In July I went to Free Harmony Festival and participated at Buddhafield. These events provided a lot of learning, connection and insight. I taught morning meditation at Free Harmony with an emphasis on connection with the environment - inviting people to explore the natural environment and pick an object and bring it back to the circle, where it was examined and shared - everything from pine cones to rocks. We then went into sitting meditation and then gratitude sharing. It was a great way to start the day.
I was feeling really grateful and happy after that. I treated myself to two swims in the lake. I played with bubbles, dogs, children and did some dancing. I even got to walk on the slack line. I received a massage before my final teaching class of the day - Laughter Yoga. We had a group of 20 people, from 15 years old to 50! Over the course of 40 minutes we mixed yogic breathing with childlike connection and laughter, grounded in occasional meditations. I love the contrast in these classes - afterwards we always feel alive, connected and joyful!
In July I went to Buddhafield as a participant and I was kicking myself at first for not getting my act in gear and sorting out workshops in time for the deadline. I felt that dancing and laughter yoga would fill a gap at Buddhafield. Perhaps also the sensual touch workshop too. Nonetheless I forgave myself and soaked up the sunshine, learning and connections. My favourite moments were in the mindful communication classes I attended - one was taught by Erwin Tielemans of Human Matters. - who provided clear ideas about working with teenagers and a handy pack of feeling/need/emotion cards, which I'll be using in my own classes. The other mindful communication class modeled by Jayaraja - a buddhist monk and chair of Buddhafield. His style was simply to engage with the class in a fun way and model Non-violent, compassionate and heart connected communication. In my opinion it was extraordinary and inspiring.
I came away from these workshops and the whole experience of buddhafield full of love, insight and inspiration to sort my own workshops out for next year so that I can pass on my gifts.
After Buddhafield I ended a loving relationship in my life, because it wasn't feeling right. It wasn't quite in line with what I needed and wanted and I think this is one of the tough parts of self love and self-awareness - realising what we want and fear and then acting to change things. It creates pain, but in that pain is growth.
Over the summer I've worked with clients ranging from pain-mamagement focused people to people wanteing to expand their skills and productivity. This is where my work ranges from counselling, to coach, to teacher. I love this range. I also got to offer some outdoor sessions which often sees me working with families and children, which is extremely rewarding. Pain and tantrum management has been a big part of this work!
The sweetest session from my summer came from a Hen Party! Originally they had asked me to provide a laughter Yoga session. After some discussion they decided to do some meditation instead, which I presented as a 'Mindfulness Recharge Morning'. We gathered the group of 15 women in a circle, laid down with their heads near the centre of the circle. I led them on a meditation using words and sounds from my singing bowl, bringing them into their body and in observation of thoughts, feeling and sounds. I then invited them to raise their hands over their body and explore the hands of the group. It was a magical morning and we ended with a gratitude share and energising power pow (you'll have to ask me what that is!). They came away feeling grateful and energized!
I had some beautiful feedback from my workshops including:
"This morning's meditation really helped me arrive at the festival and in my body. I loved the exploration of the area and it helped me to appreciate the little things both inside and out. (Niall, Free Harmony Festival, July 2016)
"I booked the Mindfulness Recharge for my sisters hen do as a lovely relaxing end to a full weekend. Neil was so welcoming, understanding and made me feel relaxed immediately. Doing something new can sometimes be daunting but I felt totally safe and trusted Neil straight away. He was calm, friendly, warm and kind. We had an hour session and wish we had booked for longer. The session was relaxing and energising all at the same time. The sounds from the singing bowl were a wonderful experience and something I would like to do again. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. I hope Neil does some sessions in London soon!" (Phoebe, Hen Party Session, August 2016)
"It was amazing, really connected with the world around me, felt really secure and held. I have never eaten anything so mindfully! It was the most amazing experience and the perfect end to a lovely weekend in Bristol, connecting with lovely ladies! I would definitely recommend it!" (Coralie, Hen Party Session, August 2016)
I'm about to leave to teach morning meditations at my next festival, The Summerhouse Weekend. I'll also be teaching dance with Gina and enjoying the decadent party. I go with an intention to be relaxed, present with my feelings and authentic in my interactions. I have really seen in the last two years how fear of missing out has led me to be rushed, distracted and subtly dishonest with myself and others. This year I'm giving myself permission to be a bit crap and alson totally me, totally wonderful.
I'll be running more courses in September - take a look here to find out more!
“I don't count my situps; I only start counting when it starts hurting because they’re the only ones that count.” - Mohammed ali
No pain - no gain! Is this true?
Well, one way of looking at this is looking at the way we physically gain strength. Our muscles get stronger by continually stretching, to breaking in tiny amounts and then repairing. For muscle breakdown and growth to occur you must stretch and challenge your muscles to adapt by creating stress that is different than the previous threshold your body has already adapted to. Conscious exercise is a way of choosing the games and stress that you enjoy, or that has a function - or both!
So it is the same with love. A broken heart is an open heart.
We’ve all been through emotional pain - through the love of our parents or partners or friends - we’ve all felt a ‘broken heart’. With perspective we recognise this 'heart breaking' is an essential part of melting the walls that we sometimes put around our hearts. These metaphorical walls are tension in muscles and belief systems in our mind - they protect us from more emotional pain. But those walls also keep us separated, to some degree. Ideally we want to be able to open our hearts again, once we are ready, when we have healed old wounds and feel strong enough. This strength comes from learning that we have internal resources and a support network of friends and family.
Then, if we’re willing and lucky, our hearts will break repeatedly to reveal new perspectives and ways to be compassionate to ourselves and thus to others. This will grow the capacity for quality connections, friends and lovers.
“Behind every beautiful thing, there's some kind of pain.”
And our minds?
Self-enquiry is the process of continuously questioning our beliefs often seems to set us back in our ‘learning’. So often the buddhist advice is to stop questioning, accept and let go. Whilst I agree that this is ultimately where we must arrive it is our natural human nature to question and try to understand. Therefore the art of asking better questions of ourselves is one which we can all learn and enjoy - to break down our self-limiting beliefs and assumptions. This process can be emotionally painful and confusing - but with that pain we can maintain connection with our natural curiosity, beginners mind and a growth mindset.
I believe it is only when we are ready, when we have accepted that safety and life is an illusion, can we loosen our 'needs' and therefore our fears. This is a painful process of growth and mind opening.
Each break allows our hearts, our muscles and our minds to heal bigger than the time before.
Yes, there is pain every time we are growing - Immeasurable pain. That is the growth and strengthening of our capacity to love, create and include more and more. Each time we break mind, body or heart we must rest and let them heal if we are to grow the capacity to live and love. This process is, for me, the point.
I try and remember this when exercising, when practicing and whenever I make a mistake in life (which can be frequent!) I believe that we never stop growing and the pain of creating and healing of wounds is the point of life - it is where all the beauty lies. In forgiveness and mourning we rest our hearts and minds and in physical rest we allow our bodies to heal.
