As the Part 1 said - Fear manifests as resistance and resistance is the body’s natural response to pain. Apathy, distraction, procrastination and confusion are all tools of resistance, designed to stop us from facing the truth and doing our work. Somewhere in our subconscious we have associated work with ‘pain’, so now we procrastinate, to avoid the pain. But why have we made this association in the first place and how can we overcome it? We will address these questions, later, but let’s start by addressing the issue at hand - overcoming procrastination, here and now.
If we are procrastinating then we are leaking energy and time. It’s like we are a ship in a storm - with lot’s of holes because some of the boards on the hull don’t align - we are leaking and becoming heavy. If we’ve been really disorganised or a disaster has struck, then the ship might even be on fire. This is like when you have a series of ‘really urgent’ things getting in the way of your longer-term fulling work. Those things you will just need to deal with - as my friend Tom Robinson used to say:: “Run towards the fire” which I later found out came from the last page of the book: Salty Dog, by Gloria Rand.
But then there are times where the problems are not apparent. Your ship is ok, but you are confused, procrastinating and adrift - slowly letting on water. This is almost more dangerous than a fire, because it will sneak up on you. Quick fixes are needed to address this leaky ship - patches. Tape them to your desk or just use them now. It helps to have a to-do list and know roughly what one wants to do. (if you don’t, check my links at the bottom.) Here are my top 3:
1. Set a timer and turn off distractions. At the start of your work time set a timer, get focused on the task at hand - even if that task is writing your to-do list. Set 25 minutes. Turn off your devices and distractions for that time and just do one thing. Then, when 25 minutes is done, progress to no.2.
2. Next, get up and FLIT to something else for 5 minutes, regularly. Flitting is what hummingbirds do - (and I like to imagine a repair team flitting between repairs on the ship) skillfully and gracefully moving and changing location, easily and calmly, looking up every now and then to survey the situation. Be like this. Get off your bum, come away from the desk and practice this simple thing. BE STRICT - don’t cheat yourself by turning the timer off. Just get up now and try this.
FLIT stands for:
This process involves first moving into your senses - to allow a reset between jobs. Moving your attention consciously from analysing to being, which resets the mind and places a punctuation between work and rest. Make sure you do this, exactly when the timer goes off, don’t put it off, even for a minute - get into the habit of standing up and doing a FLIT. It is often better to put something down whilst in the middle of it - so you will have motivation to come back and so that when you come back you can connect again easily. You may find you have to overlap your work, so you revisit the start of a chapter or take a minute to survey where you were - this is also very healthy, as it promotes wider awareness.
This whole practice lubricates your ability to slip between work/rest states and stay in flow. Longer, smoother breaths, witha clear focus has been proven to calm the nervous system and longer outbreaths reduce CO2, further calming the body. Do this regularly and your stress levels stay balanced and you think clearer. This 45 minute video explains.
3. Take a single, tiny step. If you are finding this hard or overwhelming th that is because you are facing a seemingly ‘big’ task (like fixing the whole sinking ship) it can be daunting and starting is always the hardest part, so when you come back to work just commit to doing 2 minutes of something - a ‘tiny’ task! Do it solidly for two minutes (write one page, email one email, call one client). At the end of that congratulate yourself and tick the item. Celebrate and then do it again… this might get the ball rolling. This is a trick of the mind to overcome the starting energy. If the mind associates only 2 minutes of pain it will be more able to handle it than 2 hours of writing your thesis and trying to complete it this week! Just commit to 2 minutes - then celebrate! You will be making progress, just keep going.
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu
Turning off distractions in work mode is a big help; turn off all phone/email/facebook notifications for each 25 minutes segment. This is focused work time. Remove all distractions possible for these short chunks. If you are worried that people expect an immediate response, you can add a signature line to your email, informing you only check emails 3 times a day. This focuses you and seals some of the energy leaks. You can even measure your time in these 25 minute chunks and this is known as the pomodoro technique. Doing less and achieving more is all part of mindfulness.
YOU ARE OK
Before we continue, a caveat. All of this is, of course, all a metaphor. I want you to understand that you are perfect as you are - you are growing and learning, but you are already a success, because you made it here to enjoy the human experience. Nonetheless, we all have a play to take part in, if we wish to, a journey that we can choose to undergo. Our minds like to think in analogy, metaphor and story, so I have presented these ideas to help you (and myself) out to get a handle on your life and start to consciously steer the ship, if you want to. These tools might give you that ability faster. Caveat over.
If we have a struggling ship and you have been in rough seas for a while then you need to get that ship into a safe harbour so that we can look at it without the bombarding waves of your everyday demands. Then we can address the long-term questions like ‘where we are going?’ and ‘why?’ (bringing associations and values to our conscious awareness), train your crew (embedding healthy associations via routines), build up resources and tools (preparing for the long voyage) and connect with others, who might be able to help next time (building a support network). This may take time, so allowing for this introspection an hour in your day, or a few hours each week may be the starting point. If you can dedicate several hours over a weekend - get out of the house and treat yourself to this, it could be really beneficial. I’ll cover this more in Part 3: Preparing to voyage.
PROCRASTINATION: HIDING FROM PAIN
Before that it is important to think about the sources of our procrastination - which are mainly: our self- beliefs, worldview and associations & values. All your current habits and addictions are not the source of your procrastination - they are the symptom. In a very psychoanalytic way, let me explain;
Growing up we learn to notice the sources of pain by looking for consistency in the things we were doing or thinking at that specific moment that we felt it (or leading up to it). We make associations from those observations. However, the severity of the pain combined with less awareness and coping resources (like that of a child) can lead us to draw conclusions faster, in a more confused way.
If we can’t recognize the source of the pain then we might panic and make a rash association, which, until disproven, will create fearful internal reactions of tension around the object of our association. A good example of this is is a ‘phobia’, which is ‘a disproportionate internal fear response to something’, like if a child feels in danger when experiencing a confined space. This could potentially lead to claustrophobia in a later stage of life - and avoid small spaces. It is even more complex with the nuances of fear that lead us to procrastinate from our cherished work.
I’ve been asked by a few people what happens in a mindfulness session. Most people now understand what meditation is - they’ve seen enough meditating buddhists to know that roughly it is a sitting practice of paying attention to one's inner world - the world of breath and sensations in the body. Until experienced however watching and talking about meditation can only take you so far. Like any skill it must be experienced and practiced to yield results.
To facilitate this I tend to start with a 15 minute sitting meditation, in the classic Vipassana (insight) style. This is sitting in a posture that represents ‘self-respect’ (most people opt for sitting upright, but for some the body requires lying down or leaning) and closing the eyes to invite in stillness of body and mind. In that time we listen to the language of the body - Sensations, Emotions and Actions (the SEA). I guide as we explore breath, sound, feelings and keep noticing when the wandering mind goes off into thoughts. These moments are a critical part of the practice. To notice where the mind goes, to observe and allow, and then to choose to let go and turn the attention back to the body, again and again. Gradually this becomes easier.
We talk and share after meditation and this usually brings up a discussion of how we can use mindfulness in our everyday lives. I have a host of tools that I sometimes share or we simply listen to one another, continuing to practice mindful listening.
The final 15 minutes is also dedicated to meditation - but this time I go with the energy of the group. Sometimes we will sit, other times a walk or standing meditation, or to music, or some other movement. We have even brought in food or smells. Sometimes we use the imagination more to practice a compassion or gratitude meditation.
These sessions are designed for new or experienced meditators. They help establish a regular practice and explore concerns. The Tuesday class (4pm) I created is donation-based, making it very accessible and the Wednesday evening (7:45pm) has some slightly longer meditations and is priced normally. I hope you manage to make it along soon and experience mindfulness first hand at Breathe Bristol Yoga Centre - located on 20 Upper Maudlin St, BS2 8DJ (book via MoveGB too) or check out my other courses.
“Many of us have two lives. The life we present to the world (which looks dandy) and the and lived life within us. Between the two stands ‘resistance’. We have all left something gathering dust in the loft, hobby or sport we were determined to start but never really did. Late at night you have experienced a vision of the person you might become, resistance stops us from embracing that future.”
