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.
"Happiness shared is happiness squared" is, to me a lovely phrase.
Okay, so that’s not exactly true, but it is a little quote that I like to use to help me in meditation sometimes, when they I'm having trouble letting go of negative feelings or thoughts, or when I'm latching on only to the positive, ‘feel good’ thoughts and emotions.
We all do this - it’s totally natural. But sometimes we can’t fully enjoy the pleasant feelings if our mind chases them - we create fear of losing good feelings or good ideas creates tension. Or we create tension in resisting negative situations, feelings and emotions.
Negative resistance breeds persistence.
That’s because it’s all down to attachment. When we allow ourselves to become over attached we lose our subtle dance and playfulness with life. In meditation we sometimes ‘try’ to recreate a 'peaceful, warm, and focused meditation' (like the one yesterday) and if it turns out to be a busy or heavy meditation we can sometimes feel frustrated. At times like these I remind myself that I am meditating to simply observe - building awareness of ‘what is’ - taking time notice the body.
A nice analogy is like pulling up a chair to look out the window at a sunny, blue sky - but sometimes there are dark clouds, sometimes there are light clouds, but nothing we ‘try’ will change that. But there is always blue sky waiting for us, if we chill, sit back and observe. Let go of attachment and things will flow easier.
Yet still, it is difficult to sit with the dark clouds of heavy emotions, pain or busy thoughts, and to stop trying to recreate calm and pleasant sensations. Impatience is part of the issue, so one tool that I developed from Andy Puddicombe's book ‘Headspace’ is to start to try the following:
What I find with this technique is that pleasantness is no longer craved or clung to - and so it is allowed to flow. Therefore pleasure often lasts longer and can be enjoyed more. Impatience (of unpleasant feelings) dissolves, because compassion and love become part of the equation. Have you ever noticed it is much easier to be kind to others than it is to yourself?
In this way we are training patience, awareness and compassion all simultaneously.
When you integrate this mindfulness outside of the meditation it's possible to share positive things more freely - to give them away - and therefore enhance your appreciation of them - happiness shared is happiness squared. (This also works on Facebook). And when you practice empathy with yourself, as if you would to others, you start to take it easy on yourself a little more and then naturally extend that out to others. Some things that are truly made of ‘love’ will never run out anyway - like hugs or music or kindness. The more you use them the more they spread and grow.
So please share! ;)
I cover more about self empathy in my classes in mindfulness which are coming up soon. Please see these links for more information and to book your places.
I’ve got a meeting coming up, with friends, trying to shape the community we live in. I want this meeting to go well, to have everyone feel valued and to create something together that everyone feels a part of. To me the process is as important as the end result. I wrote this blog whilst thinking about that process.
First of all what is healthy discussion? I think this is:
“A discussion which results in connection - where all parties feel heard and respected and which is limited to a specific topic. Where it feels natural and enjoyable to give and receive, rather than playing the game ‘who’s right and who’s wrong?”
So how can I, as an individual, or we, as a group, engage healthy discussion?
Think about your intentions
“You can either practice being right or practice being kind.” (Anne Lamott)
Your intention will affect the outcome. So firstly it is important that you understand what you really want and why.
Why do we bother to talk at all?
Whenever we take time and energy to open our mouths and talk we are expressing ourselves for a reason. That could be:
For the love it - expressing what is in our heart at that moment, with no other motive. This is a way of saying ‘thank you’ through celebrating. (This includes saying YES as much as saying NO)
We want or need something. We have an ‘unmet need’ and we seek to request, ask or demand. (This includes asking for forgiveness, feedback, love, learning, attention, space… not just material ‘things’.) Hint: Demanding doesn’t work so well, in the long run. When you force someone to do something you both pay.
So it helps to, individually, set and intention, before you do into debate. Investigate why you are having this discussion. Is there something you want to request - what is is specifically and why. This helps determine your own motives, which we often ‘think’ we know, but when we take a moment and investigate them we realise some ‘fears’ behind them. So coming into a debate and expressing your fears can lead to better cooperation too. Finally - what could be the best outcome- positive focus! - what can you seek to celebrate (appreciate) and learn from the discussion? So in summary:
I think most of us want: to make life more wonderful, for ourselves and for each other, including wider society and future generations. However, we must also recognise that we are in a particular stage of our life and both fear and ego are always present, even in small amounts.
You are a complex individual with many facets. Where are those various facets within this developmental path? We all move through these phases at our own pace and we may experience different parts of our life moving at different paces, for example perhaps our professional life has reached a maturity of serving others whereas their sexual expression is still in the exploring stage. One cannot force someone who is focused on ego to start becoming more focused on serving. They require the time they need to explore and express themselves before they understand that serving others is important.
My belief is that in a healthy society change cannot be forced, but only inspired. A peaceful world takes patience, listening, awareness, accepting and allowing.
Create a good listening and thinking environment (10 components)
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” ~ Albert Einstein
I’ve been reading a great book by Nancy Klein, entitled ‘Time to Think’. The basic premisis is that the quality of life is determined by the quality of our thinking and the quality of our and others thinking is determined by the quality of our listening! This is borrowed from http://www.timetothink.com/ - So imagine if we took that on board in our communication:
“The quality of one’s attention determines the quality of the other’s thinking”
1. ATTENTION - Attention is an act of creation.
Attention, driven by deep respect and genuine interest, and without interruption, is the key to a Thinking Environment. Attention is that powerful. It generates thinking. It is an act of creation.
The main tool I use here is FULL BODY LISTENING - without reaction, and giving lotsof time and space, even sometimes in silence, until someone is truly finished speaking. This often requires structuring ahead of discussion, and could even involve a ‘talking stick’ to ensure one person speaks at a time...so that we get...
2. EQUALITY - Even in a hierarchy people can be equal as thinkers
Imagine a place where everyone is valued. Everyone gets a turn to think out loud and a turn to give attention. To know you will get your turn to speak makes your attention more genuine and relaxed. It also makes your speaking more succinct.
Equality keeps the talkative people from silencing the quiet ones. But it also requires the quiet ones to contribute their own thinking. The result is high quality ideas and decisions.
3. EASE - Ease creates; urgency destroys.
Ease is an internal state free from rush or urgency, creates the best conditions for thinking. But Ease, particularly in organisations and through the 'push' aspect of social networking, is being systematically bred out of our lives. We need to face the fact that if we want people to think well under impossible deadlines and inside the injunctions of ‘faster, better, cheaper, more,' we must cultivate internal ease. This takes the particular discipline of a Thinking Environment, and it takes a preference for quality over the rush of adrenaline.
4. APPRECIATION - The human mind works best in the presence of appreciation.
Society teaches us that to be appreciative is to be naïve, whereas to be critical is to be astute. And so, in discussions we are asked to focus first, and sometimes only, on the things that are not working. The consequence is that our thinking is often specious.Thinking Environment expertise generates a balanced ratio of appreciation to challenge so that individuals and groups can think at their best.
5. ENCOURAGEMENT - To be 'better than' is not necessarily to be 'good'
Competition between people ensures only one thing: if you win, you will have done a better job than the other person did. That does not mean, however, that you will have done anything good. To compete does not ensure certain excellence. It merely ensures comparative success.
Competition between thinkers is especially dangerous. It keeps their attention on each other as rivals, not on the huge potential for each to think courageously for themselves.
A Thinking Environment prevents internal competition among colleagues, replacing it with a wholehearted, unthreatened search for good ideas.
6. FEELINGS and NEEDS - Repressed or unexpressed feelings can inhibit good thinking
Thinking stops when we are upset. But if we express feelings just enough, thinking re-starts. Unfortunately, we have this backwards in our society. We think that when feelings start, thinking stops. When we assume this, we interfere with exactly the process that helps a person to think clearly again. If instead, when people show signs of feelings, we relax and welcome them, good thinking will resume.
7. INFORMATION - Withholding or denying information results in intellectual vandalism. Facing what you have been denying leads to better thinking.
We base our decisions on information, accurate or not, all of the time. When the information is incorrect, the quality of our decisions suffers. Starting with accurate information is essential, therefore, if good independent thinking is our aim.
The importance of information also pertains to the pernicious phenomenon of denial, the assumption that what is happening is not happening. Learning how to formulate questions that dismantle denial is a powerful feature of Thinking Environment expertise.
8. DIVERSITY - The greater the diversity of the group, and the greater the welcoming of diverse points of view, the greater the chance of accurate, cutting-edge thinking.
Reality is diverse. Therefore, to think well we need to be in as real, as diverse, a setting as possible. We need to be surrounded by people from many identity groups, and we need to know that there will be no reprisal for thinking differently from the rest of the group.
