the results and allowing people to be, exactly as they are, including ourself. We can practice these intentions to cultivate natural connection. I know this ‘allowing’ seems counter-productive at first, but as Nathaniel Branden said:
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
Are you able to LET GO & BE?
You may notice I also put 'parent 1 and 2'. That's because this is a lot like being in a parental role, where one is often rescuing and the other putting the child down. When we think of healthy ways to raise children and make human connections we want to have the intentions of:
Love – love, in my opinion is both a feeling and a verb. Love is ‘acceptance’ and a ‘willingness to experience’ - to act in accordance with internal motivation, but not based in fear. Can you love your enemies and yourself?
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy comes from understanding that we are all interconnected beings and that what I do to you I eventually do to myself. Therefore empathy is feeling for and with someone else.
Trust – Confidence that people are whole, growing beings, not needing fixing - a belief that we are all unique creators.This breeds confidence and empowerment. I also trust that everything is working out as it should. It's okay, I'm okay, you're okay.
Gratitude – Instead of wanting and needing that which I don't have, I remain thankful for everything I have been given and received. This feels amazing and enables me to act positively; understanding that honesty in relationships is a gift that helps you to grow.
Ownership – I understand that only I am responsible for my thoughts, feelings and actions. I understand this may have an influence on the world and so with great power comes great responsibility. I own my own power and use it wisely not seeking to blame others, be a victim, or rescue others unnecessarily.
Boundaries – Your ‘yes’ and ‘no’s. What you decide you want or don’t want for yourself, or to be a part of. Without boundaries we burn out in empathy or violate one another. I understand my physical boundaries and set my own emotional boundaries. I take time to feel into what is a yes and a no for me and communicate them clearly and honestly.
Expression - The last part is to express yourself, honestly and sensitively, without attachment to the outcome, but with care and consideration of feelings and needs - both yours and the other persons, yet also expressing honestly. This is not possible without practice and first taking the time to 'feel into it'.
That’s a lot of information, which is why it is much easier, after finishing this Blog (well done for getting this far) to just remember to LET GO & B - if you find yourself sucked into the Drama triangle, try having a jiggle, taking a breath, gently asking a question and then listening! I think you’ll find a lot more connection and end up playing a different game - where everyone wins! Because there is another option, beyond right and wrong. It's called being (human).
Steve Jobs — 'We're here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?'
Do you find that you become depressed sometimes? Do you find that everything you 'know' you are on the inside: Sexual? Hungry? Happy? Angry? Sad? Sometimes it isn't safe to reveal. Sometimes it feels like you can't even connect with those things, let alone show them to others. So you suppress them. Depression is the result of long-term suppression.
My work in positively-mindful is to help people find balance and happiness. If you want to find your joy and balance you have to express - emotions, desires, fears, art - get out of your head and wake the body up! This requires MOVEMENT!
Children do this naturally... then society teaches them to suppress their natural expressions of emotions, which results in their hearts and muscles becoming hardened. But you can RE-TRAIN to re-integrate your body and mind, to release emotions, in a controlled and relaxed way. Some call this 'Bio-energetics', catharsis, dance, or simply going for a walk!
When people talk about mindfulness they often think of meditation and stillness but actually movement and expression are just as important. Depression is simply the lack of expression, habituated. Mindfulness highlights old, unhealthy habits and directs us to what we need - new, healthier habits, one of which is controlled self-expression.
These days I'm integrating something into my workshops called 'bio-energetics', which recognises that emotions are simply energy in motion - they want to move through you. If you suppress them you create tension, which can be useful or fun when used consciously, but when suppressed unconsciously this creates long-term stress and the opposite of ease - disease..
I did a TEDx talk back in 2015 and I mentioned how three things transformed my perspective on life: Mindfulness, Emotional Literacy and Self Expression. In this blog I’m going to look at why self-expression can be fundamental to the human spirit and to wellness. I used these to help me overcome depression in my life.