LIFE AS AN ARTIST
Personally I lived many years following the advice of others, in the rat race, and I got ‘fed up’. I no longer live my life in survival mode. I’m done with that. In 2012 I decided to live from love and joy, otherwise what is the point? I believe an artist is simply someone who chooses to create from their higher mind - in touch with their highest joy - in service to an inner calling. This can often be an unpopular endeavour, because the world is run on fear. That fear can make it dangerous to be an artist. The War of Art compares the rat race to a bucket of crabs: “The highest treason a crab can commit is to leap for the rim of the bucket. If you see yourself as an awakening artist then you must be present and strong willed.”
SHARING AND SELFISHNESS
I know that, for myself, only once I have latched onto the rim (analogy for your leading edge of self-actualisation) then I can reach back and help others, if I wish to. And I do - I like to have people join me on my journey of growth. I like helping others. But that cannot be my primary aim, or I will fail - because I’m focused outwardly and not leading from my core. It is generally a good idea to decide what you are for before engaging in things - otherwise you might fall for anything.
“Self-awareness is not self-centeredness, and spirituality is not narcissism. 'Know thyself' is not a narcissistic pursuit.” (Marianne Williamson)
What will convince you to go ahead, in the end, is knowing that you will be unfulfilled if you do not go for it. If you’ve hit this point you know what you need to do. We hardly ever regret doing things, but we very often regret not doing things. To overcome this practice forgiveness - to yourself and to others. This will help you relax your hold on mistakes.
RESISTANCE IS FEAR
Because resistance needs forgiveness - like all sensitive parts of you - They need TLC (including tough love). Resistance is fear, but so cleverly disguised.you won't even know it hit you – resistance counjoured up this ninja in the dark recesses of your mind to protect you. YOU trained it, by indulging your fearful thoughts, to stop you feeling vulnerable - to stop you chasing your dreams. Real resistance is far too cunning to show itself as naked ‘fear’.It shows up as ‘rationalisation’, - the self-deluding spin doctor, presenting us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn't do our work.
PROCRASTINATION IS THE RATIONAL CHOICE
Rationalisation can breed victim mentality (it can also be very useful in life). The way out of victim mentality is to take personal responsibility for your life and be the change you want to see in the world, despite the odds - because you know the destination is not the point. It is the process and the being seen as inspiringly vulnerable in that process. Over time you will relax into that vulnerability. It will expand your comfort zone.
Procrastination is easy to rationalise. We don't tell ourselves – I'm never going to write a symphony – instead we say – I'm going to start writing my symphony tomorrow. Procrastination comes from the Latin 'Pro' (forward) 'Crastinate' (belonging to tomorrow). It literally means ‘the repeated forwarding on the belief that this endeavour belongs to tomorrow’. To defeat this we realise that ‘tomorrow never comes’. We remind ourselves - “This moment, right now - this second - we can sit down and do our work – and take the first step in changing your habit.”
The opposite of Pro-Crastinate? Pro-fessional. Professional comes from 'profess' (to declare openly) and 'fateri' (past participle fassus "acknowledge, confess,"). Hence it is the going into honest, open declaration of something inner.
RUN TOWARDS TROUBLE
Trouble and strife, stress and cruelty – these could also be resistance shrouded in or as external stimulus. The professional will not tolerate or be distracted by the threat of trouble - professionals prevent these things from interrupting their flow. They learn how to respond to inevitable, uncontrollable stressors and cut out stressful situations and people from their lives, as much as practically possible. This means when they do procrastinate they rename it as 'creative exploration time.'
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
If you think your alone - don't worry, you're not alone in this concern. As an individual we fear that if we embrace our dreams we must prove worthy of them. That scares the hell out of us – we think we might lose friends and family and wind up even more alone. Even though this is possible (but not likely) you can choose to convince yourself that you are never alone. Each of us is tapped into an unquenchable, inexhaustible source of wisdom, consciousness, and love. Sometimes we lose some friends, but we find different friends, sometimes in places we never thought to look and the best place to look is inside, seek inside long enough and you will find not only a body of trillions of cells each working to help you but also a highly creative imagination - this can become your best friend or your worst enemy in times of trouble. Also, the more we become our true selves and express that, the more we attract the people that really like the true us, instead of the facade, and repel the ones that are not right for us. Overall I suggest cultivating friendship- both within and without as the start of your process.
By now we are beginning to understand the enemy within - fear of being alone, fear of not being good enough and of causing trouble - all dressed up as rationalisation, procrastination and inner resistance. The next Blog will reveal some of the specific skilful approaches to befriending the resistance by starting our work skillfully.
Hate is a type of anger that burns hard - it's like a poison acid, burning from the inside out. Just like an acid it can be used skilfully - energy can be channeled into electricity, when used with loving intention and acts of kindness. It can power you to do great things and purify your heart, as we learn from this old story (which I've adapted).
Marion's Magical Hate-Filled-Kindness
Marion could not stand her mother-in-law’s bad temper and dictatorship any longer, and she decided to do something about it.
Marion went to see her father’s good friend, Dr Guld, who sold herbs. She told him the situation and asked if he would give her some poison so that she could solve the problem once and for all. Dr Guld thought for a while, and finally said,
“Marion - I will help you solve your problem, but you must listen to me and obey what I tell you.”
Marion said, “Yes, I will do whatever you tell me to do.”
Dr Guld went into the back room, and returned in a few minutes with a package of herbs.
He told Marion, “You can’t use a quick-acting poison to get rid of your mother-in-law, because that would cause people to become suspicious. Therefore, I have given you a number of herbs that will slowly build up poison in her body. Every other day prepare some delicious meal and put a little of these herbs in her serving. Now, in order to make sure that nobody suspects you when she dies, you must be very careful to act very friendly towards her. Don’t argue with her, obey her every wish, and treat her like a queen.”
Marion was so happy. She thanked Dr Guld and hurried home to start her plot of murdering her mother-in-law.
Weeks went by, months went by, and every other day, Marion served the specially treated food to her mother-in-law. She remembered what Dr Guld had said about avoiding suspicion, so she managed her temper, and treated her like her own mother - with kindness, patience and fair boundaries (after all, love is about looking after oneself too). After six months had passed, the whole household had changed.
Marion had practiced kindness so much that she found that she almost never got mad or upset. She hadn’t had an argument in six months with her mother-in-law, who now seemed much kinder and easier to get along with. Marion was even able to talk about her difficulties with her mother-in-law, and show how hard she was finding life. This vulnerability opened up the love within the connection between the two women.
The mother-in-law’s attitude toward Marion changed, and she began to love Marion and developed an empathetic understanding. She even declared her love to her friends and referred to Marion as her own daughter, with appreciation.
When calmness and kindness entered the house she could see that she was bitter in the past, and vowed to change her ways from now on.
Marion's family were very happy to see what was happening too and the kind acts inspired even more loving and compassion within her partner, brothers and sisters. She went to see Dr Guld, saying, "Thank you Dr Guld - I realise now that the herbs were not poison, just nutritious, to improve her health. The only poison was in my mind and my attitude toward her, but that has been all washed away by the love which you inspired me to give to her.”
She was still angry at the Doctor for tricking her! She realised she could channel that into something more useful and loving too.
Can you make a conscious choice to feed your love, rather than hate - to see the good qualities of the person in relationships , act it out, if necessary and gradually and surely let time heal relationships.
Having recently been trained in Radical Honesty and Non-Violent Communication I wanted to look at how they stack up.
This weekend I was trained by Tullia Syvanen in a workshop about Radical Honesty - a concept conceived in the USA by Dr Brad Blanton,which I will try and sum up here, whilst also giving my personal experiences, in the hope of passing on knowledge and inspiration.
WHAT IS IT?
RH is a language tool which encourages us to communicate directly and stop lying,. The website says the aim is “to gain freedom from the jail of your mind and then get over shit and be happy, developing more true and intimate relationships.”
My interpretation: It seems to me to be a way of processing one's emotions aloud, and in the doing of that one can cultivate extreme ownership of one's choices of attention, imagination, language and actions - one is invited to drop the story and to express present emotion, especially anger, directly to the person ones is feeling angry with, whilst relating it to real (not imagined) actions, words or things.