The ‘Diversity Session’, a series of questions that best reveals and strengthens the diversity of a group, is the basis of another important programme producing Thinking Environment expertise.
9. INCISIVE QUESTIONING - A wellspring of good ideas lies just beneath an untrue limiting assumption An Incisive Question will remove it, freeing the mind to think afresh.
Everything human beings do is driven by assumptions. We need to become aware of them, and by asking Incisive Questions, replace the untrue limiting ones with true, liberating ones. The building of Incisive Questions is at the very heart of generating fine independent thinking. These questions have been described as ‘a tool of unbelievable precision and power’.
10. PLACE - When the physical environment affirms our importance, we think more clearly and boldly. When our bodies are cared for and respected, our thinking improves.
We have found consistently that Thinking Environments are places that say back to people, ‘You matter.’ People think better when they can arrive and notice that the place reflects their value - to the people there and to the event. A good sense of place is a silent form of appreciation.
Use skilful language and thoughts
What language can we use to instead connect with them on a human level and try not to judge, but instead to listen, understand and work together to get our individual and collective needs met?
DISCONNECTION - WHY IT HAPPENS (Four D's of Disconnection)
1. Diagnosis (judgment, analysis, criticism, comparison)
Blame, insults, put-downs (critical remark), labels, criticism, comparisons, and diagnoses are all forms of judgment.When we judge, as a result, we increase defensiveness and resistance from others. If they do agree to act in harmony with our values because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness, they will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame. eg:
“The problem with you is that you’re too selfish.”
“It is wrong / It's not okay”
“If you don’t help me I won’t lend it to you.” (demand with punishment)
“If you don’t help it will reflect badly on you.” (demand with blame)
“Why can’t you be like your brother?” (comparison)
“You are so stupid.” (labeling and insult)
“You are so intelligent.” (positive labeling)
2. Denial of Responsibility
We are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. The phrase “You make me feel guilty” is an example of how language facilitates the denial of personal responsibility for our own feelings and thoughts. Eg:
“I cleaned my room because I had to / was told to.” – impersonal forces/ authority.
“I drink because I am alcoholic. So was my dad” – diagnosis or psychological history.
“I hit my child because he ran into the street.” – action of others.
"I have to because I'm a father and that's what father's do" - cultural rules and regulations
A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply. It is a common form of communication in our culture, especially among those who hold position of authority. Eg.
“You have to do that”
4. ‘Deserve' oriented language
Life-alienating communication is also associated with the concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment. eg:
“He deserves to be punished.”
Most of this blog is interpreted from the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg and his model of compassionate (or nonviolent) communication (NVC), for which there is a simple and accessible book and youtube explanation, which should be observed in full to understand the background. I have simply created these tools to provide an accessible means into the work:
But here are my 10 things I try to do, which help me:
1. Remember that a decent conversation requires a bit more time
If we want to have a quality of connection that goes beyond simply venting our demands and problems onto someone else we need time and space to listen, think about what was said and try to understand each other. The aim of conversation isn’t always to find a quick solution, or a solution at all, but be heard and to see and hear what is going on for someone else - with an end result of feeling connected.
2. Ask before giving feedback
People don’t usually like unsolicited feedback. It can seem patronizing, arrogant or condescending. It will probably be unwelcome and may result in the opposite of the change we wanted to request. Asking could look like:
3. Own choices
Our language is our choice and we often use a language of ‘no choice’ or ‘duty’ eg:
4. Use ‘I’ statements
or ‘My experience is…’ without judgements, evaluations, diagnosis or blame. Own the experience and choice. In doing this we must be careful to separate our experience and the situation, otherwise we assume the cause and effect:
5. Start a conversation with your explicit intention.
Eg. “I would like to talk to you in a healthy way, without blame or criticism so that we can both feel heard and respected. I want to know what is alive in you” or
6. It’s okay to express how you feel and what you want to request. You can also start a conversation with an 'emotional caveat', if needed.
An emotional caveat is simply to add how your feeling. This prepares the other person so that they can respond sensitively to that. For example:
The NVC school of thought is that we create a semi-scripted response which includes a feeling (I feel annoyed when I hear...) an underlying need (I need respect) and a request to try and meet that need (could you please give me time to…). But in my experience this is slow and difficult - but it is very useful to be able to express a feeling as a first step to self-empathy and then to let the rest take care of itself.
The essence here is to be willing to feel and see others sharing feelings, without taking it personally.
7. Use a criticism sandwich as a default.
If there is even a glimmer of something you liked or agreed with start with that because it will help ‘open’ the ears and heart of the other person and of yourself. Ending with a like is less important, but a small appreciation here will go a long way, especially if you can connect and express a resulting positive feeling. Eg:
“I like the way you said XXX and (insert body of discussion)... Thank you for taking the time to investigate and express your concern - I feel protected and happier.
8. Use reflective listening and Embrace silence
Before you retort try repeating back what you ‘heard’. Often this is different than what the speaker meant you to hear and there is an opportunity for misunderstandings to be ironed out before going forward. Start this with “What I heard you say is…”
Awkward moments are useful - they are often times when we are ‘thinking’. So let these moments last a bit longer. Ask the speaker if they have nothing more they have to say and wait until they have definitely finished.
9. When triggered take a moment
It can be helpful to investigate, internally, what you are afraid of, angry at or sad about. Try and find the corresponding need and then express those two things, with a reflection of what you heard.
If this isn’t being heard and emotions are being inflamed take a moment to accept your own feeling and see if you can find space to listen fully, in silence. Reflect what you hear, without judgement when you feel able.
10. Be aware of derailed discussion
At any point reiterate your intention and steer the conversation back on course. The best way to do this is with a decisive question, eg.
Is this what we came here to speak about?
Is this relevant and can we discuss this another time?
Is there time to talk about this now?
That's it! I know there is a lot, but you know what, we are complex, and the relationships we have are complex, so it is worth spending some time working them out. We need connection - clear connection, rather than crossed wires and misunderstanding, which is where most suffering emerges from. So this is your chance to influence that.
ROCK CLIMBING IS MORE THAN ONE THING
Rock climbing is incredibly stupid, incredibly challenging, dangerous, fun and uncertain. It is not one thing, it is all of these things, simultaneously. How can that be? We live in a world of definition - things are labelled as useful or useless, good or bad, positive or negative.
When we really get involved in our passions things become a lot more fuzzy and sometimes we see that things are not one or the other, they are one and the other. All we have to do is choose which one dominates our focus. This is the essence of positive thinking and it is the essence of what makes climbing fun instead of terrifying. So when I think about the positive lessons that I took from climbing and applied to life here is what I came up with:
It’s Monday morning now. When I sit in the office chair, body aching and spirit soaring. The lesson here? Pain helps me - it helps me to appreciate comfort - even the simple comfort of sitting in an office. Contrast is necessary for enjoyment. I can’t be joyful or comfortable all of the time or it would lose it’s meaning. So as I train my body throughout the winter I pay attention to what hurts. When I judge my pain as weaknesses I feel angry at myself and at life. I realised during the winter that the positive labels - seeing pain as a useful signal - helps me to choose, rather than ‘be forced’ to work on myself. The gradual mastery of rock climbing must come from the love of it, to continue to enjoy where you are in your skill level. This is always easy in the beginning, when we have no attachment to our progress, but this changes, over time.
SUMMARY: COMFORT VS ADVENTURE
Unfortunately so many of us have lost touch with that, our sense of wonder and adventure and become stuck in a world of comfort, fear of missing out, obligation, peer pressure or guilt. Or maybe its patterns of behaviour that fuel laziness, hopelessness… It can happen at any time - Comfort is an enticing and soft beast, a slow killer but passion is also a killer. Remember that although it’s nice to be comfy, it is easy, and when we are only prepared to do what is easy, to feel what's easy,life becomes very hard. So choose life!
My addiction to adrenaline has taught me is that life is a dangerous adventure and I can choose to focus on the danger or to focus on the adventure, with awareness of the danger. There are tools I can use to help this process:
Synopsis: This is a the topic of a recent TEDx talk I gave in Belfast, November 2015. This is the story of my journey from that of a brutish and selfish rock climber to a intuitive and compassionate dancer, mindfulness practitioner and all round happier human being.
TLDR (Exec summary):
Neil was an 11 year old boy, who loved to connect people, who saw that kindness was fun and it inspired others to be kind. He embraced physical adventure too! This was forgotten and stunted by secondary school adventures of judgement and bullying, where Neil responded by interpreting and internalizing negative messages and acted small in social situations and in learning.