Yet without pain, if we avoid it, we lose touch with this process and our imagination can make the pain very daunting. We forget that the pain is okay, we can handle it and life is worth the effort, even if we make mistakes. Even if we are not perfect. Therefore the sooner we embrace our pain and turn towards our fears instead of running from them the sooner we grow and heal.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
This, of course, takes time. It is a gradual process of continual growth. So called 'quantum leaps' of thought, lifestyle or artificial means, like chemical steroids may lead one to take on more than you can handle and damage you beyond the point of growth. In order to balance pain we must be willing to experience it - to feel into it - and we can then develop our intuition to set the appropriate timing, and boundaries if we want to grow in an organic and healthy way.
The Navy Seals of the USA have a general belief that people can usually push themselves 40% more than they actually think they can - do you think there is truth in this? I certainly found from my cold shower adventures and study of Wim Hof that when we integrate ‘feeling’ and ‘belief’ into our work we can do more than we ever thought possible. I have also experienced healing in my body that I thought was impossible. Perhaps there is also truth to the old adage "whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
I believe in 'no pain, no gain'. If things are too easy it is a sure sign that your muscles are starting to entropy and your heart - mind connection is starting to close.
How does this relate to mindfulness? Well mindfulness for pain management is something I’ve been exploring more and more. I’ve helped people recover from operations and helped young people manage physical and emotional pain by facing it in controlled ways. For me it is something quite personal after recovering from spinal surgery, social anxiety and personal heartache - I use it everyday as a source of solace that pain has a purpose.
If you are interested in mindfulness to change your relationship with pain please get in touch.
“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”
People often say life is like a mirror - it reflects back to you what you put into it. Relationships are a mirror. You get what you give.
I think this is a nice analogy that can really help us to remember to give well and to treat others as we wish to be treated. However for me I like the analogy that life is like an echo, down a deep cave. Whatever you shout into the cave is shouted back at you, after some time delay.
Life is like an echo - what you send out reverberates back to you and to others. Echos tend to multiply.
I was thinking about this as I said one of my morning affirmations: “Life - Is that the best you can do!? Rubbish! Today give me everything you got!”
If this is what I am projecting out into the cave then that is what shall be asked of me later by my returning echo… but multiple times.
“Neil - Is that the best you can do? Rubbish! Today give me everything you got!” "Rubbish... Rubbish..".
“You do not see the world as it is. You see it as you are.” - Anais Nin
Wow! What a strong message. I now think carefully before shouting out what I want. We live in closed system. What you put in at one end will come out at the other. So what I intend as I shout is as important as what I shout. What I read will affect me. What I eat and do affects that. I can therefore make good choices about what to input and then what I output. This helps me choose what to do, eat, read and say... they all inform my thinking.
So here is today’s shout:
“I love you - thank you for doing your best. Keep going - you can fulfil your dreams! You are already enough, but feel free to help yourself to more.”
We never really find out what is at the end of the cave - it’s a bit like the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. It is full of wonders and probably ends up back where we started. What we put into the cave comes back around and may smack you in the ass!
In one of m.y classes I run an exercise in mindfulness I call 'GRAPE-FULNESS' and 'ORANG-INS' of things:
Appreciation, through seeing, tasting and appreciating the origins and effort that is embodied in something as simple as a grape or an orange. We take time to appreciate where something came from, how many hours and work and people went into delivering it to my mouth. Then we savour the thing - taste it, explore its textures and notice how we feel before-during-and after the experience. This can create natural, un-forced gratitude - a lovely state of mind to be in.
I love how when we delve into the origins of things we discover new things we never saw before. The same is true for words. I love the etymology of language. Our language of words is our main way to communicate and there are two quotes that remind me why it’s so important to appreciater and be conscious of the words I use, and how I think about them
These point towards how valuable it is to examine our language and our self-talk. The voices in your head and the words you say to others.
This morning I had another revelation - and I’m excited. I teach mindfulness and dance. There are four types of connection in dance, as well as dance as a metaphor for life:
I first was turned onto these ideas by Justin Riley - a dance teacher from the USA who teaches that dance is a form of connection - which is what we are all seeking - but if done consciously, in this order, can ensure our dances feel great!
When I look at some of these words I love the hidden meanings I glean and how they relate to meditation, to the simple things we need and do and then the whole of life. Here I've explored the latin root of some of the key elements of good connections:
As Brene Brown says: Your power is actually in your vulnerability. Let yourself be seen as the imperfect being you are and you can discover a new level of appreciation, even for things that seem unpleasant.
Whatever you choose to Connect (bind with) to; whatever words you use - if you do so with conscience, contact, confidence, contribution and adventure you will probably find the dance of life flows well and is fun. You always have a choice to speak the words you 'want' and to notice how you are interpreting something you see and hear - and decide if you want to focus on and maintain that thought, or if you want to explore other ideas, perhaps ones that bring less stress, more gratitude, appreciation and connection to the things you love.
Therefore mindfulness of language is not only important as I mentioned in this blog, but also fun and can help reveal different ways of looking at anything!
Mindful communication is something I'm passionate about. It's much more than language - but that's a part of it. Interested. Come along to the workshop!
"Thanks Jim - great words from a man who created his own life story. "
Do you want to live a life that is an incredible adventure? But do you find yourself paralysed by confusion, worries or lack of self-belief?
Do you want to see beauty and fascination wherever you go? But do you find stress, to-do lists, deadlines and ‘time’ ruining your experience?
This is all a result of the story you are living in. You know you have within you the ability to write your own script - to be the the hero in your own life story. Your thoughts are your choice (even if they don't seem to be sometimes) - and if you are choosing thoughts based in fear, obligation or guilt then you are actively creating a horror, a drama or a tragedy.
Of course you don't have choice as to ALL of your thoughts or ALL of the things that happen to you or ALL of your emotional responses, but if one learns a)self awareness b)to step outside of oneself metaphorically and see those passing thoughts, before you respond, then you can decide to let them pass or go with them. This is called Metta Cognition.
LIFE 'SHOULD BE' FAIR
The world is full of ‘unfair things’ - suffering, pain, torture, rape, death…
… but it is what we choose to focus on and respond with that shapes our world. So even if your intention is to do good in the world but you are propelled by fear, by unconscious self-talk of ‘should’s and need’, based on the interpretation that 'the world is a pretty terrible place' - then life will feel a whole lot less fair and harder.
We all want to be noble and make a positive change, and we are all going about it in our own way - but let's question ourselves to see if somewhere, underneath that intention is the feeling that we 'have a right to be here - and that we all have a right to be free from suffering.' This can lead to attachment to ideas, instead of reality.
The truth is - the world doesn't owe you, or anyone else, anything.