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book wisdom.” ― Thomas Jefferson
HOW DOES RADICAL HONESTY WORK?
The theory is that people usually avoid being angry at someone else for years, holding it in the body and mind as resentment. This pent up energy weakens connections and takes a toll on the body, weighing us down and creating disease. The theory goes that if people actually allowed themselves to get angry at them, they’d probably get over it in half an hour, especially if people are trained to work with their emotions, rather than suppress them. Therefore anger is one of the primary emotions explored within RH.
he process is described more fully below. First, there are some simple, but very unusual language tools within that which are intended to clean up the language so that we can clean up the mind, to expose our projections. These language tools are:
Other tools include:
The theory is that with time and direct, truthful expression of difficult emotions and judgements, then appreciation we can trust more in ourselves and each other. It is important to be willing to give the process some time. By talking about these things more often they can become more commonplace and perhaps we can show each other our genuine emotions, so that we can process them more quickly and openly. We learn not to take any of this this personally. When we focus on facts, rather than interpretations and beliefs we can see that we have all living on an imagined fear. In fact the very word belief holds the word ‘lie’ right in the middle of it! if we relax our story and beliefs for a moment, concentrate on facts then we can have ‘real’ and intimate connections, easily and beautifully. Apparently it is a lot easier and less destructive than it might seem.
“It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.” Noël Coward
So this was a 2.5 day workshop and the start was messy! The facilitator immediately got us to explore any unexpressed resentments about our lives and then to each other. There was shouting and lots of projection (blame). I was feeling confused at what was going on but on Saturday, after introductions, Tuulia introduced some of the language rules, concepts and we all committed to:
We then continued talking, and reacting at each other’s stories. We would confront one another with long silences as we felt into our sensations and emotions. I was often confused and uncomfortable, but then I realised it was my imagination causing that - I was imagining people thinking I was stupid, arrogant or (fill in the blank). It was these thoughts that were fuelling my emotions and reactions. I was having a lot of judgements too and the more I stayed with sensations the more I realised the judgements were ridiculous, and more about my insecurities and I was able to ask people if they were true, without worrying if they would take it personally.
As an example I judged one man in the workshop to be frail, and expressed it (as I was invited to) and we got into a conversation about ageism and that helped me see that I’m attached to the story of being youthful and scared of being a responsible adult, with duties and obligations. It was heated at first, but quickly turned to appreciation.
On Sunday I got the chance to take the hot seat. I would be having a conversation with someone in my life with whom I have unfinished business. This is therefore called a ‘Completion Conversation’ but I think of it more as a healing conversation. I spoke with an empty chair - imagining someone in my life (I won’t go into details) and I cried throughout, as I spoke honestly, owning my bitter judgements for about an hour. It was very helpful having a facilitator to keep me on track, away from story and to really feel what was happening. I learned a lot of insights and it helped me to prepare for the REAL conversation - which I’ve committed to complete before Christmas.
This was an intense workshop and it also included a lot of love and appreciation. One of the exercises included a 5 minute discussion of everything we liked about ourselves, to which we all agreed to post a video of on Facebook! Mine is at the bottom. It is part of dropping the shame and opening up to truth.
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
BALANCING IT WITH NON VIOLENT COMMUNICATION
Non Violent Communication is something I use in my life - it is sometimes referred to as compassionate communication and the aim is to communicate in a way that makes natural giving possible - through the use of empathy, to yourself and to another. I trained in NVC a year ago.
NVC is about connecting from the heart, with empathy and from a place of compassion. The creators of RH don’t seem to like NVC - the two communication styles have similarities, but very different approaches. RH seems to be about expressing angry truth and getting it off your chest so that other emotions can come in and you can see past your imagined bullshit.
NVC invites you to process things inside yourself first, whilst maintaining ‘heart connection’ with another, never seeking to blame, diagnose or demand change. RH might call this passive aggressive, but my experience is different. NVC has the potential to negotiate conflict and create a lot of love, and I would also agree that there is an inbuilt weakness - that the structure of NVC diminishes the ability to express emotion in raw form. Expressing raw emotions can bring a deep acceptance and truth to relationships.
Here are the two models, or my interpretations of them, side by side:
Also, here is how I see them fitting into my idea of the Drama Vs Presence Triangles of transactional analysis:
INTIMATE VS GENERAL RELATIONSHIPS
Authentic expression is best used on the dancefloor and in intimate relationships.
Kind, open, empathetic and positive expression can be used everywhere - in our general life.
Taking the best elements of both styles, I think that using empathy and sensitivity (when we have capacity) will allow us to choose the appropriate style, but when we don’t have capacity, but we want to take time to create honest relationships I think the skills of RH can be invaluable. They can provide catharsis and truth, as well as the ability to re-align your imagination and expectations.
In summary I believe RH is designed to bring an element of authenticity to intimate relationships but is not so well suited to general ones, whereas NVC is actually about connecting generally from a kind hearted place. Both are self awareness tools that can empower us.
Ultimately I want to be an artist and I want to have ‘real’ relationships and drop facades, so I see a lot of value in RH, especially within intimate relationships. Relaxing my moralism (expectations beliefs and shoulds) also helps me to relax my anxiety, helps me to be ok with making mistakes and to get over them, even if that triggers emotions in some people. The point is to stop being a perfectionist and suppressing everything in the process. Balancing it with a mindful approach allows us to choose what to express (and therefore release) and what to internally process. As Brene Brown describes, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and at times that means processing stuff aloud, together with others - to be seen as imperfect and beautiful. RH is one such process, but perhaps somewhat of an aggressive one. Maybe in the balance we can all learn to get over shit and be happy, even if that means we have to piss each other off a bit in the process. I'm still working out how I use these tools.
What do you think? Please let me know your thoughts from this blog or your experiences with balancing honesty and empathy. How can we sensitive, kind and truthful?
PS... I committed to doing this in the workshop - so I thought I'd do it in my PJs, no grooming and just the brutal, honest, shabby me (this is an example of my story/excuses by the way!) :
Do you struggle to deal with criticism or unsolicited feedback? Do you want to react skilfully? Do you want to find a balance in needing things to change and letting go? Read on...
There are always at least two ways of response to negative feedback and I’m going to refer to one as Skilled and the other as Unskilled. Feedback is essential for negotiating life and social relations - much of our growth and development depends on interactions and other experiences that feel 'bad'. Feedback has a role in nearly every area of human endeavor, as well as every other system. Criticism is simply one type of feedback.
A while ago I wrote on the ‘Importance of Feedback", focusing on ‘positive reinforcement’. Yet this morning I woke up feeling heavy with the weight of negativity. I’ve had so much feedback recently from heady debates, in real life and on Facebook, around controversial subjects. Some people tell me that they love what I do and other people aggressively express that they think I’m ‘being irresponsible’ or even ‘damaging’ at times - which I felt hurt and shocked by. I realised I was taking a lot of this feedback personally, which is very heavy and tiring. My reactions were causing my own fatigue!
This post is about how to address that, skilfully - in a way that creates a win-win, less stress and more positive, long-lasting action and inner peace.
I'm going to talk in i-statements - in my own perspective to make this point. After some heavy criticism my reactive mind, left unchecked, will start to attach a lot of meaning to the situation and resulting sensations (which my mind interprets as ‘worry’). I may begin to ‘catastrophize’ and strategize to protect myself (or others). When this happens from a panicky place, or where emotions are high I get the sense that things need to change, now! Thus starts a cycle - I project blame onto them and then they fire it back at me and I feel shame. We can play this game until we separate from one another. This can be people, systems, behaviour etc, but in each case I label the problem as external. Something else needs to change for me to be ok.
Sometimes we cannot help be a bit unskilled. If we are convinced that we 'need' to protect or control then we 'must' follow those impulses. It takes time to see the facts and weigh those up with out intuition, experience and skills of judgement. I believe the first of these skills is self awareness, because this builds our ‘capacity to respond from calm’. We might even realise one of the other conditions may be hampering our judgement:
Neuroscience research suggests that when we are in a negative place emotionally we are in comparatively more physical pain that when we are feeling positive. So what can we do?