After a scoliosis operation at 17 he decided a pursuit of strength, independence and fun was all important and death was a possible answer to his problems, so he stopped being concerned about the preciousness of his life. He followed one passion single mindedly - rock climbing. Neil pushed himself for years. He buried his feelings of missing out on connection and didn't care about death or the impact it would have on others.
This journey was fun and taught him much, but could have been safer. At 30 Neil embraced mindfulness, meditation, emotional sharing and empathy and self expression (in the form of blues dancing) he discovered that shame was stopping him connecting with others. When he did connect he discovered his learning increased consistently with his playfulness and his presence - his ability to be aware and accept his internal feelings and thoughts.
Neil thinks it’s important that we remember the reasons why we started our activities and habits and strive to remember what is important, to us as individuals, beneath all the rules and structures we have created. Neil thinks this is partly human connection, love, support and FUN! Neil proposes that mindfulness, emotional literacy and communication could be core subjects, taught in schools. Neil challenges you to do whatever you want with playfulness and presence, so that you may cultivate the important qualities in life.
Introduction: Do whatever the you want!
My name is Neil Morbey. I'm a mindfulness practitioner and an adrenaline junkie, having spent over 15 years rock climbing around the world. Rather than try to motivate you into a specific way of living I’d rather say - “Do whatever the hell you want”. You only have so many tomorrows - enjoy yourselves!
That’s what I focused on for most of my life and I want to tell you my story of the lessons I learned from a selfish youth spent rock climbing in the pursuit of fun.
Part 1: The boy who loved to connect, but ultimately chose challenge over connection.
When I was kid my favourite thing to do was make friends - I was great l at bringing people together and supporting classmates who were struggling to make friends and be happy. I was known as the very short kid with the big smile and big heart. I was also a fearless adventurer .
There’s this particular vivid memory from Portugal - I was 12. My mother reluctantly allowed my brother and I to go body boarding. The waves were enormous and my brother was worried. I wanted to help him overcome his fear, so we went really far out from the shoreline. I distinctly remember being lifted up and thrown underwater by massive waves.
I remember a vivid moment: I was in the middle of being rolled along the seabed by the power of the ocean - no control of my body - no chance of swimming - I had a ‘realisation’. In order to survive and enjoy this experience I had to go with the flow. I resurfaced, filling my lungs with precious air.and flopped back onto the board.
Quickly I checked to see if my brother was okay - he looked scared, but he could see the look in my eyes and my enormous grin. I decided the best way to inspire him was to show him my lack of fear
Together we faced incoming waves, shouting at the sea: “IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?!!!!!!
That summer marked the end of my carefree childhood as I went into my first year of secondary school. I loved learning but I was scared a lot because I was bullied from day one and I lacked the physical prowess or social skills of my classmates. So I made myself small, stayed under the radar. I felt ugly, insignificant and powerless, as many teenagers do. I also found the pressures of examinations and subjects that I didn’t enjoy to be overwhelming. Art and Drama were classes I enjoyed and I remember vividly, during my final year painting exam, my teacher said to me “Neil, don’t worry about making mistakes - nothing is precious.” Perhaps he was right - is it true that nothing is precious? I pondered on that for some time, interpreting this as fact.
I had many philosophical thoughts about death. Here’s one:
My best friend, Martin, and I would escape the pressures and bullying by sitting on a bench and allowing ourselves to wonder. We used to joke about something we called The CONTINGENCY PLAN’.Our ideas was to trick the banks into loaning us money and to then travel the world in search of hedonism, fun and a better way of life, until the money ran out and then we’d end life in some spectacular fashion. We actually did travel, but didn’t jump off any cliffs, but internally I had interpreted death as the answer to my problems and that allowed me to stop worrying and bury our insecurities.
I was very short and scrawny up until about 18 years old. I had a lack of success with girls. I decided that rather than share my feelings of inadequacy I would build muscle - seems like a healthy coping strategy right? But I started going to the gym at 14. Not a great idea! My bones hadn’t finished forming! So this exacerbated a curve in my spine and by 17 years old I had developed severe scoliosis that required major surgery. Recovery was immensely painful. For weeks I felt isolated and ‘lost’ during regular spasms of pain. I remember one evening, as I lay in pain, and shame over the weakness that I had. I wanted to hide away from judgmental eyes. I decided that night that I would devote the rest of my life to fun and happiness, on my own. I buried my fears deep inside.
At the time Rock climbing was my main passion - and it became all-consuming. I developed a mental composure in extreme situations, whilst retaining a sense of play. Climbing also brought me the things I thought would help me most in life - independence and strength.
I look back and find it interesting that I faced physical danger with playfulness and passion but I faced the‘ social’ dangers with seriousness and fearfulness - worrying about what others thought about me interpreting their judgements as true - I was weak and pathetic.
Question 1: How did you face your fears and what did you internalize?
When we don’t possess self confidence, skills, support we can end up feeling hopeless. These moments cause us to contract and internalise fear. We forget that those ‘realisations’ are simply internalised interpretations and aren’t necessarily true. These beliefs affect our lives until we are ready to look again at them with a new perspective, otherwise your thoughts become your habits and habits over time become ingrained into your values and beliefs.
I often wonder if there are ways we can facilitate a willingness to face our fears or challenge our beliefs?
When you look at your own past can you notice where you had the internal resources, inspiration or just brazen confidence to face fears and take risks… or times when you made yourself small and shied away from danger? I challenge us all to look at what we interpreted about ourselves from how we responded in those times? And more to the point, do your old habits still affect you?
I believe that the most effective way to heal is to feel. but it was a fairly extreme journey to come to that interpretation.
Part 2: Rock climbing: Why and how I chose ‘positive focus’.
I became a rock climber at 17 years old and I really pushed myself hard. I found it fun and reconnected with a sense of personal power over my fate. To demonstrate I want you to Imagine yourself on a rock climb, perhaps a tall sea cliff, overhanging the ocean:
You are perched on the tiptoes of your rubber shoes, on rock ledge an inch wide, with a heavy harness around your waist. Your fingers sweat slightly as you hold tightly onto some small, sharp edges of rock in front you. Above you the cliff steepens and below you your climbing partner far beneath looks worried. The rope hangs in long arc, swaying in the wind. Your foot starts to shake and you feel that familiar rise of muscle burn in your calves and forearms. In your mind you picture yourself falling and hitting the deck- and you think “Shit? I’m in trouble. What am I doing here??”
That moment - that feeling - is simultaneously what I lived for and what I dreaded. I had a simple choice: to take positive action or to surrender to the mystery of falling.
To me this feeling of power and surrender became synonymous with the feeling of being alive, and nothing else could compare to this adrenaline fuelled feeling.
Back on the cliff, seeing no real alternative you face the challenge - you take a few slow deep breaths and whisper: “It’s okay. I’m okay.” “You can do this”. You stop hesitating and start moving. Your fear changes to excitement as climb in flow - no thoughts. You trust your body and it seems to know what to do, when you're focused on positive action, instead of the perceived risk. You play with the rock, using different tactics to overcome the overhang, body in perfect balance upon each move.
Usually at this point I say something profound like: WOOOOOOOOOOOO! At the the top and I sit and stare - taking in my achievement and my relief at surviving. I enjoy this time and place. This moment - this feeling, is also why I do this. Relief and appreciation is part of the ecstatic feeling of being alive.
Coping strategies or ‘adaptations’.
Rock climbing is a lonely game gradual mastery; you can’t rush into. I had chosen an activity that taught me that making mistakes was fatal and pushed me to be strong and composed. I was playing so much that I DID rush into things - I had three major accidents and countless near misses. I became obsessed with strength rather than grace. I spent many years of my life pushing myself harder and harder, often climbing solo, without ropes or partners, to attain these contrasting feelings of rush and relief.
This was quite an extreme way of connecting with a sense of FEELING ALIVE.
As I look around the world I see other people with other single minded attitudes - such as people who spend hours every day playing computer games, or shopping or becoming workaholics. None of these are ‘bad’ things, in fact they may be done in very healthy, in life-affirming or productive ways. But often they are patterns of behavior which help people cope, distracting from what they could not bare to FEEL. We are always learning and the lessons are just waiting to come into awareness, sooner or later. This is all part of the journey and I don’t believe any path is right or wrong. Each brings unique experiences.
In retrospect I see that I learned a lot of life skills about using positive focus to bring composure, using breath and words to change my state of mind, learning how to use my body and trust its natural sense of balance and intuition. It also took me all over the world and to some unique places.
Question 2: Can we encourage confidence building in safe ways?