You already got the grand prize - life. Life includes lots of suffering. Love is suffering.
You lucky little devil - you got to live and love and learn - you wanted to be here and so you beat millions of sperm and came into being. Who knows what came before or after life?! No one! So don’t worry about that - enjoy this. Jamie Catto calls life ‘the after party’. I like that, but personally I see it differently - this is the play. This is the play that you struggled and worked and auditioned to be in and you got the lead part! You are the lead role in your own movie and every day you get to wake up and write a new chapter.
One way I like to remember this is whenever we get a crappy scene, a disaster or a death, I just think: “PLOT TWIST!” Wow! What is wonderful about this scene .
This is of course, after the emotion - the struggle - the work that is required to MAKE it beautiful.
But at the end of it all it comes down to a simple choice. Do you want this experience that we call life to be awesome or choresome? Do you want to focus on what’s good or the negative, fear-based story and situations or can you also really appreciate the beauty and focus on solutions? Can you visualise and inspire yourself - or would you rather you wait until the desperation sets in to such a point whereby you are ‘forced’ into action by the survival instinct?
Tony Robbins calls this INSPIRATION or DESPERATION.
Difficult things are always going to happen to you - they did to me too. I was hoping that something would happen that would change my life for the better. Eventually, after a very, very long time I realised that I have to create the conditions for change. When you change everything will change for you - If you want compassion, show compassion. If you want wealth, be like a wealthy version of you - practice gratitude for your wealth and be generous. Start small, where you are - start to see the beauty in the thing you have labelled as 'work' or 'chores' and start to dream up an awesome life for yourself.
Make it more awesome and less choresome!
This is harder than it sounds because it requires TRUST. Or a word with more spiritual connotations: FAITH. It doesn't matter the word you pick - as long as it resonates for you. Trust that life is happening for you and you have an opportunity right now to decide to welcome in whatever is deep within you. Welcome every experience - you never know which one is going to teach you the lesson that will really show you what you are here for.
What do you have to lose anyway?!
I wrote this blog entry to inspire myself but also to inspire you to come to my workshop on Saturday: COMFORT ZONE CHALLENGES! It's the first time I'm putting on this workshop - so I'm keeping the price super low. Book your tickets here, now!
I've always wanted to work with children, for the simple reason that the lessons I have learned from Mindfulness were the kinds of things I could have really used when I was between 9-18 years old:
Think about it - school is tough. These days social skills are on the decrease, thanks to social media and computers and stress is on the increase, thanks to exams from as early as 10 years old. We are piling on the pressure for young people in class sizes 20% bigger and playtime 20% shorter than 10 years ago. The curriculum is slow to catch up with the modern world and is seriously lacking in areas around well-being, emotional and mental health and sex /relationship education.
Mindfulness offers help in three ways:
1. Awareness of choice of thought - reducing worry, stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness teaches us that thoughts are not 'truth', but that they are mental reactions, generally based in fear-responses - and linked to stimulus from the body and from memories. We can interrupt troubling thoughts using mindfulness techniques of breath and body awareness and allow us to regain some control over where we put our attention and then how we 'choose' to respond to situations.
2. Awareness of body and emotion - helping people to act responsibly and calmly.
The more we become aware of the body, its sensations and emotions, the more we learn to accept it and listen to it. Our bodies are made of trillions of highly evolved cells, each trying to support growth - giving constant feedback via sensations. Mindfulness teaches us to listen, interpret and respond to these sensations with more wisdom, through sheer practice.
3. Practices and tools to cultivate gratitude, focus and reliance - increasing well-being and happiness.
In the lessons I teach I give tools and practices not only to help with awareness and focus, but also to cultivate one of the most enriching and resilience building states possible; 'gratitude'. When we learn to befriend and appreciate ourselves and the world around us anything is possible and we shift away from negative thinking.
This is highly rooted in neuroscience as well as contemplative ancient arts and historically in the contemplative religions of the east and west. However I teach secular mindfulness - focused only on individual exploration of the self - mind and body, not the spiritual, philosophical or moralistic elements of ancient meditation.
The lessons I teach take simple principles and make them fun and accessible, with easy to use practices. The idea is that they plant a seed that can take root and give young people resilience and resources in times of stress.
Certified in teaching mindfulness
I recently became an accredited teacher of Mindfulness in Schools (run by the Mindfulness in Schools Project), on a course called .b (dot-be) which have empowered me with 10 highly researched lessons to teach to children aged 11-18. I have already been teaching younger age groups at Compass School in Bristol and I have taught outdoor education to young people aged 14-18
The course I recently completed is detailed here. Or click on the link below. I'm offering reduced price taster sessions, for a limited time only. Please get in touch.
This is the second Blog regarding ‘Gamifying’ life and how helpful that can be. In meditation there are lots of games we can play. Buddhists call this ‘Skilful Means’ - ways which make the useful practice of meditation accessible - to make it meet you where you are. To do this here is a game I sometimes play:
"I imagine my feeling body is a 'deep ocean' and the thinking mind is the 'sky'. Every time I meditate I am taking a voyage of discovery into the feeling body; into the depths. I'm deep sea diving!"
This analogy is striking to me because of some common understandings about the Ocean. This quote from NOAA describes it well:
“The ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet's surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms.Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes.
In the same way as we have only about a 5% knowledge and understanding of the great interconnected oceans we also feel and really intimately understand or ‘know’ our feeling body to about the same measure (give or take… feeling is a very hard thing to quantify into a statistic!) So if each time you meditate you are taking an exploration into your depths there is always something new, interesting and beautiful to discover.
In my imagination I see the mind as like an iceberg in the ocean - the surface of the mind, above the ocean, is consciousness - this is where we (the being that is you, which is more than just a mind) launches from. Below is subconsciousness.
Above water your thoughts reside, where they can easily take off and fly - like a bird or a cloud - they can go off into the sky… but in meditation we bring the attention back to the ocean - meditation is a practice of focusing on feeling, not on thinking. So we are not here to follow the clouds and birds - we let them continue to fly and swirl be and we take some time to explore the depths.
Taking the plunge
I imagine the attention is like a diver - using his hands and a spotlight to experience all the depths have to offer. This reminds me to pay attention to my breath, much like the diver does, and to the body - the ocean full of life: which includes slippery fish of all shapes and sizes (emotions), old wrecks at the bottom of the sea (physical and psychic wounds / traumas) and of course, hidden treasures within them.