CONNECTION THROUGH EXPRESSION
I recently started teaching dance. The dance I teach is an alternative version of ‘Blues Dancing’. The reason I call it alternative is because the dance I prefer has more emphasis on connection and expression than on style and precision of movement. It diverts away from traditional style of male-lead, female-follow and also from the musical preferences. I was taught a lot by Justin Riley, who inspired me with the idea of four main types of connection that can also be seen in life:
1. Connection with your ‘self’.
We always start with ourselves. If we don’t take time to connect with and express our inner truth we miss so much outside of ourselves. Since we experience everything through our mind and body it is important to first connect here and now and see how you are feeling/thinking as this has an influence on your external connections. The main access route into self-knowing is your feelings and emotions. Mental knowledge about yourself is fascinating and endless - it is the ego and the persona - who you think you are - but as Jim Carrey said:
“...ultimately, we’re not the avatars we create. We’re not the pictures on the film stock. We are the light that shines through it. All else is just smoke and mirrors. Distracting, but not truly compelling.”
Real connection requires emotions. Bruce Lee called this 'Emotional Content'. Without first connecting to yourself - your body - how you feel, you may find that subsequent experiences lack connection - then the lessons you are trying to learn from will not be embodied as deeply. One cannot learn about any subject fully (for example learning to swim) without some 'conscious contact' (eg. getting in the water, feeling into it, to develop safety and then letting go and floating, to test boundaries.)
Therefore learning and self-connection also require moments of self-empathy, stillness and breath. We can then express honestly, rather than suppress and depress our truth. Then you build and develop your emotional intelligence - the ability understand, use and appreciate your emotions.
2. Connection with the floor (balance)
We are physical beings and when we get a good sense of our movement and orientation we feel more able, agile and grounded, less fearful and therefore more attention is put into learning and connection, than into our concerns for safety.
3. Connection with the rhythms
Life has natural rhythms and connecting to it is a subtle art. It's essential we listen to what is going on and make sure we feel ‘what moves us’. In music I often follow the drums, for others the singing is prominent or perhaps the bass. In life it we must decide ‘what motivates me?’ What do I love? What am I drawn to and what provides me with the really lasting feeling of fulfilment. We only learn this by paying attention and then experimenting. Playing!
4. Connection with others: in relationship and communication.
Connecting with other human beings is fundamental to our happiness. Not many people can be truly happy without some form of relationship with another. The most cruel punishment of any being is solitary confinement, which often leads to deep depression.
An honest relationship is the only type of relationship that nourishes you - that gives you energy and motivates you. Dishonest relationships tends to take energy to maintain. If we keep having relationships that are dishonest we start to forget who we are, why we love life and what we want. This leads to confusion, numbness, depression and contributes to the society of insanity that we live in - were possessions and money are more important than love and family. 'Things' and 'achievements' become more important than 'enjoyment' and 'love'.
When we are able to balance and bring in healthy and controlled expression to ourselves and others we are able to enter relationships from our true, authentic selves. This is much easier when you have accepted yourself - as you free yourself from needing the acceptance of others.
“Honestly Expressing Yourself: It is very difficult to do. It has always been very easy for me to put on a show and be cocky, and be flooded with a cocky feeling and feel pretty cool and all that. Ohhh, I can make all kinds of phoney things. Blinded by it. Or I can show some really fancy movement. But to experience oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly, now that, my friend, is very hard to do - you have to train!” - Bruce Lee
PLAYFULNESS AND PRESENCE: GROWING YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Practice of mindfulness develops patience in 'presence'. When we are present - paying attention to what we are doing or experiencing we tend live less 'automatically' and more 'consciously'. It then becomes quite clear that we would rather cultivate compassion and playfulness than seriousness and concern. So ultimately we look for ways to express - to free us from concern - that 'enlightens' us of emotional and intellectual worry.
What stops you?
So, go! Move! Make something! What does your body want?! If you don't know - try something - don't be afraid to make some mistakes, amazing mistakes, glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. As Neil Gaiman says: "Make good art"
But it's not that easy - right? There if fear in the way. What if I hurt myself or someone else? What will people think?