The ability to take on our individual personal adventures and challenges is part of the process of learning. But my question is this: Can we encourage gradual confidence building whilst managing risks - and is a ‘feeling’ presence part of the key to achieving this?
Part 3: Adventures into the heart and into connection through dance
Up to my late 20’s I had a sense that if I died it didn't matter. I disliked any hint of weakness, which, as you can imagine, caused shallowness in my friendships and relationships I was headstrong and impulsive and thought little of the impact that my death might have on others. This is perhaps the ugly side of a life focused on play.
That all changed somewhere in my 30th year. I became dissatisfied with climbing for the first time in years and off the rock I felt that I didn't really know myself. I wasn't enjoying my work or my relationships. So I moved to Bristol - which I found out was a city with HEART. I began reading obsessively into self-help, philosophy, psychology and spirituality. I was determined to rationally understand love and happiness. But that didn't work. I undertook a plethora of new activities to adventure into the heart and here are the four key areas I found critical to my learning:
1. Self-Empathy and introspection: Mindfulness!I've talked a lot about presence without explaining it. Well I learned all about it through meditation. I remember when I started I was connecting with parts of my body that I had ignored for years. Nerve damage from my spinal operation and years of abuse from rock climbing mean that I felt a lot of emotions in relation to these areas and l'd often cry during meditation. When I combined this with gentle self-enquiry I began to uncover the insight that all of my problems had a positive and negative perspective. Some of my coping patterns focused automatically on the negative.
The more I practised paving attention objectively to sensations and emotions, instead of the busy negative thoughts the more I came into still presence or what I now call loving awareness. With practice I was able to calmly choose how to respond to situations, rather than impulsively react in old patterns. Also the more self-empathy and gentleness I practised towards myself the more compassion became my natural focus externally. This helped me become relaxed, emotionally happier and more connected with others.
2. Emotional intimacy and communication.I then discovered varied organisations that run workshops in all facets of human relationships I didn't even realise such things existed but I'm glad they do. This included the Mankind Project, Non-Violent Communication, Tantra and Sensual practices and motivational interviewing techniques. I found it was really useful to have structured workshops that allowed me to explore with others in the realms of emotional intimacy, exploration of my boundaries and communication in everyday relationships. I gained exposure and understanding of consent, jealousy and fear of rejection. I got to share and practice listening to others struggles and offer empathy and support. I also got to play, touch, and practice vulnerable self-disclosure in intimate groups. These workshops brought more than education, they provided me with touching experiences. I'm certain that the fact that I felt moved and moved others increased the effectiveness of my learning of not only subjects around emotions and communication, but also brought me in contact with self-learning, about my own desires and fears.
3. Learning to Self-Expression and Receptive Playing: Dance! I had always wanted to learn to dance. I remember that other boys who could dance would always attract girls and I felt bitter that I had no rhythm or connection between my body and the music. I learned Swing dancing in 2013 and it was fun - I actually found the basics quite easy. But I wanted a slower and more connected dance - I soon discovered blues dancing - where one could dance solo or in close embrace with either gender and the traditional lead/follow roles were often dropped, creating more of an expressive dance, where both partners had a voice. Steps were not the important thing - creativity and receptiveness were seen as the valuable traits.
Dancing was frightening because it risked exposing the truth of my shame to others. I had tense muscles, partly because I always felt that I should appear strong and this tension blocked connection with people and with the more subtle music. So for the first year I was pretty depressed with my blues dancing, but I persevered.
On my second year of dancing a friend of mine stopped me mid-dance, she kindly took my hands and wrapped them around her body and began to lead me through three exquisite songs, with my eyes closed. She showed me that it’s okay to play with the music imperfectly, to expressing intimately, whilst leaving space for me to do the same. I was inspired through feeling. I relaxed a lot evening and since then I've really taken to dancing and love to inspire and teach others - especially beginners!
My old beliefs were slowly being ebbed away by the tools I've mentioned, but dancing really blew away the old cobwebs. Within self-examination, emotional literacy and self-expression there are many other tools and styles, and each has it’s own benefits. I'm not prescribing these specific styles, they are just the ones that appeared in my journey.
Question(s) 3: Can we gently question how and why we play the way we do?
But I want to ask: How many of us are playing alone because we either haven’t accepted our weaknesses or just feel that we don’t know how to play together well, or with a sense of our personal boundaries?
Can we allow ourselves to be fully ‘seen’ in our vulnerability?
And even more Can we be seen and give space to others to be seen?
Why presence is important:
I’ve discovered that playing and growing ‘with other people’ is far more effective than going it alone. Happiness shared is happiness squared, but the same goes for learning too. When you allow yourself to feel you heal and learn faster. This includes feeling positive and negative (uncomfortable) emotions and sensations.
However, in any relationship we inevitably create styles and structures based on our preferences and what works. It’s also the same in dance; some structures are more flexible than others. This is true of all relationships, including political, religious and romantic.
Styles can be fun. but as we move forward it is important to remember the core principles behind the structures are the important thing, otherwise we can take it all very seriously and fall back into blame, judgement, and shame. The antidote, for me, is playfulness AND presence - Paying attention (presence) whilst having fun. This naturally creates empathy, compassion and inclusivity.
Severe traumas sometimes prevent us from connecting being present with our true feeling. A severe trauma could be the result of serious sexual, physical or psychological abuse and can often lead to a vivid memory and interpretation that gets ‘stuck’ in the system. There are many tools to help ‘’unstick’ these traumatic memories and resulting symptoms - but sometimes drugs or physiological therapies can provide necessary help - in which case a medical professional may be required.
However, often just having someone listen and provide a safe space with skilfull and gentle enquiry is the key to building loving awareness and internal resources. This is part of my work now - healing. But the other part is prevention. In many cases it seems like people wait for the severe trauma before they are exposed to the concepts I’m talking about. - a bit like waiting to get a rotten tooth before you learn to brush your teeth. I think we can change all of that and make our culture more supportive and loving by encouraging skills that build awareness, self acceptance, empathy and compassion, even from an early age.
The Future: Education
If I was in charge of the curriculum of schools then Mindfulness, Emotional Literacy, Communication and Self Expression would be high on the agenda. They help us to learn more effectively and support one another, without shrinking back into coping mechanisms, which can often bury our feelings deeper.
I think it is essential that people understand from an early age that it is okay to make mistakes. For young people, who may be in the beginnings of coping with shame and starting to avoid feelings we can use educate with playfulness and presence to help them see that their differences and imperfections are valuable and necessary. If we focus on problems (away from what we want) and only towards what we ‘should’ do then then we risk cutting ourselves us off from real connection (empathic) and can end up idolizing strength and despising weakness.
Mindfulness is already starting to appear in schools, but I think that relationship and emotional education is lagging behind, because it is yet recognised as important. Also, as adults many of us have forgotten what playing is, because we’ve been shut down by judgement or over thinking - by what we have been told we should do instead of being inspired into what we could do.
Rock climbing helped me feel strong in mind and body, but mindfulness and dancing helped me to feel fully alive through feeling and sharing - the vulnerable feeling this creates is just as scary as any life threatening climbing move, but it’s so worth it - part of discovering love is accepting that sometimes we need other people in ‘real’ connection. We need to see others and be seen.
I've always been playful and I believe that quality is in all of us, in our own way. With self-awareness / presence I believe playfulness gains sense of empathy, compassion and responsibility. In my life I’ve found I'm more grateful for life generally and therefore I don't NEED the adrenaline kicks as much. Playfulness is still important. because when we are lost in fear or hopelessness or shame a little fun can do the world of good.
Whatever you’re afraid of and drawn to - it’s okay - I’m hoping you choose adventures which don’t cause your mum to worry sick, but we must each choose our own path. Just remember that sometimes the smallest adventures can be just as rewarding as the big ones and it’s important to go with what moves you, rather than what you think you ‘should’ do. Come to it with presence and playfulness and I think you'll learn MORE EFFECTIVELY and with DEEPER enjoyment. But ultimately do whatever you want. ;)
Before you read: Please note - I am NOT an ancient history academic and whilst I enjoy reading some this is really intended to be a quick toe-dip into one story with a look at what lessons I have interpreted from it. Please feel free to comment, with respect. x
In this myth Orestes' father is killed by his mother. In vengeance, and to protect his family name (and to hide his shame) he feels it is his obligation to kill his mother. He tries to justify this (to the gods) by blaming others and claiming he had 'no choice' (he is not responsible). He is punished by the gods by being condemned to roam the earth and haunted by 'The Furies' - spirit voices that plague him with condemnation, increasing his guilt and suffering.