If it is your first time, it can be a weird idea to meditate. It’s a very simple thing, but also a skill, that requires practice just like diving. Until we have tried it we can only imagine what is under the surface. The reason we meditate is the same as we dive - to explore, to know oneself and one's environment. Here I’m going to look at some of things you might expect to encounter in that environment and one way to deal with them:
Fishy Emotions (and learning the art of fish tickling)
Emotion is energy (E) in motion – like a school of sardines – they can be very fast and slippery fish –and if I approach them too fast they slide away. I want to observe them, understand them, and feel the very essence of them - even ‘make friends’ with them... but in order to do so I have to become an expert in the subtle art of emotional ‘fish tickling’. This is very different than using a hook, net or harpoon to catch a fish - which are brutal methods and often damage or kill the fish, in the same way that trying ‘too hard’ to catch a thought or emotion often kills it. If I kill it I can’t study it, appreciate it in its living form and then let it go. In exploration we want to study and appreciate the environment in a respectful way.
One method is to learn the art of fish tickling, sitting patiently and is open and waiting for the emotion to move into my presence – and then I can tickle it, kindly; touch it be with it - see it for what it is – just a little fish moving around my body. Sometimes this fish feels like heavy or warm or spiky - when I see this and practice ‘feeling’ it I come to realise that all emotion is just sensation - energy moving and tickling me in various ways.
So here are my tips for learning to appreciate emotions, via emotional fish tickling:
Spiky Urchins, Jellyfish and Electric Eels (Pain)
Not all fish are pleasant to feel - some sea creatures require careful study - they can give us pain. If we experience pain as ‘bad’ and then either swim away from it or suppress it - force it away. In doing this we miss the beauty and the understanding of this part of the ocean. So when it comes to meditating on pain I sometimes imagine it as a spikey fish, and again I can come to it slowly, with patience and tickle in a different way - You can pick up a sea urchin if you do it delicately, same with a Jellyfish or an Electric eel. Come at them skilfully and cradle it. Then examine it, watch it, I listen to it; really see it for what it is.
With Urchins the only way to do that is to really try and see the centre of that pain, which is constantly moving - it undulates along with the spikes of the creature. After a while and with practice we can approach pain in a new, more appreciative and understanding way. Whatever pains you have in your body if you examine them carefully you can transform them into something interesting, beautiful and maybe even useful.
Murky depths, old wrecks and lurking sea monsters
(Exploring the obscure parts with memories)
When we explore places we are not familiar with it is sometimes difficult to ‘feel’ sensation , or to see through the murkiness (instead we experience numbness) - and it can feel uncomfortable to stay at these depths for long. These are parts of the body that we haven’t visited in some time or have been disturbed - perhaps there is an old wreck lying on the seabed or the perception of a monster here?
To me, these represent forgotten and difficult memories, wounds or traumas - the ‘feelings’ left behind from an event. Physiotherapists define a trauma as ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’. This could be something seemingly very small (being told you were stupid and you adopting a posture that expressed your feeling at the time) or something very strong (a physical abuse or damage).
Traumas and wounds sit at the very depths and require skill and care to explore - we often need to come back to the safety of the shallows or even to the surface. It can take many dives to explore these uncharted and murky depths and doing so can reveal unexpected and unusual emotions that further disturb the seabed and cloud the water with murkiness. This is all metaphor for what happens when we explore difficult sensations, emotions or parts of the body. There is usually a reason why these parts are difficult. In mediation we are not looking to the thinking mind - back on land - for the cause, but we are patiently and physically exploring the depths - the sensations of this part of the body.
Sometimes we stumble across an old wreck - perhaps a memory that you forgot or a sensation that you relate to a specific time. Sea monsters are the ‘imaginary creatures’ our mind has created that stop us from going into these depths or wrecks. Sometimes they seem very real and therefore the mind feels them as real - your body creates sensations and responses. A good example would be my shoulder blades - I experienced uncomfortable emotions and bodily shaking and tears when I explored my shoulder blade areas. In regular life I felt numbness and pain across my back. I realised, on some level, that this was to do with my back operation, but when I explored it more I was fearful of a monster - this was the reminder of the physical and emotional pain (including shame) that I experienced within the operation. With time I took lots of little excursions to explore these areas and it was tough - it’s not easy to stay at these depths… at first.
When we have explored the shallows for some time and built up our skill at diving we feel ready to the depths, knowing that no sea creature can really harm us. Until then it is wise to practice caution in mindfulness - to face these creatures only when we feel ready to do so.
In my case it took me 6 months of kind, gentle meditation before I became more comfortable with exploring these parts. It was a time of my life I found difficult to accept. Why couldn't I meditate!? This is all part of the process of treasure hunting! Soon after I began to dive deeper I could see how fascinating this all was. In amongst the wreckage I found something - treasure! The treasure was that of ‘discovery’ - this area was transformed from a painful, scary, murky and numb place to a beautiful, interesting location. This old wreck has history and depth and soon became an attraction for regular excursions. Nowadays, whenever I meditate I find it a pleasurable and interesting experience to explore the sensations of this part of my spine and back, but I know that there are many more treasures to find, as I’ve only really begun to explore.
My current areas of exploration
I’ve got several regular expeditions on the go - the pelvic and genital regions of of great interest (lots of traumas there no doubt, in all of us). I’m also currently exploring the ocean when it is movement - when I move my body. This makes it much easier to ‘feel’ but harder to notice subtlety. I have found that when I rotate my body the areas around my lower spine are in mild pain and there is emotional schools of fish flashing across my body. I wouldn't have noticed them before, but as I become more attuned as a diver/mediator I’m able to see and experience more subtle and smaller creatures and life within me.
Have a go - see how your body feels when looking at it like a vast ocean, ripe for exploration via meditation.
Life is a play, a game, of sorts. This is the first Blog of a series, looking at GAMIFYING life. In this blog we look at a concept called the Drama Triangle - a game which we all play - and I see this as kind of like 'Level 1' of the game of life. Here I'll explain that and also my ideas on changing the game to Level 2, with Playfulness and Presence!
This short video explains it well, and looks at the level 2 game, Presence:
The drama triangle is a social model of human interaction – the triangle maps a type of destructive interaction that can occur between people in conflict. It was first created by Stephen Karpman, M.D., a student studying under Eric Berne, M.D., the father of transactional analysis. It was later revised with the addition of ‘The Winner's Triangle’ by Acey Choy in 1990 and then by David Emerald (2009).in his book ‘The Power of TED (The Empowerment Dynamic).
Basically it’s the idea that when we are acting out in life - when we are in drama - we all choose roles, and we switch roles rapidly. These 'scripts' are encouraged in modern society, which is based on 'justice'. These are the roles of:
We can imagine it a bit like in a courtroom - where the drama is played out and everyone has the intention of claiming they are the hardest done (right) by and that others are wrong. Hence it is a victim-blame-game. Ultimately we all claim to be the victim.