By breathing and sitting with these reactions (sensations), watching the thoughts and taking a moment, then I can see that this reaction is disproportionate. I look deeper and see the source. This takes some extra time, so the first thing we can do is slow down.
If it isn't physical then it is in the mind - in memory - somewhere within me there is a wounded, childlike and fragile Neil, who needs to feel safe. If I am skilled I will use the gas-mask analogy and; attend to this first and then deal with the feedback after. I will take my time. This blog will explore a few ways to do this.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble in my life—most of which never happened.” - Mark Twain
Choose your SEAT
I use this acronym to help me remember what to look for, in myself:
Get comfortable with they movie, watch how the story changes. Then you can practice directing, with skill.
I use this practice sometimes as part of a ‘Stoic’ style of meditation. When I start to notice feelings in my body associated with a catastrophic imagined future, I take my mind into the theatre - I sit at the back, watch and then direct.I watch it on repeat and get used to the discomfort. I start to realise it isn’t real, it’s actually quite far-fetched. I can even laugh a bit! It’s a farce! In the rehearsal of the play I see I can change the genre, simply by changing my attitude, then my words and actions. I can skilfully shape the play.
Sit back, in the body
In meditation we place the mind (attention) into the body. In this way we can 'inhabit' a part of the body. By placing the mind at the back of the body and watch events in your life unfold, from that place, then you can gain real perspective - you can see the body react, as you live. Hence, you can become the director of your own life. See how the body lights up when you receive feedback - vision, touch, words etc. When you receive ‘harsh’ words, criticism, judgement, diagnosis or demands it can become an 'interesting experience,' rather than a 'gritty and hurtful drama'. You can even being to see some truth or useful lessons in the feedback. From this place we are able to talk more calmly, if we want to, and that is the point - to recognise that we have more choice in our responses.
“Worry pretends to be necessary ” - Eckhart Tolle
We all worry, but it is dwelling in that worry that allows the mind to create catastrophic fantasy, creating a 'feeling of need'. So we seek to interrupt that process in mindfulness, using loving awareness. Sometimes though our instinctive patterns of feelings/reactions may be stuck deep in the habitual mind-body - even since childhood. This can 'lock up' our beliefs unconsciously in the mind and prevent us from accessing other perspectives.
Using memory to calm reactivity and access the theatre
We can be triggered, emotionally, by similar situations, movements or words that remind us of a traumatic memory. In order to start the healing process we must first connect to a feeling of safety, support, unconditional love. This sooths and calms the mind-body allowing us to respond. This can often be a challenging part of my work - helping people to connect to that feeling, particularly if they haven’t had many or any of those experiences, or have difficulty in accessing memory. I use touch/rhythm practice like EFT, dance or EMDR to help soothe the mind and help people access a feeling of safety. Other times dance, movement or Yoga can be helpful. Once we connect with that 'feeling' we can use the imagination in a more useful and positive way. If you notice strong emotional trauma in your reactions, to the point where they are involuntary and damaging, it may be helpful to explore your past with a counsellor in CBT, psychotherapy or other therapies that explore the mind. Or simply explore movement and meditation on your own.
Take an emotional Poo!
In each moment internal sensations are happening, as part of the emotional system, working away. Our mind sometimes labels them as 'negative' or 'positive' - and then attaches meaning and story to them. Jamie Catto talks about how we can see a different perspective to allow them to flow, without attaching anxious story and meaning:
“I believe that our genius body/mind system, or Life itself, is daily sending us difficult and challenging situations and people DELIBERATELY to trigger the body into releasing that stuck emotion….difficult people (in our lives) are like WALKING LAXATIVES! It may sound radical but it's true. When someone upsets us we experience a totally disproportionate reaction. We feel the pain of everyone who ever treated us that way back to our childhood. This is the body's genius finding ways to self-clean, self-mend all that accumulation.”
"A man convinced against his will Is of the same opinion still" - Dale Carnegie
If we force change (or poo) we force ourselves or other people to suppress feelings, actions and thoughts - and that will only cause them to hold resentment (even if they do actually change). That resentment will emerge later (when they shit all over you or others).
Some claim that anger, aggression and violence are necessary for change. My belief is that if we force things to change (at the pace we fantasise is necessary to stave off catastrophe) then we will only suppress the problem deeper down and give ourselves a hernia in the process! Aggression breeds aggression - every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Therefore if you catch yourself saying “I need to sort this out… now” or “we should be better at xyz…” recognise that the language is based on fear, and that fear is fuelling the fantasy, the force and perpetuates damage. In the short term it may create change - you might shed some problems - it may give you short-lived motivation, but beware dwelling in that anger and the results it will create. Can we instead be with the process and pace and see what is useful in this for me, now? Can we be the source for calm? Sometimes we have to sit on that toilet SEAT for a while and position your attitude in readiness for the flow!
“It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.” - Alfred Adler
Decide from a place of calm
Individually we can decide on the world we want. If we want a world where people treat each other well we have to ‘be that change’. Treat others as you wish to be treated; If you want people to listen, try listening - first to yourself and then to others. That is owning your shit. Every time you receive feedback that hurts, stop and take a moment to recognise your situation, because caring for your emotional resiliency can help. Be quiet and sit in the theatre of your mind-body, and listen - that is taking a SEAT.
It can be challenging, so take your time, be gentle. If you are giving feedback, be honest and sensitive, and
expect some defensiveness as a first response to criticism; a change in performance or attitude may come later. I think it is worth the effort, even if you only achieve some connection - if that is what you want. Thinking about what you want may be a useful starting point - then focusing on the intention with non-attachment will allow it to flow. Personally I want a connection and flow which feels ‘fun, loving, honest and easy,’ so I try to be that. I can only be that to myself first, and then to others (like the oxygen-mask-on-an-airplane analogy).
Whether I am conscious of it or not I AM being the change that I will start to see in the world, We all are. Choose the genre you would rather be watching and playing in, sit back and enjoy. You can direct far better with some perspective.
Id you want more about TAKING A SEAT and how it can LOOSEN YOUR TIES TO SUFFERING read on!
In July I went to Free Harmony Festival and participated at Buddhafield. These events provided a lot of learning, connection and insight. I taught morning meditation at Free Harmony with an emphasis on connection with the environment - inviting people to explore the natural environment and pick an object and bring it back to the circle, where it was examined and shared - everything from pine cones to rocks. We then went into sitting meditation and then gratitude sharing. It was a great way to start the day.
I was feeling really grateful and happy after that. I treated myself to two swims in the lake. I played with bubbles, dogs, children and did some dancing. I even got to walk on the slack line. I received a massage before my final teaching class of the day - Laughter Yoga. We had a group of 20 people, from 15 years old to 50! Over the course of 40 minutes we mixed yogic breathing with childlike connection and laughter, grounded in occasional meditations. I love the contrast in these classes - afterwards we always feel alive, connected and joyful!
In July I went to Buddhafield as a participant and I was kicking myself at first for not getting my act in gear and sorting out workshops in time for the deadline. I felt that dancing and laughter yoga would fill a gap at Buddhafield. Perhaps also the sensual touch workshop too. Nonetheless I forgave myself and soaked up the sunshine, learning and connections. My favourite moments were in the mindful communication classes I attended - one was taught by Erwin Tielemans of Human Matters. - who provided clear ideas about working with teenagers and a handy pack of feeling/need/emotion cards, which I'll be using in my own classes. The other mindful communication class modeled by Jayaraja - a buddhist monk and chair of Buddhafield. His style was simply to engage with the class in a fun way and model Non-violent, compassionate and heart connected communication. In my opinion it was extraordinary and inspiring.
I came away from these workshops and the whole experience of buddhafield full of love, insight and inspiration to sort my own workshops out for next year so that I can pass on my gifts.
After Buddhafield I ended a loving relationship in my life, because it wasn't feeling right. It wasn't quite in line with what I needed and wanted and I think this is one of the tough parts of self love and self-awareness - realising what we want and fear and then acting to change things. It creates pain, but in that pain is growth.
Over the summer I've worked with clients ranging from pain-mamagement focused people to people wanteing to expand their skills and productivity. This is where my work ranges from counselling, to coach, to teacher. I love this range. I also got to offer some outdoor sessions which often sees me working with families and children, which is extremely rewarding. Pain and tantrum management has been a big part of this work!