Several years pass and finally Orestes seeks refuge a sanctuary, where the gods allow the voices to sleep, temporarily, allowing Orestes to reach his goal - redemption in Athens. The Furies wake and catch up to him there. He asks the gods for forgiveness and takes responsibility for his actions. The gods answer his pleas and change the nature of the voices into benevolent spirits, that now support Orestes.They are his positive lessons that empower him. Their name is changed to the Eumenides, or "kindly ones," to symbolize their new character. For the rest of his life these spirits encourage and guide him.
This is a story of what can happen when we indulge vengeance, shame, obligation, and guilt and when we do not own our action. We suffer our internal voices and 'karma'. This can be addressed in many ways and one such was is to seek refuge and sanctuary (to allow us to see a way forward). When we have a clearer mind we can take positive action, which could include asking for help, forgiveness or taking the time to forgive ourselves. It is a journey of discovery that we can learn from.
As much as we are responsible for ourselves we also need each other and ultimately we may not have control of everything that is thrown our way, but we can strive to find the right actions for this time, place - to address our emotion and ourneeds and learn the lessons of the past.
I found the story useful in realising that all the mistakes we have made, problems we have or struggles that I face are essentially 'useful' and can become my greatest assets, if I can take ownership of them, work with them and seek the help I need, connecting with myself, with others and with something greater than myself alone. So many times I have seen people with great struggles, shame or mistakes go on to accept and forgive themselves and become strong once again. It is almost as if the bigger the mistake or shame the bigger the opportunity for growth - perhaps even a super power. My own struggles with shame, around my body, my ability to dance, the lies I've told in the past and the failings within my professional and personal life have all become part of my strengths, and continue to be. I believe this can be true for anyone.
I love words and there is an interesting tangent on this article, thanks to Etymology. Our words have deeper meaning than we give them credit. In this case the word 'Euphemism' comes from the Greek word εὐφημία (euphemia), meaning "the use of words of good omen". Etymologically, the 'eupheme' is the opposite of the 'blaspheme' "evil-speaking." The term euphemism itself was used as a euphemism by the ancient Greeks, meaning "to keep a holy silence" (speaking well by not speaking at all). Or as Don Miguel Ruiz said, in one of his 'Four Agreements': "Be Impeccable With Your Word."
Perhaps it is useful to remember that we can choose the words we say to ourselves and others. They can even be humorous, as many of today's Euphemisms are. Euphaisms can be a way to soften words and be kind, but it is a slippery slope towards dishonesty and ignorance. Life is a constantly moving adventure, which is why a Euphemism can be both damaging or beautiful, depending on the context. See the examples below.
Last week I went to see a talk (run by Positive Living), by the 'Barefoot Doctor', (Stephen Russell) who has just written his ‘New Manifesto’. He describes himself as a ‘Taoist alchemist’ and seeks to pass on his knowledge to help others manifest the bigger aspects of your self; to discern you natural path and align with it. He sees it as much more of an aligning with what is right for you - manifesting the deep state of what is enjoyable for you, so that there is an illusion that you are controlling it, but without getting hung up about whether it is fate or free will.
I thought he was a bit of a rambling mad man - yet wise and charming. He has had a fascinating life so far -a lifelong study of eastern spirituality, philosophy, martial arts and trust in intuition. In this way I was impressed. He claims not to have ‘belief’ in the strictest sense of the word, but rather is a curious observer and practitioner of the tools in his own life, with some great stories.
A couple of things that stood out, to me, from his class were two ideas:
Make - Making a state is simple and anyone can do that regardless of your situation. (One example exercise is to: Every third though, stick in this one: “I'm alive! I have the greatest gift there is” (3 times, with feeling.) “mmmmm…”) Doing this has stuck with me and gives me an appreciative perspective every now and then.
Marvellous - Allow yourself to marvel at the mystery of existence, as it is by allowing more flexibility in how you describe and perceive reality. (One example exercise is to: When you notice a new location or situation add this thought or speak this sentence: “This is just a description! Mmmmm… with feeling, and without inhibition). This is to remind yourself of the fluidness of reality.
Magical - Magic is guiding destiny, benignly. Magic is recognising that humans have this super-natural ability (one example exercise is to: Every third though, stick in this one: “This is a supernatural being! To build wonderful awareness.) This one may or may not work for you, depending on your language preferences. I suggest dropping what turns you off.
Manifesting - Thinking about something you want and bring it into your visual mind, your feeling body and play with it (one example exercise is to: Put what you want in a bubble. Between you and it imagine entity in the way (doubt/fear) and it is trying to distract you. Instead, put your gaze into the centre ground of that bubble and see yourself walking towards it and the entity is obliged to move out of the way. Then you are in the bubble with the thing you wanted and feel what you will feel when you get it. “Mmmmm...”)
Moves - Use body movments to ‘incubate’ your intention and make it come about - like waving a wand. This has it’s roots in Qigong. He provides a variety of moves, mixed with imagination of energy, visualising what you want, feelings associated. This is rooted in ‘Wu Wei’ means effortless manifesting what you need in life.
Overall Stephen came across as a generous and lucky individual. He seems to want to genuinely help as many people as he can and pass on his skills and knowledge. So if your’e interested then look him up, cause I'm sure he will be eager to talk (as he couldn't shut up when I saw him!)
Much love. x
Today I has a one to one client and I also utilised the space at Breathe Bristol for the first time to give a free meditation session (the first of a regular Tuesday afternoon event). One of the items we discussed included ‘choices’ and I was reminded of this quote in Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ (highly recommended):
'You will never make a bad choice. Notice that what lies ahead are simply two paths - A and B - both of which are interesting and have their own set of experiences, trade-offs, pro’s and cons. Each path will have unique "goodies" of experience along the way, regardless of the outcome of the decision I make.'
This to me makes decision making so much less stressful and can change one's perspective completely. This is as simple as mindfulness gets - everything, when viewed objectively, is experience; learning opportunities. This also came up with my one to one client and we talked a bit more about language, which again is a result of reading the book. Susan calls is ‘Pain to Power Language’ and I think that just the simple awareness of the language one uses and awareness of possible alternatives can have a startling effect on one’s awareness of choice.
Pain -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> Power
I can't -------------------------------- I won't
I should ------------------------------- I could
It's not my fault ---------------------- I'm totally responsible
It's a problem ------------------------- It's an opportunity
Life's a struggle ---------------------- Life's an adventure
I'm never satisfied -------------------- I want to learn and grow
I hope --------------------------------- I know
If only -------------------------------- Next time
What will I do? ------------------------ I know I can handle it
It's terrible -------------------------- It's a learning experience
It is important to not ‘trick yourself’ by saying without understanding or feeling. The first step towards REAL change is awareness, the second is acceptance and that’s a whole other topic. If you want to learn more about that, get in touch or come along to the Level 1 and Level 2 workshops in November, where these subjects get covered at an introductory and then a more in-depth level. This wasn't the only thing that got me thinking about choice today...
FREE GUIDED MEDITATION - MUSINGS ON 'FEELING OF OBLIGATION'
...I gave my first of a regular free guided meditation and self-enquiry session. I’m doing this because it allows anyone to access the work or to come along and try out my particular way of teaching and guiding. I want to create a world where we can support each other into kind awareness, which doesn't always have an ‘obligation of reciprocation’ of money.
Why do I use this strange term, ‘obligation of reciprocation’? Well, I’m reading a book by Robert Caldini, called Influence, which is all about the psychology of persuasion. The book’s first chapters indicate that the human brain has created many ‘automatic’ responses, otherwise life would be overly complex. These responses include the feeling of obligation when one is given ‘a gift’. That obligation usually encourages the receiver to give something back. This is often manipulated by salesmen or canvassers, such as the Krishnas did in the 60’s when they presented people with a rose or a book. Even though the gift was often unwanted the receiver usually then felt obliged to give something back (a donation).
I’m reading more about influence as I go because I am seeking ways to inspire people into kind awareness, rather than passing out advice, judgement, or moralising. I encourage and inspire people to find their own path. I therefore teach effective communication techniques, including ‘positive means of influence’ in my Level 2 and 3 courses.
So, even though this is a completely free session it is interesting to be mindful of the feeling of obligation that may naturally occur - that feeling isn't always negative as it can create a virtuous, energy-giving cycle, but it is always helpful to be aware of choice vs obligation otherwise obligation becomes an unconscious weight to carry.