So I’ve been using Choy and Emerald's models, but with my own twist, to help people raise awareness of these roles and then figure out ways to move away from the Drama triangle, without completely disengaging with people or problems. I call it the 'Presence Triangle' - a game of connection! That name was inspired by the fantastic video at the top. My diagram below shows how it works:
Moving to Level 2
In the same way that you can’t fight emotions with thinking, you can’t fight drama with diagnosis, defence, or distrust - it all starts with stopping the reactivity and doing one (or more) of these things:
These shift you away from the negative thoughts and into the body. Into Presence. We can then move towards these roles, in which we all take personal responsibility for the choice:
But all of that will be for nothing if the intention behind it is resentment, trying to change, educate, fix or disprove - then there is no natural compassion and we will slip back into Drama. My belief about the intentions required to ‘really’ connect fit nicely into the acronym: LET GO & B, which is also what we are doing! We are letting go of the results and allowing people to be, exactly as they are, including ourself. We can practice these intentions to cultivate natural connection. I know this ‘allowing’ seems counter-productive at first, but as Nathaniel Branden said:
“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”
Are you able to LET GO & BE?
You may notice I also put 'parent 1 and 2'. That's because this is a lot like being in a parental role, where one is often rescuing and the other putting the child down. When we think of healthy ways to raise children and make human connections we want to have the intentions of:
Love – love, in my opinion is both a feeling and a verb. Love is ‘acceptance’ and a ‘willingness to experience’ - to act in accordance with internal motivation, but not based in fear. Can you love your enemies and yourself?
Empathy – The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy comes from understanding that we are all interconnected beings and that what I do to you I eventually do to myself. Therefore empathy is feeling for and with someone else.
Trust – Confidence that people are whole, growing beings, not needing fixing - a belief that we are all unique creators.This breeds confidence and empowerment. I also trust that everything is working out as it should. It's okay, I'm okay, you're okay.
Gratitude – Instead of wanting and needing that which I don't have, I remain thankful for everything I have been given and received. This feels amazing and enables me to act positively; understanding that honesty in relationships is a gift that helps you to grow.
Ownership – I understand that only I am responsible for my thoughts, feelings and actions. I understand this may have an influence on the world and so with great power comes great responsibility. I own my own power and use it wisely not seeking to blame others, be a victim, or rescue others unnecessarily.
Boundaries – Your ‘yes’ and ‘no’s. What you decide you want or don’t want for yourself, or to be a part of. Without boundaries we burn out in empathy or violate one another. I understand my physical boundaries and set my own emotional boundaries. I take time to feel into what is a yes and a no for me and communicate them clearly and honestly.
Expression - The last part is to express yourself, honestly and sensitively, without attachment to the outcome, but with care and consideration of feelings and needs - both yours and the other persons, yet also expressing honestly. This is not possible without practice and first taking the time to 'feel into it'.
That’s a lot of information, which is why it is much easier, after finishing this Blog (well done for getting this far) to just remember to LET GO & B - if you find yourself sucked into the Drama triangle, try having a jiggle, taking a breath, gently asking a question and then listening! I think you’ll find a lot more connection and end up playing a different game - where everyone wins! Because there is another option, beyond right and wrong. It's called being (human).
Steve Jobs — 'We're here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?'
Do you find that you become depressed sometimes? Do you find that everything you 'know' you are on the inside: Sexual? Hungry? Happy? Angry? Sad? Sometimes it isn't safe to reveal. Sometimes it feels like you can't even connect with those things, let alone show them to others. So you suppress them. Depression is the result of long-term suppression.
My work in positively-mindful is to help people find balance and happiness. If you want to find your joy and balance you have to express - emotions, desires, fears, art - get out of your head and wake the body up! This requires MOVEMENT!
Children do this naturally... then society teaches them to suppress their natural expressions of emotions, which results in their hearts and muscles becoming hardened. But you can RE-TRAIN to re-integrate your body and mind, to release emotions, in a controlled and relaxed way. Some call this 'Bio-energetics', catharsis, dance, or simply going for a walk!
When people talk about mindfulness they often think of meditation and stillness but actually movement and expression are just as important. Depression is simply the lack of expression, habituated. Mindfulness highlights old, unhealthy habits and directs us to what we need - new, healthier habits, one of which is controlled self-expression.
These days I'm integrating something into my workshops called 'bio-energetics', which recognises that emotions are simply energy in motion - they want to move through you. If you suppress them you create tension, which can be useful or fun when used consciously, but when suppressed unconsciously this creates long-term stress and the opposite of ease - disease..
I did a TEDx talk back in 2015 and I mentioned how three things transformed my perspective on life: Mindfulness, Emotional Literacy and Self Expression. In this blog I’m going to look at why self-expression can be fundamental to the human spirit and to wellness. I used these to help me overcome depression in my life.
CONNECTION THROUGH EXPRESSION
I recently started teaching dance. The dance I teach is an alternative version of ‘Blues Dancing’. The reason I call it alternative is because the dance I prefer has more emphasis on connection and expression than on style and precision of movement. It diverts away from traditional style of male-lead, female-follow and also from the musical preferences. I was taught a lot by Justin Riley, who inspired me with the idea of four main types of connection that can also be seen in life:
1. Connection with your ‘self’.
We always start with ourselves. If we don’t take time to connect with and express our inner truth we miss so much outside of ourselves. Since we experience everything through our mind and body it is important to first connect here and now and see how you are feeling/thinking as this has an influence on your external connections. The main access route into self-knowing is your feelings and emotions. Mental knowledge about yourself is fascinating and endless - it is the ego and the persona - who you think you are - but as Jim Carrey said:
“...ultimately, we’re not the avatars we create. We’re not the pictures on the film stock. We are the light that shines through it. All else is just smoke and mirrors. Distracting, but not truly compelling.”
Real connection requires emotions. Bruce Lee called this 'Emotional Content'. Without first connecting to yourself - your body - how you feel, you may find that subsequent experiences lack connection - then the lessons you are trying to learn from will not be embodied as deeply. One cannot learn about any subject fully (for example learning to swim) without some 'conscious contact' (eg. getting in the water, feeling into it, to develop safety and then letting go and floating, to test boundaries.)
Therefore learning and self-connection also require moments of self-empathy, stillness and breath. We can then express honestly, rather than suppress and depress our truth. Then you build and develop your emotional intelligence - the ability understand, use and appreciate your emotions.
2. Connection with the floor (balance)
We are physical beings and when we get a good sense of our movement and orientation we feel more able, agile and grounded, less fearful and therefore more attention is put into learning and connection, than into our concerns for safety.
3. Connection with the rhythms
Life has natural rhythms and connecting to it is a subtle art. It's essential we listen to what is going on and make sure we feel ‘what moves us’. In music I often follow the drums, for others the singing is prominent or perhaps the bass. In life it we must decide ‘what motivates me?’ What do I love? What am I drawn to and what provides me with the really lasting feeling of fulfilment. We only learn this by paying attention and then experimenting. Playing!
4. Connection with others: in relationship and communication.
Connecting with other human beings is fundamental to our happiness. Not many people can be truly happy without some form of relationship with another. The most cruel punishment of any being is solitary confinement, which often leads to deep depression.