The sweetest session from my summer came from a Hen Party! Originally they had asked me to provide a laughter Yoga session. After some discussion they decided to do some meditation instead, which I presented as a 'Mindfulness Recharge Morning'. We gathered the group of 15 women in a circle, laid down with their heads near the centre of the circle. I led them on a meditation using words and sounds from my singing bowl, bringing them into their body and in observation of thoughts, feeling and sounds. I then invited them to raise their hands over their body and explore the hands of the group. It was a magical morning and we ended with a gratitude share and energising power pow (you'll have to ask me what that is!). They came away feeling grateful and energized!
I had some beautiful feedback from my workshops including:
"This morning's meditation really helped me arrive at the festival and in my body. I loved the exploration of the area and it helped me to appreciate the little things both inside and out. (Niall, Free Harmony Festival, July 2016)
"I booked the Mindfulness Recharge for my sisters hen do as a lovely relaxing end to a full weekend. Neil was so welcoming, understanding and made me feel relaxed immediately. Doing something new can sometimes be daunting but I felt totally safe and trusted Neil straight away. He was calm, friendly, warm and kind. We had an hour session and wish we had booked for longer. The session was relaxing and energising all at the same time. The sounds from the singing bowl were a wonderful experience and something I would like to do again. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. I hope Neil does some sessions in London soon!" (Phoebe, Hen Party Session, August 2016)
"It was amazing, really connected with the world around me, felt really secure and held. I have never eaten anything so mindfully! It was the most amazing experience and the perfect end to a lovely weekend in Bristol, connecting with lovely ladies! I would definitely recommend it!" (Coralie, Hen Party Session, August 2016)
I'm about to leave to teach morning meditations at my next festival, The Summerhouse Weekend. I'll also be teaching dance with Gina and enjoying the decadent party. I go with an intention to be relaxed, present with my feelings and authentic in my interactions. I have really seen in the last two years how fear of missing out has led me to be rushed, distracted and subtly dishonest with myself and others. This year I'm giving myself permission to be a bit crap and alson totally me, totally wonderful.
I'll be running more courses in September - take a look here to find out more!
“I don't count my situps; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.” - Mohammed ali
No pain - no gain! Is this true?
Well, one way of looking at this is looking at the way we physically gain strength. Our muscles get stronger by continually stretching, to breaking in tiny amounts and then repairing. For muscle breakdown and growth to occur you must stretch and challenge your muscles to adapt by creating stress that is different than the previous threshold your body has already adapted to. Conscious exercise is a way of choosing the games and stress that you enjoy, or that has a function - or both!
So it is the same with love. A broken heart is an open heart.
We’ve all been through emotional pain - through the love of our parents or partners or friends - we’ve all felt a ‘broken heart’. With perspective we recognise this 'heart breaking' is an essential part of melting the walls that we sometimes put around our hearts. These metaphorical walls are tension in muscles and belief systems in our mind - they protect us from more emotional pain. But those walls also keep us separated, to some degree. Ideally we want to be able to open our hearts again, once we are ready, when we have healed old wounds and feel strong enough. This strength comes from learning that we have internal resources and a support network of friends and family.
Then, if we’re willing and lucky, our hearts will break repeatedly to reveal new perspectives and ways to be compassionate to ourselves and thus to others. This will grow the capacity for quality connections, friends and lovers.
“Behind every beautiful thing, there's some kind of pain.”
And our minds?
Self-enquiry is the process of continuously questioning our beliefs often seems to set us back in our ‘learning’. So often the buddhist advice is to stop questioning, accept and let go. Whilst I agree that this is ultimately where we must arrive it is our natural human nature to question and try to understand. Therefore the art of asking better questions of ourselves is one which we can all learn and enjoy - to break down our self-limiting beliefs and assumptions. This process can be emotionally painful and confusing - but with that pain we can maintain connection with our natural curiosity, beginners mind and a growth mindset.
I believe it is only when we are ready, when we have accepted that safety and life is an illusion, can we loosen our 'needs' and therefore our fears. This is a painful process of growth and mind opening.
Each break allows our hearts, our muscles and our minds to heal bigger than the time before.
Yes, there is pain every time we are growing - Immeasurable pain. That is the growth and strengthening of our capacity to love, create and include more and more. Each time we break mind, body or heart we must rest and let them heal if we are to grow the capacity to live and love. This process is, for me, the point.
I try and remember this when exercising, when practicing and whenever I make a mistake in life (which can be frequent!) I believe that we never stop growing and the pain of creating and healing of wounds is the point of life - it is where all the beauty lies. In forgiveness and mourning we rest our hearts and minds and in physical rest we allow our bodies to heal.
Yet without pain, if we avoid it, we lose touch with this process and our imagination can make the pain very daunting. We forget that the pain is okay, we can handle it and life is worth the effort, even if we make mistakes. Even if we are not perfect. Therefore the sooner we embrace our pain and turn towards our fears instead of running from them the sooner we grow and heal.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
This, of course, takes time. It is a gradual process of continual growth. So called 'quantum leaps' of thought, lifestyle or artificial means, like chemical steroids may lead one to take on more than you can handle and damage you beyond the point of growth. In order to balance pain we must be willing to experience it - to feel into it - and we can then develop our intuition to set the appropriate timing, and boundaries if we want to grow in an organic and healthy way.
The Navy Seals of the USA have a general belief that people can usually push themselves 40% more than they actually think they can - do you think there is truth in this? I certainly found from my cold shower adventures and study of Wim Hof that when we integrate ‘feeling’ and ‘belief’ into our work we can do more than we ever thought possible. I have also experienced healing in my body that I thought was impossible. Perhaps there is also truth to the old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
I believe in 'no pain, no gain'. If things are too easy it is a sure sign that your muscles are starting to entropy and your heart - mind connection is starting to close.
How does this relate to mindfulness? Well mindfulness for pain management is something I’ve been exploring more and more. I’ve helped people recover from operations and helped young people manage physical and emotional pain by facing it in controlled ways. For me it is something quite personal after recovering from spinal surgery, social anxiety and personal heartache - I use it everyday as a source of solace that pain has a purpose.
If you are interested in mindfulness to change your relationship with pain please get in touch.
“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”
People often say life is like a mirror - it reflects back to you what you put into it. Relationships are a mirror. You get what you give.
I think this is a nice analogy that can really help us to remember to give well and to treat others as we wish to be treated. However for me I like the analogy that life is like an echo, down a deep cave. Whatever you shout into the cave is shouted back at you, after some time delay.
Life is like an echo - what you send out reverberates back to you and to others. Echos tend to multiply.
I was thinking about this as I said one of my morning affirmations: “Life - Is that the best you can do!? Rubbish! Today give me everything you got!”
If this is what I am projecting out into the cave then that is what shall be asked of me later by my returning echo… but multiple times.
“Neil - Is that the best you can do? Rubbish! Today give me everything you got!” "Rubbish... Rubbish..".
“You do not see the world as it is. You see it as you are.” - Anais Nin
Wow! What a strong message. I now think carefully before shouting out what I want. We live in closed system. What you put in at one end will come out at the other. So what I intend as I shout is as important as what I shout. What I read will affect me. What I eat and do affects that. I can therefore make good choices about what to input and then what I output. This helps me choose what to do, eat, read and say... they all inform my thinking.
So here is today’s shout:
“I love you - thank you for doing your best. Keep going - you can fulfil your dreams! You are already enough, but feel free to help yourself to more.”
We never really find out what is at the end of the cave - it’s a bit like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. It is full of wonders and probably ends up back where we started. What we put into the cave comes back around and may smack you in the ass!
In one of m.y classes I run an exercise in mindfulness I call 'GRAPE-FULNESS' and 'ORANG-INS' of things:
Appreciation, through seeing, tasting and appreciating the origins and effort that is embodied in something as simple as a grape or an orange. We take time to appreciate where something came from, how many hours and work and people went into delivering it to my mouth. Then we savour the thing - taste it, explore its textures and notice how we feel before-during-and after the experience. This can create natural, un-forced gratitude - a lovely state of mind to be in.