As it turned out some people cancelled and it ended up being a one-to-one session, which we both really enjoyed. We spent the first 20 minutes meditating and the feedback I got was that just this was a huge benefit, because it allowed the person to unwind and to clear her mind. The practice of meditation is something pivotal to helping us relax, connect with our inner wisdom of felt sensation and to become more self-aware. This is covered in depth in all levels of the courses.
Enlightenment is a big word that doesn't really mean much. It is a feeling of lightness. Perhaps this comes from a belief or an understanding or an attitude, or just simply laughter at something funny, or a beautiful sunny day enjoying the grass.
The permenent state of enlightenment is a mythical place where we feel this constantly - it doesn't work like that. If we are always wishing to 'attain' this we never quite succeed. Here is why: it's a process:
When you are young you accept life as amazing and magical. If you have a healthy upbringing this is supported and you develop a healthy self-esteem. If you have abuse or neglect you can develop some self-beliefs, judgements and tension in the body that will cause pain and shorten your enjoyment of the innocence of childhood. Either way there is a phase in your life that is new and forms your self beliefs.
As you grow up and develop a sense of identity and an ‘understanding’ of how the world works (based on the culture of fear and scarcity usually) you forget about the magic and start to take it all very seriously. It can be fun but also very scary, dangerous, ugly, painful and harmful. Teenage and young adult years are filled with change, but that is sometimes harder to embrace once one ‘thinks’ one know what the world is about. Social understanding can lead to embarrassment, self-hatred, fear, depression etc. Or if one has support or a good early sense of self-esteem it can be a wonderful time of making friends, learning skills and finding direction. . Either way there is a phase in your life that is new and forms your direction.
At some point in your adult life, when one is ready, we start investigating deeply our beliefs; ones feelings and ones relationship with the world a lot of realisations happen. There are many paths to these realisations; pain, dis-ease, depression, music, dance, breakdown, spiritual awakening, following your desire, tantra…. As many as there are thoughts in your head. The journey can be a painful struggle or a battle or a near death experience. It can also be a gentle allowing, or a disciplined and patient observing, or a screaming thrill-ride, or an orgasmic melting. If you really pay attention you get to choose. Either way this is a period of investigation and understanding. To know oneself.
So what do these realisations bring? Well, nothing physical. It’s something non-tangible – a connection with your nature - a remembering that the world IS amazing and magical and beautiful and rich and ever changing. It can also bring a new sense of power paradoxically tinged with powerlessness. Faith that everything is perfect and you are fully responsible, but only if you let go of needing and control. That is the real paradox – in order to be truly powerful one must surrender. Anything else is tinged with a hint of fear of loss or lack. Depending on the support through the other stages, interactions and reading, education and which path you chose you will get there either quickly of slowly, painfully or easily, joyfully or angrily… or you may never quite get there until your last moments, when you are forced to face the nature of your temporary reality. This is a period of enlightenment and there are many paths.
So let’s imagine we have got to this place, this attitude and understanding that the world is perfectly unfolding in magic. So what? Then what?
Well now you get to play. Really play. There will be fear and you can allow the fear and do the stuff you love anyway. There will be sadness and joy and disgust and pain and you can relax and allow all of them, paying attention and seeing the beauty or resisting and enjoying the fight and the thrill of swimming with or against the flow. Deep down you understand your beliefs are just that and you know what you want. This is a time of clarity.
I call enlightenment ‘Embracing the mystery’. It doesn’t mean losing your curiosity – quite the opposite. One can still quest for scientific understanding or spiritual connection and awakening or learning new skills and having challenging relationships. But now one does these things from a place of love. One does things for the love of it, not because of some consequence if one doesn’t do it. Life isn’t so serious that things are imperative. There may be ‘needs’ in order to ‘accomplish a goal’ (which often feels great), but at the end of the day you know that those goals are fun and part of the joy of life, in the same way as mistakes, failure, rejection, loss and hardship. If you fail it doesn’t mean anything about who-you-are (deep down) or even what-you-can-do. You know that physical life is temporary and ever changing and you can handle anything, be anything, do anything that you set your mind to. So what do you want to do today? That is a mystery to me.
Mindfulness is simple, yet very difficult to achieve. It can make one realize the inner judgements about oneself. If there is self-hatred or scorn, even a little bit we can feel it as sensation in the body after the thought occurs.
If we are to sustain meditation and mindfulness It requires one to know, deep in their bones, that they are okay; that they are complete and perfect, as they are; that they are living the best they can; that every choice they make is the right one for their journey ad will bring its own experiences and 'goodies'; that they are as worthy as any other person and that they are as loved, capable, beautiful and gorgeously human. Everyone is the same, yet paradoxically totally unique - the world depends on unique people, otherwise we may as well be robots or vegetables.
Mindfulness wraps up all of this knowledge in a smiling, knowing observation and appreciation of every experience that you perceive. When we are aware of ourselves in this way, every experience has beauty and every person we meet or situation is acceptable, or even fascinating and enjoyable. This is the essence of unconditional love - to accept, with curiosity and celebration, every experience. To be willing to experience it all!
My job is to help people get to that place of deep knowing that they are perfect, so that they can play with life, mindfully. To help people get past their worries and judgements about themselves and develop mindful confidence.
Why bother being mindful?
Intuition is the most powerful of all wisdom.
Rational thinking is useful in the modern world - it is also fun and interesting, but will send you round in circles, chasing a mystery that can never be solved. We can’t know everything before we take action, we must take action first - play, try, experiment, move, take a risk. As we learn we think. But no amount of thinking will 'add to you' - you are perfect and if you cultivate mindfulness you’ll always be able to tune in and remember that - this is powerful. It is resilience in the face of vulnerability - any shitty or difficult situation you find yourself in can be handled with composure and without depression, rage, terror. When you know you can handle anything you can really start to investigate what you want in life.
The more you practice, the more honest you can be with everyone around you (because you’re not so embarrassed or ashamed of the deeper 'you'when you take time to consciously appreciate it)
Then you start to drop the behaviours, things, and relationships that you don;'t serve or that serve you (or that you dislike)
Then you ATTRACT the people and things you do like.
When we drop the masks and people see us for how we really are is helps us.
The final bit - and the best bit - is that when other people see you doing this it SOMETIMES inspires them to be more accepting of themselves too. It becomes a positive cycle that infects everyone - OK, not everyone! - some people are still predominantly living through the egoic mind, very automatically and they might react very negatively to you. Those are the people that I’ll discuss below:
Ego? Isn't that judgemental? What if this meditation thing just isn't for me?
Well that’s fine too - you’ll carry on living organically, as you always have. Your mind will be influenced by your past wounding (physical and mental) and by the cultural messages around you, as it has been up until this point. You may be completely fine and blissfully ignorant. The point is that if you're not aware you are truly vulnerable to the ravages of judgement, craving and aversion - you’ll be in the illusion of 'control' and the way the mind works you’ll probably be drawn in by the ideas of comfort, security, wealth and popularity, all mixed in with an underlying fear of being rejected, of failing and ultimately of death. These underlying fears can cause the strong negative emotional states of depression or rage.
In me I had a strong sense of hopelessness and a craving to be liked and to show the world a bullshit image of strength and skillfulness. I still do, actually, but I'm more aware and self accepting and so these characteristics have less power over me. Now I find I can CHOOSE how to respond when someone doesn't like me. We might find it difficult to shift these things, but when we accept them they are OK. That goes for illnesses too, most of which are due to stress (inner tension) which has it’s origins in your attitude - how you see the world and what you resist.
Ultimately all of this life will end in death so it really doesn’t matter if you choose to be mindful or not - you’ll carry on living for as long as you do and you’ll either enjoy it or you won’t. If you don’t you’ll probably find you reach some sort of crisis point, which happens to most people, and then eventually you’ll say something like: “why am I being so afraid? What’s wrong with me? Oh fuck it, I’m just going to focus on enjoying my life!” And you will… for a while… until you forget the lesson and repeat the whole cycle of life-pain-acceptance-enjoyment all over again. Probably - that's what I did.
The idea behind mindfulness is that you don’t have to do that - you can balance your life so that you get more of the acceptance-enjoyment and less of the pain. It is a practice to help sustain enjoyment - at least it is for me. I like feeling happy - at peace - the best way for me to sustain that feeling is to have the ability to be at peace in any given situation. The ability to create happiness. I believe mindfulness is one tool that enables us to do that. It is one of the best tools because it is universal - it can be used by anyone and in any situation. It doesn't require changing anything.
It just takes a little effort, a little patience and a little more self awareness than you had in the previous moment. Step by step this is the way to get better at anything, there is no magic quantum leap - this is just changing the way you think, a little at a time.