An honest relationship is the only type of relationship that nourishes you - that gives you energy and motivates you. Dishonest relationships tends to take energy to maintain. If we keep having relationships that are dishonest we start to forget who we are, why we love life and what we want. This leads to confusion, numbness, depression and contributes to the society of insanity that we live in - were possessions and money are more important than love and family. 'Things' and 'achievements' become more important than 'enjoyment' and 'love'.
When we are able to balance and bring in healthy and controlled expression to ourselves and others we are able to enter relationships from our true, authentic selves. This is much easier when you have accepted yourself - as you free yourself from needing the acceptance of others.
“Honestly Expressing Yourself: It is very difficult to do. It has always been very easy for me to put on a show and be cocky, and be flooded with a cocky feeling and feel pretty cool and all that. Ohhh, I can make all kinds of phoney things. Blinded by it. Or I can show some really fancy movement. But to experience oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly, now that, my friend, is very hard to do - you have to train!” - Bruce Lee
PLAYFULNESS AND PRESENCE: GROWING YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Practice of mindfulness develops patience in 'presence'. When we are present - paying attention to what we are doing or experiencing we tend live less 'automatically' and more 'consciously'. It then becomes quite clear that we would rather cultivate compassion and playfulness than seriousness and concern. So ultimately we look for ways to express - to free us from concern - that 'enlightens' us of emotional and intellectual worry.
What stops you?
So, go! Move! Make something! What does your body want?! If you don't know - try something - don't be afraid to make some mistakes, amazing mistakes, glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. As Neil Gaiman says: "Make good art"
But it's not that easy - right? There if fear in the way. What if I hurt myself or someone else? What will people think?
It's not easy, but it is important to find your ways to express yourself, to feel accepted, seen and celebrated. For me, dancing is one tool, but it felt terrifying, when I started. I had to find places that felt kind and safe - appropriate places to do this work, to grow, until I felt ready to reveal myself to the world. The good news is that the longer you train in safety, the more your confidence will grow and the more you listen to yourself. This will help you feel when you're ready for the next step. But the longer you wait to start the more tension and fear will build up, the less likely you will be able to express yourself. In which case you are likely to suppress instead, which often leads to depression.
If you have already learned to express yourself well, then could you encourage and include others to express themselves? How can you do this effectively? I certainly find am now able to do this in dance, simply by smiling! I help others to expand their comfort zones, by using what I've learned about expression. I have created a new PLAYSHOP exploring this theme. in mid-May. Come and express yourself, expand your comfort zone and find balance!
Good luck and enjoy!
“You must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all.”
I've been recveiving great and constructinve feedback from one-one / relationship clients, group courses, offices and schools and I've been keeping it here. The Play-Shops seem to be utterly adored, as demonstrated in Laughter Yoga in mid February and the video below shows how people felt about the Platonic touch play-shop on Valentines day:
THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDBACK
It makes me think of the importance of feedback and positive reinforcement, as I'm currently reading 'Don't Shoot the Dog' by Karen Pryor, which is all about how operant conditioning used in dogs, horses and dolphins (very hard to punish a dolphin) can create astounding behaviour and easy shaping of desired behaviour and how this translate to human interaction.
TYPES OF FEEDBACK
You see, whether we like it or not we all shape and influence each other, consciously and unconsciously every day, with our feedback, or lack of. Sales people are experts!
We are social animals and we live and thrive on feedback. Feedback can come in many forms:
These first two become the job of mindfulness. This last point is just as important though - because reality is not just what you feel, touch, see and smell, but it is all perceived through the lens of your understanding- your thinking mind - or ego. The ego is who you think you are, your interpretation of how the world is, based on previous experience or upon innate instincts.
So because we base our reality on the way we believe the world works when we get feedback that feels nice immediately after exhibiting a behaviour it reinforces our desire to keep doing that behaviour. This is known as POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT.
And visa-versa if positive reinforcement is removed or we receive feedback that feels bad we sometimes decide to change the behaviour. This is known as NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT.
RATIO OF POSITIVE : NEGATIVE
Neither are good or bad, but studies have shown that we can achieve so much more with positive reinforcement than negative. Appreciation and positive feedback (like a smile or thank you) also makes the giver and receiver FEEL better (assuming it is genuine feedback). There is a theory that a ratio of 5 positive to 1 negative reinforcements lead to optimum shaping of behaviour.
The intention behind the shaping is a question of ethics, but that is a whole other can-of-worms worth thinking about. On the whole you know your own intentions are noble and it is usually clear when someone has a 'needy' or egoic intention behind reinforcing behaviour. Encouraging someone because you like seeing them happy is a simple loving intention, whereas rewarding someone to get something back, or to manipulate them into an obligation is coercive and fear-based.
In giving direct and specific feedback with humans it's often a good idea to check in first, o see if it is wanted. For more information about the nuance of feedback check out this blog about COMMUNICATION.
As well as reinforcing each other we also reinforce ourselves with the way we think or talk about ourselves - so perhaps you are using more negative reinforcer (fear, shame, negative language) and you could switch to more positive reinforcement (rewarding and appreciating behaviour that is in line with what you really want). This is a subtle game and the first step is to raise your awareness of your behaviour and your current self-conditioning style. For true awareness we must take time to fully accept our current position also, which often means forgiving yourself or others for some of the conditioning styles you've received so far. We let go of the emotions and start to move forward, more positively. This is what I teach in Mindfulness classes, loving awareness.
Once you have awareness we then practice positive psychology to shape our thinking and actions in accordance with what we want. This is what the second half of the lesson I teach is about : the tools and nuance understanding of positive psychology and how it can be applied to your life and in communication with others.
So - keep the feedback coming; positive and negative - it all helps me to improve the way I do things!
To learn more about this come to mindfulness classes on Wednesday evenings or mindful communication classes on Thursday nights.
Trigger warning: this post contains strong language, which I felt was necessary when dealing with the onslaught of worrying thoughts.
There comes many points in life, when you've been hiding from some difficult truth or realisation, head buried in the sand for so long that your jaw is tense or you've developed a background anxiety that comes from your fear of your own shadow - the unknown! That part of yourself that you're not prepared to look at, because you think it is going to be very uncomfortable or reveal something very shameful.
I’ve found, even though I have skilfully self-enquired and resolved this many times before I forget and anxiety still persists. That's because I’m actually still resisting, deep down and: resistance breeds persistence. But don’t worry, because when you've REALLY had enough that means you're ready to ACCEPT and start trying to trust yourself and say the magic words (inspired by the book by John C Parkin):
“Fuck it! I don't care any more.”
The cause of your anxiety is not really your laziness or your indecision, but it is that you have given too much meaning to the things that your deeper wisdom knows are not important - the trivial things like:
To your conscious mind (ego) these things matter. They are what your mind is full of. Clutter and Bullshit.