I love how when we delve into the origins of things we discover new things we never saw before. The same is true for words. I love the etymology of language. Our language of words is our main way to communicate and there are two quotes that remind me why it’s so important to appreciater and be conscious of the words I use, and how I think about them
These point towards how valuable it is to examine our language and our self-talk. The voices in your head and the words you say to others.
This morning I had another revelation - and I’m excited. I teach mindfulness and dance. There are four types of connection in dance, as well as dance as a metaphor for life:
I first was turned onto these ideas by Justin Riley - a dance teacher from the USA who teaches that dance is a form of connection - which is what we are all seeking - but if done consciously, in this order, can ensure our dances feel great!
When I look at some of these words I love the hidden meanings I glean and how they relate to meditation, to the simple things we need and do and then the whole of life. Here I've explored the latin root of some of the key elements of good connections:
As Brene Brown says: Your power is actually in your vulnerability. Let yourself be seen as the imperfect being you are and you can discover a new level of appreciation, even for things that seem unpleasant.
Whatever you choose to Connect (bind with) to; whatever words you use - if you do so with conscience, contact, confidence, contribution and adventure you will probably find the dance of life flows well and is fun. You always have a choice to speak the words you 'want' and to notice how you are interpreting something you see and hear - and decide if you want to focus on and maintain that thought, or if you want to explore other ideas, perhaps ones that bring less stress, more gratitude, appreciation and connection to the things you love.
Therefore mindfulness of language is not only important as I mentioned in this blog, but also fun and can help reveal different ways of looking at anything!
Mindful communication is something I'm passionate about. It's much more than language - but that's a part of it. Interested. Come along to the workshop!
"Thanks Jim - great words from a man who created his own life story. "
Do you want to live a life that is an incredible adventure? But do you find yourself paralysed by confusion, worries or lack of self-belief?
Do you want to see beauty and fascination wherever you go? But do you find stress, to-do lists, deadlines and ‘time’ ruining your experience?
This is all a result of the story you are living in. You know you have within you the ability to write your own script - to be the the hero in your own life story. Your thoughts are your choice (even if they don't seem to be sometimes) - and if you are choosing thoughts based in fear, obligation or guilt then you are actively creating a horror, a drama or a tragedy.
Of course you don't have choice as to ALL of your thoughts or ALL of the things that happen to you or ALL of your emotional responses, but if one learns a)self awareness b)to step outside of oneself metaphorically and see those passing thoughts, before you respond, then you can decide to let them pass or go with them. This is called Metta Cognition.
LIFE 'SHOULD BE' FAIR
The world is full of ‘unfair things’ - suffering, pain, torture, rape, death…
… but it is what we choose to focus on and respond with that shapes our world. So even if your intention is to do good in the world but you are propelled by fear, by unconscious self-talk of ‘should’s and need’, based on the interpretation that 'the world is a pretty terrible place' - then life will feel a whole lot less fair and harder.
We all want to be noble and make a positive change, and we are all going about it in our own way - but let's question ourselves to see if somewhere, underneath that intention is the feeling that we 'have a right to be here - and that we all have a right to be free from suffering.' This can lead to attachment to ideas, instead of reality.
The truth is - the world doesn't owe you, or anyone else, anything.
You already got the grand prize - life. Life includes lots of suffering. Love is suffering.
You lucky little devil - you got to live and love and learn - you wanted to be here and so you beat millions of sperm and came into being. Who knows what came before or after life?! No one! So don’t worry about that - enjoy this. Jamie Catto calls life ‘the after party’. I like that, but personally I see it differently - this is the play. This is the play that you struggled and worked and auditioned to be in and you got the lead part! You are the lead role in your own movie and every day you get to wake up and write a new chapter.
One way I like to remember this is whenever we get a crappy scene, a disaster or a death, I just think: “PLOT TWIST!” Wow! What is wonderful about this scene .
This is of course, after the emotion - the struggle - the work that is required to MAKE it beautiful.
But at the end of it all it comes down to a simple choice. Do you want this experience that we call life to be awesome or choresome? Do you want to focus on what’s good or the negative, fear-based story and situations or can you also really appreciate the beauty and focus on solutions? Can you visualise and inspire yourself - or would you rather you wait until the desperation sets in to such a point whereby you are ‘forced’ into action by the survival instinct?
Tony Robbins calls this INSPIRATION or DESPERATION.
Difficult things are always going to happen to you - they did to me too. I was hoping that something would happen that would change my life for the better. Eventually, after a very, very long time I realised that I have to create the conditions for change. When you change everything will change for you - If you want compassion, show compassion. If you want wealth, be like a wealthy version of you - practice gratitude for your wealth and be generous. Start small, where you are - start to see the beauty in the thing you have labelled as 'work' or 'chores' and start to dream up an awesome life for yourself.
Make it more awesome and less choresome!
This is harder than it sounds because it requires TRUST. Or a word with more spiritual connotations: FAITH. It doesn't matter the word you pick - as long as it resonates for you. Trust that life is happening for you and you have an opportunity right now to decide to welcome in whatever is deep within you. Welcome every experience - you never know which one is going to teach you the lesson that will really show you what you are here for.
What do you have to lose anyway?!
I wrote this blog entry to inspire myself but also to inspire you to come to my workshop on Saturday: COMFORT ZONE CHALLENGES! It's the first time I'm putting on this workshop - so I'm keeping the price super low. Book your tickets here, now!
I've always wanted to work with children, for the simple reason that the lessons I have learned from Mindfulness were the kinds of things I could have really used when I was between 9-18 years old:
Think about it - school is tough. These days social skills are on the decrease, thanks to social media and computers and stress is on the increase, thanks to exams from as early as 10 years old. We are piling on the pressure for young people in class sizes 20% bigger and playtime 20% shorter than 10 years ago. The curriculum is slow to catch up with the modern world and is seriously lacking in areas around well-being, emotional and mental health and sex /relationship education.
Mindfulness offers help in three ways:
1. Awareness of choice of thought - reducing worry, stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness teaches us that thoughts are not 'truth', but that they are mental reactions, generally based in fear-responses - and linked to stimulus from the body and from memories. We can interrupt troubling thoughts using mindfulness techniques of breath and body awareness and allow us to regain some control over where we put our attention and then how we 'choose' to respond to situations.
2. Awareness of body and emotion - helping people to act responsibly and calmly.
The more we become aware of the body, its sensations and emotions, the more we learn to accept it and listen to it. Our bodies are made of trillions of highly evolved cells, each trying to support growth - giving constant feedback via sensations. Mindfulness teaches us to listen, interpret and respond to these sensations with more wisdom, through sheer practice.
3. Practices and tools to cultivate gratitude, focus and reliance - increasing well-being and happiness.
In the lessons I teach I give tools and practices not only to help with awareness and focus, but also to cultivate one of the most enriching and resilience building states possible; 'gratitude'. When we learn to befriend and appreciate ourselves and the world around us anything is possible and we shift away from negative thinking.
This is highly rooted in neuroscience as well as contemplative ancient arts and historically in the contemplative religions of the east and west. However I teach secular mindfulness - focused only on individual exploration of the self - mind and body, not the spiritual, philosophical or moralistic elements of ancient meditation.
The lessons I teach take simple principles and make them fun and accessible, with easy to use practices. The idea is that they plant a seed that can take root and give young people resilience and resources in times of stress.
Certified in teaching mindfulness
I recently became an accredited teacher of Mindfulness in Schools (run by the Mindfulness in Schools Project), on a course called .b (dot-be) which have empowered me with 10 highly researched lessons to teach to children aged 11-18. I have already been teaching younger age groups at Compass School in Bristol and I have taught outdoor education to young people aged 14-18
The course I recently completed is detailed here. Or click on the link below. I'm offering reduced price taster sessions, for a limited time only. Please get in touch.
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.
Trigger warning: this post contains strong language, which I felt was necessary when dealing with the onslaught of worrying thoughts.
There comes many points in life, when you've been hiding from some difficult truth or realisation, head buried in the sand for so long that your jaw is tense or you've developed a background anxiety that comes from your fear of your own shadow - the unknown! That part of yourself that you're not prepared to look at, because you think it is going to be very uncomfortable or reveal something very shameful.