In Winter 2015 I went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat at the Dhamma Dipa Vipassana Meditation Centre in Hereford. I left on day 5 and here is my tale.
The retreat is free, you are invited to give a donation at the end. They give you a code of ethics at the start and you agree to keep to it. It involves
I also iinitially chose to go because I thought I needed that ‘medicine’. Perhaps, like a course of antibiotics, I should have finished it to fully ‘fix’ some of the issues I have, but I don’t think this is true.
What was my experience?
I arrived at 5pm, dropped my wallet and phone in the glove box of my car. With only an overnight bag, a thermos, water bottle and meditation stool I walked through the ‘male’ entrance and into a large hall with tables and chairs and saw the ‘male registration desk’ straight ahead, with two friendly men sitting at it. I was feeling excited, but earlier in the day I had been nauseous and nervous and full of self-doubt. I registered and dropped my bag off in my room (room number B4 - which seemed ironic - I was staying in Be-fore). I had the room to myself, because my room mate didn’t show up to utilise the second bed. I went back to the registration area, which I also realised was the canteen. The room was full of men on one side and women on the other, all talking away but divided a movable partition wall, which was currently open and we could see the women in the other half of the room. I helped myself to a cup of tea and sat down. I started up a conversation with a young Japanese guy. He was an artist with an interesting tale and he had no prior meditation experience. Some more guys joined us at the table and we talked until 7pm when silence descended. The partition wall was closed off - no more contact with women. We were instructed; No more verbal, physical or gestured contact with each other. We were to maintain ‘noble silence’ and work as if working in isolation. We were to commit to staying the whole ten days.
The routine consisted of waking up early (4am), heading to a large, modern meditation hall where we sat on our assigned floor spaces - women on one side of the hall, men on the other. In fact the whole complex was divided this way, and the men’s side including had a few buildings connected by covered walkways with little gardens - it was a cross between a school and a converted farmstead. In the meditation hall we could choose our own cushions from a large pile, but we weren't allowed to lie down or point our feet out (legs straight). We were told we could stand for short periods but were encouraged to try and maintain position for as long as possible, yet also shift it if we really needed to. We meditated for about 12 hours a day, with breaks for breakfast, lunch and tea. Within the 12 hours we had four blocks of meditation lasting about 3 hours each. Sometimes they allowed meditation in our own rooms during meditation hours but there was at least one hour in each block of time where we had to be in the hall and we received some instruction. At the end of every day we received a long video (the discourse).
Whilst most of the time spent sitting was silent there was some guidance. Within the guidance and the videos we listened to the strange chantings / singing of an Indian man, S.N Goenka. He had some very odd chants and he would repeat instructions over and over again. I found it quite grating at times. Other times it was useful to remind myself of the basic practice. He would reiterate that it was all about the sentiment: “start again, with a calm and equanimous mind”.
EARLY DAYS - THOUGHTS
For the first three days all we did was focus on the breathing and sensations in the area in and below the nostrils. We were to ‘try’ and stay focused and not to get distracted. That’s pretty much the whole practice. The teacher was also available to ask questions - quietly, of course, and one-on-one. This 10 day course was designed to be a practical exercise, rather than a philosophical one - we were here to practice continuously and see what happens. I liked that, but at the same time my mind wanted to think. I tried to keep my mind calm and relatively clear all day long, but after the evening discourse, in bed at night, my mind would be whirring with lots of philosophical debate!
Thoughts and pictures in my mind during the first two days were interesting and I grew to appreciate my mind a lot.Initially I saw things being played out on facebook! My mind was so attuned to facebook it was thinking in that way. Morals of films like Groundhog Day and The Shawshank Redemption was very present in my thoughts too: “Get busy living or get busy dying” popped into my head a lot. Shawshank also had a great quote which really came up, particularly when I was leaving the complex in the morning of day 5. The quote comes from one of the characters, who is set free from prison and is on his way to be reunited with his friend:
“I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain”
Lastly the film Into the Wild had a poignant quote that was present for me: “Happiness is only real when shared” which I was now thinking isn’t true, because here I am, on my own and quite happy plugging away. It seems happiness is always here, waiting for us to enjoy alone or in company.
IMPROVEMENT WITH FOCUS
As time went on and I practiced diligently I realised that I was improving at keeping a calm mind and pulling my focus back to the object of my meditation, throughout physical and mental distractions. The phrases that the teacher said that helped me the most were:
WHEN NOT MEDITATING - IMAGINING
When I was not meditating I was either eating in the mess hall, napping, walking in the grounds or using the bathroom (I showered and brushed my teeth A LOT). During these times I observed things whilst eating and noticed how my mind became busy, because of the visual and physical stimulus. I started assigning funny names to the other meditators, based on their appearance and it was causing me to giggle (a very sweet sensation giggling)… but the teacher told me “this was not in line with the practice - imaginative thinking was only adding fuel to the fire. I should to try to keep my mind quiet.” So giggling or laughing was not permitted - it disturbs the other meditators for a start.
KEEPING THE PEACE
Non-disturbance of others was a big part of the moment to moment practice. I witnessed how others moved carefully and how I preferred those people to the ones who moved loudly and clumsily. So I started moving slowly and carefully. It was an incredible change - i was enjoying every little thing more. Including nature - which because much more beautiful and without the need for meaning or labels to describe the beauty. I was able to just be with it, in pure enjoyment.
All this seemed easy in this place. That’s because everything else was taken care of. All I had to do was follow the rules, do the work and I even got fed and looked after. What started bothering me is that this wasn’t real life. I was thinking that ‘real-life’ is much more difficult and challenging than this and there are all sorts of decisions that need to be made, relationships to engage with, chores and mental work… how was this practice going to help with all that? It didn’t seem to have enough content to do that. This was my mind ‘forgetting’ that this was a retreat, a singular experience, not a whole life ethos - my ego was cleverly creating justification for a way out...
I was also noticing that it was very painful to sit for more than an hour in any one position, especially with the prescriptions about not allowing straight legs on the floor. My knees had strong pain sensations, which were different from other pain sensations in my body. Something in my intuition said “listen to this pain Neil - react - stand up - or you’ll be damaged”. So I did and I decided that the awkward, floor-based positions were not yet for me. I wanted to practice the focusing exercises without the limitation of risking harming my body. I asked the teacher about this and he said “well we are not doctors, so change position if you wish, but the practice is to try not to be distracted and react to sensations, but to focus on the sensations, including pain, one at a time, in order.” I was also noticing other people limping and I began to think “This isn’t physically healthy - people are harming themselves by sitting still in positions that their bodies aren’t used to”. So after three days of putting up with the pain I decided to take a chair and I was able to sit still for hours.
I realised that the only thing stopping me getting more comfortable earlier was that I wanted to try to accept the pain and I thought it was cowardly and weak to get a chair. When I saw others opting for chairs I thought I was better than them. I also thought that they would be missing out on learning. It didn’t take me long to notice that this is a judgmental, arrogant and narcissistic thought pattern - I was really noticing what kind of person I was and what self beliefs I had. Clearly, somewhere within me is a judgement of weakness, which is at the root of my own self-hatred. There and then I simply chose to stop thinking in that way and choose compassion. It’s okay to have weakness; we are all doing our best.
EASY BUT NOT EASY
The practice was now straight forward and I enjoyed the silence and stillness and sensations. I did not enjoy the discourses, singing and teachings from Goenka - It didn’t interest me any more because something within the philosophy were some moral choices, inaccurate scientific observations and use of discouraging or inaccurate language which disagreed with my mind. This made the practice very difficult. So in a way it was easy, but difficult. My mind was the only thing making it difficult.
EXPRESSING THE THOUGHTS- EVENING OF DAY 4
That night I wanted to write - to express something - to put my thoughts down. So I snuck out between evening meditations, to the car, and retrieved my phone. It was super exciting and I loved the thrill. I felt like a secret agent! The adrenaline pumping was a beautiful and intense sensation, which I sat through the next meditation experiencing. That night I wrote until midnight and felt a strong compulsion that I wanted to ‘get busy living’. I knew there would be judgements and I would be missing out on teachings, but I wanted to get back to my important projects and see the people that I loved and to dance and have sex! The only connection I’d had with another living being since being here was with a cheeky Robin who landed on my head! I craved connection.
CHOOSING TO LEAVE
I slept on it. In the morning I meditated for an hour; sensation, observation, enjoying the focus. After meditation I wrote a bit more and made up my mind. It was time to leave. I had a nap before breakfast. I showered and I ate. I saw the Japanese man that I had met at the start and wanted to get his contact details, so I snuck over and spoke to him (which I felt a bit guilty about - I interrupted his silence) but he happily agreed and wished me well.