...So DON’T MIND-FILL!
The truth is that you do CARE but you just DON'T MIND. You know these flitting thoughts and judgements don't really matter!
“I think we all have a little voice inside us that will guide us. It may be God, I don't know. But I think that if we shut out all the noise and clutter from our lives and listen to that voice, it will tell us the right thing to do.” -- Christopher Reeve
TRUST YOUR INTUITION
Your gut, your sense of when things feel right to you, but seems irrational. Don't mind if they are not perfectly rational - that's just ‘pride’ fucking with you. You're going to go through a barrage of self doubt and judgement. Is that worse than the anxiety? Does it matter that it's harder in the short term?
Discomfort is useful. Making mistakes means you're out there, taking risks. Feeling guilty? Good, that means you're challenging yourself and pushing at the edges of your comfort zone, stay with it, be mindful of your feelings, thoughts, desires. Watch them, study them through your senses and trust that your body knows what is best for you and for the world. Trust that things are happening as they are, they are unfolding perfectly and all you really need to do is:
Pay attention and ride that wave. This is mindfulness. Playfulness and presence.
So ask yourself - would you rather be rational and 'right' (if so then follow society's morals closely and sacrifice part of yourself for that) or would you rather happy (have-peace). You'll know when you are ready for that. Until then enjoy the tension and anxiety with the deep inner knowing that you are sacrificing your spiritual and emotional health to fit into the society created for you. This is working from the egoic sense of you - who you think you are - and it's really quite fun! It's also full of suffering, doubt, anger and sadness… All the things that make life rich!
“The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.” ― Oscar Wilde
Life is challenging. Sometimes you will have an easy wave to ride, other times it will be a pounding, adventurous, challenging and even painful wave. Trust that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger (eventually). And if it kills you? Well then you're dead.
I don't know what happens after that but there is probably either more life of no more life, either way it doesn't matter. No need to worry or rush ahead. Some people may scoff at this because obviously it’s not a great strategy to die, but that’s not the point. The point is that we can get so fearful of making mistakes that we forget to really live. And the worst thing to do in life, in my opinion, is to get to the end and feel like you missed the point, like you didn't allow yourself to live, learn, lust, love and lose.
Personally - I try not to mind mind-fill (and I don't always succeed, there is a lot of silly junk up there in my noggin!) But I don't mind. I don't layer worry on top of worry any more. I don't care about fitting in - I say fuck it. If death is coming (which it is) I want to be there, making love, not arguing. I want to be doing something that I'm passionate about - making MY positive difference in the world. Or want to be there enjoying a nice relaxing bath, rather than chasing deadlines for money-focused clients. When death comes knocking I want to be like:
“Oh - Come in, would you like some tea? I've had such a lovely time in life and I'm curious to see what the next adventure is, death.”
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!” ― Hunter S. Thompson
For some people it's even more than this. It's about their legacy. We all know we are going to die and to give our lives meaning we seek to leave something of ourselves behind - fond memories, teachings or discoveries, physical treasures, offspring (more human beings!) or perhaps just a digital footprint - photos and movies.
Human being need meaning, according to fantastic books like ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E Frankl. It makes sense of the suffering we sometimes endure. But don't forget that you live in a country where you get to choose your belief system. We have physical freedom, because we have a rich and abundant society. But western society has forgotten about spiritual and mental freedom.
If you are anxious and spending your days resisting reality, then you have allowed yourself to be mentally caged by the very things you see as 'important'. What seeds are you actually sewing for yourself and for the next generations?
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” -- Albert Einstein
So - are you ready? Is it time for you to wake up and free yourself from those constraints so you can rediscover the beauty of an uncertain life? Or do you want to play the ego game a little longer? Personally, I’m not quite ready to let go of my ego, I quite enjoy it - so here's what I tell myself, while I enjoy life and wait for ego-death:
I don't mind. Life can feel good, no matter what.
I say bring it on, life!
"Tomorrow do thy worst for today I have lived, fully" - Horace
Diary Entry, January, 2016:
“I'm afraid this is too much, too soon. I'm afraid you'll end up hurt because I can be flaky and stupid at times. I'm afraid that it might all work out and I'll allow myself to ‘need’ you and that will open me up to more vulnerability than I can handle. It’s not safe."
...But you know what? It's worth the risk.
This recent diary entry got me thinking about ‘Love and dependency’ - they seem to have a strange relationship. On the one hand we know we can be strong, independent and unique beings. But on the other hand, when we let another person into our hearts it, into an intimate relationship, it usually creates some attachment; we want them, and if they were to leave it would hurt… this inevitably comes along with some pain and suffering, because nobody feels this ALL the time.
This fear and suffering can sometimes feel like a barrier to love, in the same way that fear and pain can feel like a barrier to adventure - but actually they are necessary ingredients in making the adventure worthwhile. We need some fear and suffering otherwise life feels empty. If we keep our hearts closed to really welcoming in another person then we never truly ‘face’ our fears.
Instead we cultivate different fears, like:
John Lennon said:
"Love is a flower you got to let it grow"
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up. Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”
But, Neil Gaiman said:
"Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn't it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means someone can get inside you and mess you up."
It can seem like very insecure ground when you love a person but you cannot control when they may choose to leave your life. So we must work together - because we are both in the same boat. The paradox is that love is both independent and dependant. Some people have called this INTER dependent, which just means you need each other, to some degree and you accept that.
This is where I start to think of some Buddhist principles. The Buddhists have this to say about suffering: :
“The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. To live, you must suffer. It is impossible to live without experiencing some kind of suffering. We have to endure physical suffering like sickness, injury, tiredness, old age and eventually death and we have to endure psychological suffering like loneliness, frustrations, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. However the second noble truth is that all suffering is caused by craving. This includes needing and attachment - to comfort (which causes ignorance) or to excitement.“
"To love is to suffer. To avoid Suffering one must not love, but then one suffers from no love. Therefore to suffer is to love, live and suffer. "
Just a quick note: pain and suffering - we all know the old adage: “Pain is inevitable, suffering a choice”. In this article I’Il be using pain and suffering interchangeably. At some point we must ‘suffer pain’ until it is transformed into something beautiful. The buddha said: ”the only way to stop suffering is to fully accept suffering.”
So, Embrace suffering! Become a connoisseur of pain and discomfort. It is the treasure and the trap, it is both the prize and the punishment for daring to seek a prize at all. If life was easy it would be boring! Like a poker game, with nothing at stake. We need suffering as much as we need pleasure. All it requires is for you to say, “I choose to accept that because I want love in my life, I want the adventure” (if this resonates with you - otherwise, ignore me, this is just my mind dump anyway).
OK. So, perhaps the question is: how can one suffer better? Love more?