I’ve found, even though I have skilfully self-enquired and resolved this many times before I forget and anxiety still persists. That's because I’m actually still resisting, deep down and: resistance breeds persistence. But don’t worry, because when you've REALLY had enough that means you're ready to ACCEPT and start trying to trust yourself and say the magic words (inspired by the book by John C Parkin):
“Fuck it! I don't care any more.”
The cause of your anxiety is not really your laziness or your indecision, but it is that you have given too much meaning to the things that your deeper wisdom knows are not important - the trivial things like:
To your conscious mind (ego) these things matter. They are what your mind is full of. Clutter and Bullshit.
...So DON’T MIND-FILL!
The truth is that you do CARE but you just DON'T MIND. You know these flitting thoughts and judgements don't really matter!
“I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don't know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.” -- Christopher Reeve
TRUST YOUR INTUITION
Your gut, your sense of when things feel right to you, but seems irrational. Don't mind if they are not perfectly rational - that's just ‘pride’ fucking with you. You're going to go through a barrage of self doubt and judgement. Is that worse than the anxiety? Does it matter that it's harder in the short term?
Discomfort is useful. Making mistakes means you're out there, taking risks. Feeling guilty? Good, that means you're challenging yourself and pushing at the edges of your comfort zone, stay with it, be mindful of your feelings, thoughts, desires. Watch them, study them through your senses and trust that your body knows what is best for you and for the world. Trust that things are happening as they are, they are unfolding perfectly and all you really need to do is:
Pay attention and ride that wave. This is mindfulness. Playfulness and presence.
So ask yourself - would you rather be rational and 'right' (if so then follow society's morals closely and sacrifice part of yourself for that) or would you rather happy (have-peace). You'll know when you are ready for that. Until then enjoy the tension and anxiety with the deep inner knowing that you are sacrificing your spiritual and emotional health to fit into the society created for you. This is working from the egoic sense of you - who you think you are - and it's really quite fun! It's also full of suffering, doubt, anger and sadness… All the things that make life rich!
“The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.” ― Oscar Wilde
Life is challenging. Sometimes you will have an easy wave to ride, other times it will be a pounding, adventurous, challenging and even painful wave. Trust that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger (eventually). And if it kills you? Well then you're dead.
I don't know what happens after that but there is probably either more life of no more life, either way it doesn't matter. No need to worry or rush ahead. Some people may scoff at this because obviously it’s not a great strategy to die, but that’s not the point. The point is that we can get so fearful of making mistakes that we forget to really live. And the worst thing to do in life, in my opinion, is to get to the end and feel like you missed the point, like you didn't allow yourself to live, learn, lust, love and lose.
Personally - I try not to mind mind-fill (and I don't always succeed, there is a lot of silly junk up there in my noggin!) But I don't mind. I don't layer worry on top of worry any more. I don't care about fitting in - I say fuck it. If death is coming (which it is) I want to be there, making love, not arguing. I want to be doing something that I'm passionate about - making MY positive difference in the world. Or want to be there enjoying a nice relaxing bath, rather than chasing deadlines for money-focused clients. When death comes knocking I want to be like:
“Oh - Come in, would you like some tea? I've had such a lovely time in life and I'm curious to see what the next adventure is, death.”
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” ― Hunter S. Thompson
For some people it's even more than this. It's about their legacy. We all know we are going to die and to give our lives meaning we seek to leave something of ourselves behind - fond memories, teachings or discoveries, physical treasures, offspring (more human beings!) or perhaps just a digital footprint - photos and movies.
Human being need meaning, according to fantastic books like ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E Frankl. It makes sense of the suffering we sometimes endure. But don't forget that you live in a country where you get to choose your belief system. We have physical freedom, because we have a rich and abundant society. But western society has forgotten about spiritual and mental freedom.
If you are anxious and spending your days resisting reality, then you have allowed yourself to be mentally caged by the very things you see as 'important'. What seeds are you actually sewing for yourself and for the next generations?
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” -- Albert Einstein
So - are you ready? Is it time for you to wake up and free yourself from those constraints so you can rediscover the beauty of an uncertain life? Or do you want to play the ego game a little longer? Personally, I’m not quite ready to let go of my ego, I quite enjoy it - so here's what I tell myself, while I enjoy life and wait for ego-death:
I don't mind. Life can feel good, no matter what.
I say bring it on, life!
"Tomorrow do thy worst for today I have lived, fully" - Horace
Diary Entry, January, 2016:
“I'm afraid this is too much, too soon. I'm afraid you'll end up hurt because I can be flaky and stupid at times. I'm afraid that it might all work out and I'll allow myself to ‘need’ you and that will open me up to more vulnerability than I can handle. It’s not safe."
...But you know what? It's worth the risk.
This recent diary entry got me thinking about ‘Love and dependency’ - they seem to have a strange relationship. On the one hand we know we can be strong, independent and unique beings. But on the other hand, when we let another person into our hearts it, into an intimate relationship, it usually creates some attachment; we want them, and if they were to leave it would hurt… this inevitably comes along with some pain and suffering, because nobody feels this ALL the time.
This fear and suffering can sometimes feel like a barrier to love, in the same way that fear and pain can feel like a barrier to adventure - but actually they are necessary ingredients in making the adventure worthwhile. We need some fear and suffering otherwise life feels empty. If we keep our hearts closed to really welcoming in another person then we never truly ‘face’ our fears.
Instead we cultivate different fears, like:
John Lennon said:
"Love is a flower you got to let it grow"
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”
But, Neil Gaiman said:
"Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up."
It can seem like very insecure ground when you love a person but you cannot control when they may choose to leave your life. So we must work together - because we are both in the same boat. The paradox is that love is both independent and dependant. Some people have called this INTER dependent, which just means you need each other, to some degree and you accept that.
This is where I start to think of some Buddhist principles. The Buddhists have this to say about suffering: :
“The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. To live, you must suffer. It is impossible to live without experiencing some kind of suffering. We have to endure physical suffering like sickness, injury, tiredness, old age and eventually death and we have to endure psychological suffering like loneliness, frustrations, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. However the second noble truth is that all suffering is caused by craving. This includes needing and attachment - to comfort (which causes ignorance) or to excitement.“
"To love is to suffer. To avoid Suffering one must not love, but then one suffers from no love. Therefore to suffer is to love, live and suffer. "
Just a quick note: pain and suffering - we all know the old adage: “Pain is inevitable, suffering a choice”. In this article I’Il be using pain and suffering interchangeably. At some point we must ‘suffer pain’ until it is transformed into something beautiful. The buddha said: ”the only way to stop suffering is to fully accept suffering.”
So, Embrace suffering! Become a connoisseur of pain and discomfort. It is the treasure and the trap, it is both the prize and the punishment for daring to seek a prize at all. If life was easy it would be boring! Like a poker game, with nothing at stake. We need suffering as much as we need pleasure. All it requires is for you to say, “I choose to accept that because I want love in my life, I want the adventure” (if this resonates with you - otherwise, ignore me, this is just my mind dump anyway).
OK. So, perhaps the question is: how can one suffer better? Love more?
How can I make my suffering meaningful for me and for others?
Here I think it is useful to start thinking about "what moves me to try? to fail? What inspires me?"
MY JOURNEY, SO FAR:
I’ve found it difficult to connect with love, since the heartbreaks of my early 20’s. I think that I have a deep rooted sense of fear about falling in love. When I look at my fears my biggest include:
And because I wasn't fully aware of that I never really faced up to my fear of losing the love of my parents. So I unconsciously internalised it.
The fears created armour. I find it difficult to drop my armour, to trust it’ll be okay - I’ll be okay, in my vulnerability. I don’t dare rely upon someone else and then risk them rejecting me or losing them. Fear of the loss of love is my overriding fear.
However… I’ve recently realised that all of life is simply about the following cycle:
LIVE - LEARN - LUST/LONGING - LOVE - LAUGH - LOSE ( in no particular order).
We must INVEST in the loss, learn from it and more on, rather than hold on to the hurt. In the end we always lose anyway.
Neil Gaiman, again, said it beautifully:
“Life is <like> a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.”