I spoke to the teacher before leaving and he quickly realised that I was sure about my decision. He was very calm (robot like) and told me there was no need to apologise. I was asked to wait until 8am to leave - once people had started the mid-morning meditation. So I went to the nature area and walking track to wait.
It was 7:45am and there was the most beautiful sunrise. The whole sky was red, the air was still, the ground frosty. It was like a frozen picture and I was slowly moving through it. I was aware of a clear mind. It was utterly beautiful.
When I got into the car I put some Nina Simone on and drove home, smiling and singing some of favourite lyrics: “I wish I could share all the love that's in my heart...” and everything was perfect! I knew that from this moment everything would always be perfect, even if I was ‘wrong’ for leaving, I knew I was just going to enjoy my life. I was heading off to work on what was REALLY important to me and develop disciplines that would allow me to share this with others.
But I don’t think so. I think I’m fine and the technique that they prescribed was an overly simplistic for my whole life. I don’t really want to be like the Buddha, sitting under a tree all my life. I want a balance - calm and chaos - because I recognise that a healthy human being is an emotional being as well as a peaceful being. But at the same time I can see how, in modern life, stillness and awareness are essential to living in a balanced way.
I realise that I am a ‘yes’ person in life, and so, like Jim Carrey in ‘Yes Man’ I am often out of balance - I’m loud and expressive, clumsy and scattered. One of my biggest practices is to tune in and express clear and honest ‘no’s’ to things in life, so that I can choose where to put my attention - into things, people, places and actions that are in line with both my rational values and my heart felt instincts.
I can choose to re-balance and practice more careful mindfulness, more sensitive honesty, more self-enforced focus and discipline. I can’t do all of that by focusing on what I want - you might call it positive thinking, but I’ve learned that this is an art form which opens life up for you. I can only do it by positive focus - on what I do want. Because whenever we say yes to something there is always a natural no to something else. Focusing on what you don’t want only brings more of that. We have to make some things more important than others. In this, we have no choice, otherwise we stagnate and die. Ignorance of yourself, Indecision and dis-honesty with yourself causes me more suffering than anything else.
I go through long spells of distraction away from this choice - the practice is to start again, as often as possible, without self judgment. Just do your best.
Choose to see beauty
One of my favourite philosophers, Alan Watts, says that a human being is just an expression of life/nature. I totally agree, Humans have evolved to have a powerful mind and in doing so the mind is able to conceptualise life and give it meaning and then the mind evolves further and realises the illusion of the self-created meaning and so it can go one of two ways - it can give up trying and die (because it perceives life as a struggle with no point) or it can give up struggling and enjoy life for as long as possible (because it perceives life as beautiful).The latter decision will allow positivity to grow and our species to thrive. The former attitude will lead to suffering, depression and death.
Decide what you are for
In making decisions and facing the consequences with the mind of an emotional being is to consciously remember and remind myself that I am loved and worthy exactly as I am. I have value in just my pure existence - I am gorgeous; I am flawed, I am scared, I make mistakes; I am beautiful in these ways and more. I can choose to accept all of me, because I now totally realise that good and bad are just labels that our mind creates. There is no ‘real’ deeper meaning. This is all just stuff happening and it’s not what you do, but how you do it; what your attitude is and what you choose to believe. And what if I don’t feel a strong yes or a strong no? Then let do nothing and let someone else decide or do something, it matters not, eventually - with some self-awareness you will feel a something, a strong desire. The monks at the Vipassana have chosen that for most of their lives they will meditate and feel the awareness without reacting. My view is that we are all ultimately drawn towards that place too, the closer we get to death. I don’t know what happens after death, but I feel it’s pretty close to what the monks are doing - coming together with themselves. They call it the ultimate enlightenment or Nirvana.
Here’s what I believe - There is no ‘point’ to life. So why bother at all? Well, if you stagnate or commit suicide that will be the ultimate ‘missing out’. You’ll miss everything, all the fun, joy, love, lust, passion, learning, experiences, pain, ecstasy, sadness, heartache, excitement, fear, horror, peace, magic, connection and inspiration… I’ll pick one and go with it and my imagination with create the magic. I'm finding my own path as I walk.
Positive lessons I learned:
Life is beautiful. I’m enough - I’m perfect as I am. My mind attaches ‘meaning’ to things and that is the only thing that makes it ‘right/good’ or ‘wrong/bad’. Life is just a bunch of stuff happening and we are lucky enough to have minds with vivid imaginations to create. Or more eloquently put by Shakespeare:
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Balance in life is important so it’s important to stop once in a while, make sure that I know what my priorities are and adjust accordingly. I need hardship, stillness, focus and work as much as I need play, being, relaxation and excitement. Any choice I make is the right choice for me as long as I make it from a place of love and wisdom, not fear. I can choose to think and do anything and I recognise the fundamental important things to me are human connection, expression and support. An easy barometer for decision making is to decide if I am drawn to it - if I like it and if it is inline with my values.
So here is an easy list of stuff I specific events and stuff I learned:
What I disliked and disagreed with?
Many, but at the same time, none that hold strong emotional charge around. The course was designed very intelligently and I realise now, with hindsight, that I allowed one of my core ‘monkey-mind’ traits to convince me that leaving was the best choice. That trait was fear of missing out, or FOMO.
I allowed my mind to jump in and rationalise the whole philosophy behind the course and use it as an excuse to justify my leaving. I see the fallacy in my own disagreements about the philosophies within the course. I wish the course had stated more clearly that it is a course, not a routine to follow your whole life. It is an experience to provide contrast for your life. It is to help cultivate control of your own mind so that you can make calm, informed choices throughout difficult times and you can choose, in every moment, what you put your attention on and what you even think about. Then the moral choices will be much easier.
At the end of the day all of these are excuses. I didn’t do the full work and now I have missed a rare opportunity to do that work in a single week. It means I will now have to weave that work into my life, organically, gradually and with some effort, with a weaker starting point than I could have had completed. If I had sat the whole 10 days I would be re-entering life with a stronger and more controlled mind and in some ways it would be easier to continue to carry forward into my life.
However, I cannot be certain this is true. Leaving is a unique experience that has brought it’s own goodies and experiences. Right now I have lots of ‘bonus’ days-off to sit and contemplate, talk with mature and experienced friends, reflect and decide upon what I liked, learned, disliked, regretted and now committed to do in my life. So like all things it is even possible to accept my regrets, to choose not to worry and to beat myself up, to take positives from the experience forward into my life. I still feel good about the experience and the choice to leave. Tomorrow do thy worst, for today I have lived, fully.
Conclusion and practical bits
I feel emotionally sad that I broke my commitment and all that it means I miss out on some learning experience (but I got others instead) and it highlight my weaknesses. At the same time I feel at peace and happy to be alive, with loved ones and freedom to choose how to spend my limited time. It’s great to be here!
By having the time to write this and work out how to integrate what I’ve learnt into my life, whilst the information is still fresh, is invaluable. I have chosen to:
I’ve come to realise is that there is no universal truth - they are all true and important - universal nature is full of harmony and paradox, but nature requires us to make a decision as to what is important in this moment and then focus upon that. I believe that for my journey, in this moment, decisiveness and balance are important for me to focus upon - and my balance includes sometimes getting over excited - which is great as long as one remembers that nature also requires calm.
S.N. Goenka - Dhamma Discourses
S.N. Goenka standard sound of 1 hour meditation
The power of meditation - as shown in prisons
The Dangers of Meditation
Cold Shower therapy
And Some Quotes:
..“Krishnamurti says to people, ‘Now look, there is nothing you can do to be liberated because all of your efforts in the direction of liberation are phony. They are based on your desire to boost and continue your ego and that will never lead to liberation. All you can do,’ he says, ‘is to be aware of yourself as you are without judgement. See What IS.’ but, then, if you can do that, you have no further problem. But, if you try to do it you’re in the same mess all over again….
And, when you find out, you see, there isn’t any way of forcing it, that, for most people is the only way of getting them to stop forcing it. Because they won’t believe, when you tell them in the first instance, ‘You’ve got to do this without forcing it.’ They’ll say, ‘Well, it won’t work. It won’t happen because I’m very unevolved. I’m just an ordinary human being. I’m just poor little me. And, if I don’t force it, nothing will happen. Like people who think that if they don’t struggle and strain they won’t have a bowel movement or whatever it is. They think they’ve got to do that work in order to make it happen.
“In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you? Homeless inside yourself."
– The Dalai Lama, quoted in Tibet, Tibet by Patrick French
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com