It's not easy, but it is important to find your ways to express yourself, to feel accepted, seen and celebrated. For me, dancing is one tool, but it felt terrifying, when I started. I had to find places that felt kind and safe - appropriate places to do this work, to grow, until I felt ready to reveal myself to the world. The good news is that the longer you train in safety, the more your confidence will grow and the more you listen to yourself. This will help you feel when you're ready for the next step. But the longer you wait to start the more tension and fear will build up, the less likely you will be able to express yourself. In which case you are likely to suppress instead, which often leads to depression.
If you have already learned to express yourself well, then could you encourage and include others to express themselves? How can you do this effectively? I certainly find am now able to do this in dance, simply by smiling! I help others to expand their comfort zones, by using what I've learned about expression. I have created a new PLAYSHOP exploring this theme. in mid-May. Come and express yourself, expand your comfort zone and find balance!
Good luck and enjoy!
“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.”
I've been recveiving great and constructinve feedback from one-one / relationship clients, group courses, offices and schools and I've been keeping it here. The Play-Shops seem to be utterly adored, as demonstrated in Laughter Yoga in mid February and the video below shows how people felt about the Platonic touch play-shop on Valentines day:
THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK
It makes me think of the importance of feedback and positive reinforcement, as I'm currently reading 'Don't Shoot the Dog' by Karen Pryor, which is all about how operant conditioning used in dogs, horses and dolphins (very hard to punish a dolphin) can create astounding behaviour and easy shaping of desired behaviour and how this translate to human interaction.
TYPES OF FEEDBACK
You see, whether we like it or not we all shape and influence each other, consciously and unconsciously every day, with our feedback, or lack of. Sales people are experts!
We are social animals and we live and thrive on feedback. Feedback can come in many forms:
These first two become the job of mindfulness. This last point is just as important though - because reality is not just what you feel, touch, see and smell, but it is all perceived through the lens of your understanding- your thinking mind - or ego. The ego is who you think you are, your interpretation of how the world is, based on previous experience or upon innate instincts.
So because we base our reality on the way we believe the world works when we get feedback that feels nice immediately after exhibiting a behaviour it reinforces our desire to keep doing that behaviour. This is known as POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT.
And visa-versa if positive reinforcement is removed or we receive feedback that feels bad we sometimes decide to change the behaviour. This is known as NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT.
RATIO OF POSITIVE : NEGATIVE
Neither are good or bad, but studies have shown that we can achieve so much more with positive reinforcement than negative. Appreciation and positive feedback (like a smile or thank you) also makes the giver and receiver FEEL better (assuming it is genuine feedback). There is a theory that a ratio of 5 positive to 1 negative reinforcements lead to optimum shaping of behaviour.
The intention behind the shaping is a question of ethics, but that is a whole other can-of-worms worth thinking about. On the whole you know your own intentions are noble and it is usually clear when someone has a 'needy' or egoic intention behind reinforcing behaviour. Encouraging someone because you like seeing them happy is a simple loving intention, whereas rewarding someone to get something back, or to manipulate them into an obligation is coercive and fear-based.
In giving direct and specific feedback with humans it's often a good idea to check in first, o see if it is wanted. For more information about the nuance of feedback check out this blog about COMMUNICATION.
As well as reinforcing each other we also reinforce ourselves with the way we think or talk about ourselves - so perhaps you are using more negative reinforcer (fear, shame, negative language) and you could switch to more positive reinforcement (rewarding and appreciating behaviour that is in line with what you really want). This is a subtle game and the first step is to raise your awareness of your behaviour and your current self-conditioning style. For true awareness we must take time to fully accept our current position also, which often means forgiving yourself or others for some of the conditioning styles you've received so far. We let go of the emotions and start to move forward, more positively. This is what I teach in Mindfulness classes, loving awareness.
Once you have awareness we then practice positive psychology to shape our thinking and actions in accordance with what we want. This is what the second half of the lesson I teach is about : the tools and nuance understanding of positive psychology and how it can be applied to your life and in communication with others.
So - keep the feedback coming; positive and negative - it all helps me to improve the way I do things!
To learn more about this come to mindfulness classes on Wednesday evenings or mindful communication classes on Thursday nights.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com