Last month I did a catharsis workshop which ended with JOY, where we made a ginormous mess, which I knew in advance would require work to clear up. But we abandoned worry and care and just indulged in creation of mess and laughter and at the end as we hugged and surveyed the chaos I said “What a beautiful mess we have created”.
Because in reality, with perspective we don’t know what this universe is all about - for all we know we could be in The Matrix, like animals in a cage, being harvested by aliens, like some dystopian matrix, or perhaps we are all children in the garden of eden - it doesn’t matter which story you choose. You can choose to focus on the fences - the prison of constraint or just enjoy your time here as much as possible, with the meaning you CHOOSE to give it.
Love (and life) can be seen as a beautiful mess. Indulge in adventure, the suffering, the pain and the glory of all of it all! Trust that it’s okay to let others in.
Awareness is different from self-consciousness, focus or positive thinking. It is the idea that one can simply BE AWARE. The reason I’m writing about this is that many people ask me:
“If I’m aware of feelings or even just sensations which originate because of a fear or sadness, aren't I perpetuating them and making them all worse?”
To these people I ask questions inspired by Andy Puddicombe’s Head space teachings:
"Is the world a dangerous place?
What is the probability of getting hit by a car?
Are you aware of the dangers?
Yet you still go outside and conduct your life - why is that?"
Because we have learned to balance the awareness of risk with the reasons why we choose to risk our lives - because we enjoy life more when we engage with it, when we risk pain, failure, embarrassment and even death.
“So why focus on the sensations?”
To this question I ask:
“Can you be aware of the road unless you look both ways?”
“Can you have improved awareness by looking carefully, without judgement or attachment?”
“Can you focus on the immediate stretch of road, but with awareness of things on the periphery, like where you are stepping, if your shoelaces are tied, where you are going, what’s on the other side?”
Only if you take the time to pay attention. Stop, Look, Listen, Think (see picture above)
This is the same as with the body. If you take small moments to pay attention you can become more aware of the subtle sensations and emotions. These signals are the language of the body and of the intuition. If you observe carefully, calmly, easily, like crossing the road, you can navigate them easily and understand.
“But I want to know why I’m feeling this tension in my chest, which I think is anxiety (THE ROOT CAUSE)!”
To this I ask:
“Do you focus on one noisy car, passing by, speeding and causing problems, when observing the road?
Sometimes, yes, but FOR HOW LONG? How long does that car hold your attention?
If it is hurtling for you then it is wise to give it your full attention and MOVE, but otherwise, does it help you to question 'why' as it hurtles down the street?"
Analysing each thought or feeling to the nth degree is blinkering off the wider awareness, it is useful for a moment, but then one must return to the wider awareness or one may be in risk of ‘rubbernecking’ - getting attached to a thought and losing focus on where one is going. It also requires we SLOW DOWN, and who is prepared to do that on a busy day?
To try and analyse each thought or sensation would be time consuming and exhausting. Some thoughts or feelings do require a bit more attention, but then, each time, we must return our attention to the wider area, let go of the passing car and move on. Self reflection is important, but in the appropriate time.
This is a skill, that can be learned. It is called forgiving. It is an essential part of learning.
As Matthew Child’s says in his own lessons from rock climbing: "Fear Sucks. Fear means you're focusing on the consequences of failing what you are doing." I also learned this a lot from rock climbing and wrote my own blog about it here. If you don't let go of the fear, anger or sadness at some point it will cause you pain and then harm you. If you continue to hold on to it, it will consume you.
But don't worry, it's not all hard work!
I’m a proficient climber now as well as an experienced car driver and crosser of many roads! I have reached the fourth stage of learning in these endeavours: automated awareness. Where I have built in the pattern of coming back to awareness after every troublesome moment has had some attention. I no longer even need to consciously think about this more because I have practiced it. If I drop my practice I sometimes become less proficient again and it takes more effort.
"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
As it is with mindfulness meditation - it is the practice of returning to awareness, or presence. When one combines that with playfulness one can venture to the inner world or the outer world with a sense of ease, fun and awareness more often.
That’s my experience, anyway. I'm still practising and getting better. With mindfulness I'm sometimes still lingering around the third stage... but try it for yourself!
EMOTIONAL DROP EXPLAINED
After all the emotional highs of a workshop, the return to normality can have a profound effect on participants. There can be a period of transition that offers even more growth space, but isn't always easy to deal with.
We call this ‘The Drop*’; the coming down, the return to what we have identified as 'normality'.
(*This term, and article was inspired by London Faerie, who is an expert in such matters and is acknowledged at the bottom of this page.)
It can happen quickly, or slowly. It can be a nice experience, or a bad one. And the effects, good or bad, can last almost no time at all, or they can go on for hours, even days.
I like to think of a surfing analogy - we ride a wave of experience - if it is profound the wave takes us high and we skilfully manage it when we pay attention, with presence, which happens in workshop spaces, where the participant is guided. When that guidance is removed we find ourselves somewhere near the crest of the wave and are left to our own devices to navigate the surge down the barrel and back to normality. If done with care this can be a beautiful experience, but if we don’t pay attention or are feeling wobbly this can be scary, painful or difficult to handle.
“The higher the wave goes, the deeper is the wake that follows it. One moment you are the wave, another moment you are the hollow wake that follows. Enjoy both – don’t get addicted to one.” - Osho
So here is a guide to dealing with the drop.
It helps to understand the mechanics: Dropping is the emotional and physical affects of the release and drop of endorphins in the body after an intense experience. The endorphins and other hormones released during the experience leave your body in such a way that it takes time to rebuild the balance of hormones in your system. Physiologically we can often feel that we have exposed some parts of ourselves (weakness/vulnerability) and that can unmask the hidden shame - the judgement that our weaknesses mean something deeper - that we will be seen as the small beings that we perceive ourselves to be. This emotes a fight/flight/freeze response, so feelings of anger, fear or sadness become prevalent and override our higher brain functions of rational thought. Brene brown talks about the thoughts she experiences in her 'Vulnerability Hangover.'
"Vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage" (Brene Brown)
Drop can come in many different forms. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
REDUCTION / PREVENTION
These steps may reduce the chance of dropping.
A drop kit can be helpful to deal with feelings of loneliness, mental and physical exhaustion, confusion, insecurity and many other possible physical symptoms. It is important to take care of yourself during times of drop. This kit will put all the things necessary at your fingertips.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, please feel free to add your own personal selections.
WHAT TO DO WHEN DROPPING
Well, it's a possible reality, so let's discuss the best way to deal with it:
NOTICE YOUR THOUGHTS - VULNERABILITY
If you've just been in a space where you may have shared difficult things and learned new things about yourself it is often a big challenge to our sense of safety and identity.
We are all growing and it inevitably comes with some self doubts when we feel the discomfort. Take time to recognise the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts - give them space to settle and for the fog of stress to clear. Struggle and discomfort is an essential part of growth. Brene Brown realised this after her first TED talk as she says here.
WHY THIS IS ALL POSITIVE
We are always growing - whether we enjoy it or not. With practice it gets easier to enjoy. The more times we go in and out of spaces which stretch our comfort zone, the easier it becomes. The first few times are always hard - when we begin practice. Over time the mind and muscles become more supple and we can push ourselves further, do things with less effort.
We also learn what tools work for us - we learn about ourselves. For me, I like to make sure I connect with one or two of the people from the workshop afterwards, perhaps the day after and relive some of it. This is my strategy and it works for me, but it’s not for everyone. But you may have also triggered emotions that were caught up in an old memory (trauma) and it may be prudent to seek help if you are struggling. Click on the trauma link for advice.
This is important work - we must acknowledge that it is important for us to work on ourselves before we can really help others. So every time we spend some time in fantastic highs and uncomfortable drops we can see that we grow and we can also see that this will enable us to help others more in the future.Sometimes we plateaux for a while, but rest assured, the game will always be challenging - but without challenge life would be pretty dull!
I hope these tips help you to grow less painfully and with more acceptance and happiness
Love and hugs
As well as Brene Brown my biggest inspiration for this post is London Faerie, who created Sacred Pleasures - a place for authentic transformation, which includes working with sexual desires (Trigger Warning), so may not be suitable to view at work - but his article is available here.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com