How can I make my suffering meaningful for me and for others?
Here I think it is useful to start thinking about "what moves me to try? to fail? What inspires me?"
MY JOURNEY, SO FAR:
I’ve found it difficult to connect with love, since the heartbreaks of my early 20’s. I think that I have a deep rooted sense of fear about falling in love. When I look at my fears my biggest include:
And because I wasn't fully aware of that I never really faced up to my fear of losing the love of my parents. So I unconsciously internalised it.
The fears created armour. I find it difficult to drop my armour, to trust it’ll be okay - I’ll be okay, in my vulnerability. I don’t dare rely upon someone else and then risk them rejecting me or losing them. Fear of the loss of love is my overriding fear.
However… I’ve recently realised that all of life is simply about the following cycle:
LIVE - LEARN - LUST/LONGING - LOVE - LAUGH - LOSE ( in no particular order).
We must INVEST in the loss, learn from it and more on, rather than hold on to the hurt. In the end we always lose anyway.
Neil Gaiman, again, said it beautifully:
“Life is <like> a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.”
Last month I did a catharsis workshop which ended with JOY, where we made a ginormous mess, which I knew in advance would require work to clear up. But we abandoned worry and care and just indulged in creation of mess and laughter and at the end as we hugged and surveyed the chaos I said “What a beautiful mess we have created”.
Because in reality, with perspective we don’t know what this universe is all about - for all we know we could be in The Matrix, like animals in a cage, being harvested by aliens, like some dystopian matrix, or perhaps we are all children in the garden of eden - it doesn’t matter which story you choose. You can choose to focus on the fences - the prison of constraint or just enjoy your time here as much as possible, with the meaning you CHOOSE to give it.
Love (and life) can be seen as a beautiful mess. Indulge in adventure, the suffering, the pain and the glory of all of it all! Trust that it’s okay to let others in.
Awareness is different from self-consciousness, focus or positive thinking. It is the idea that one can simply BE AWARE. The reason I’m writing about this is that many people ask me:
“If I’m aware of feelings or even just sensations which originate because of a fear or sadness, aren't I perpetuating them and making them all worse?”
To these people I ask questions inspired by Andy Puddicombe’s Head space teachings:
"Is the world a dangerous place?
What is the probability of getting hit by a car?
Are you aware of the dangers?
Yet you still go outside and conduct your life - why is that?"
Because we have learned to balance the awareness of risk with the reasons why we choose to risk our lives - because we enjoy life more when we engage with it, when we risk pain, failure, embarrassment and even death.
“So why focus on the sensations?”
To this question I ask:
“Can you be aware of the road unless you look both ways?”
“Can you have improved awareness by looking carefully, without judgement or attachment?”
“Can you focus on the immediate stretch of road, but with awareness of things on the periphery, like where you are stepping, if your shoelaces are tied, where you are going, what’s on the other side?”
Only if you take the time to pay attention. Stop, Look, Listen, Think (see picture above)
This is the same as with the body. If you take small moments to pay attention you can become more aware of the subtle sensations and emotions. These signals are the language of the body and of the intuition. If you observe carefully, calmly, easily, like crossing the road, you can navigate them easily and understand.
“But I want to know why I’m feeling this tension in my chest, which I think is anxiety (THE ROOT CAUSE)!”
To this I ask:
“Do you focus on one noisy car, passing by, speeding and causing problems, when observing the road?
Sometimes, yes, but FOR HOW LONG? How long does that car hold your attention?
If it is hurtling for you then it is wise to give it your full attention and MOVE, but otherwise, does it help you to question 'why' as it hurtles down the street?"
Analysing each thought or feeling to the nth degree is blinkering off the wider awareness, it is useful for a moment, but then one must return to the wider awareness or one may be in risk of ‘rubbernecking’ - getting attached to a thought and losing focus on where one is going. It also requires we SLOW DOWN, and who is prepared to do that on a busy day?
To try and analyse each thought or sensation would be time consuming and exhausting. Some thoughts or feelings do require a bit more attention, but then, each time, we must return our attention to the wider area, let go of the passing car and move on. Self reflection is important, but in the appropriate time.
This is a skill, that can be learned. It is called forgiving. It is an essential part of learning.
As Matthew Child’s says in his own lessons from rock climbing: "Fear Sucks. Fear means you're focusing on the consequences of failing what you are doing." I also learned this a lot from rock climbing and wrote my own blog about it here. If you don't let go of the fear, anger or sadness at some point it will cause you pain and then harm you. If you continue to hold on to it, it will consume you.
But don't worry, it's not all hard work!
I’m a proficient climber now as well as an experienced car driver and crosser of many roads! I have reached the fourth stage of learning in these endeavours: automated awareness. Where I have built in the pattern of coming back to awareness after every troublesome moment has had some attention. I no longer even need to consciously think about this more because I have practiced it. If I drop my practice I sometimes become less proficient again and it takes more effort.
"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
As it is with mindfulness meditation - it is the practice of returning to awareness, or presence. When one combines that with playfulness one can venture to the inner world or the outer world with a sense of ease, fun and awareness more often.
That’s my experience, anyway. I'm still practising and getting better. With mindfulness I'm sometimes still lingering around the third stage... but try it for yourself!
EMOTIONAL DROP EXPLAINED
After all the emotional highs of a workshop, the return to normality can have a profound effect on participants. There can be a period of transition that offers even more growth space, but isn't always easy to deal with.
We call this ‘The Drop*’; the coming down, the return to what we have identified as 'normality'.
(*This term, and article was inspired by London Faerie, who is an expert in such matters and is acknowledged at the bottom of this page.)
It can happen quickly, or slowly. It can be a nice experience, or a bad one. And the effects, good or bad, can last almost no time at all, or they can go on for hours, even days.
I like to think of a surfing analogy - we ride a wave of experience - if it is profound the wave takes us high and we skilfully manage it when we pay attention, with presence, which happens in workshop spaces, where the participant is guided. When that guidance is removed we find ourselves somewhere near the crest of the wave and are left to our own devices to navigate the surge down the barrel and back to normality. If done with care this can be a beautiful experience, but if we don’t pay attention or are feeling wobbly this can be scary, painful or difficult to handle.
“The higher the wave goes, the deeper is the wake that follows it. One moment you are the wave, another moment you are the hollow wake that follows. Enjoy both – don’t get addicted to one.” - Osho
So here is a guide to dealing with the drop.
It helps to understand the mechanics: Dropping is the emotional and physical affects of the release and drop of endorphins in the body after an intense experience. The endorphins and other hormones released during the experience leave your body in such a way that it takes time to rebuild the balance of hormones in your system. Physiologically we can often feel that we have exposed some parts of ourselves (weakness/vulnerability) and that can unmask the hidden shame - the judgement that our weaknesses mean something deeper - that we will be seen as the small beings that we perceive ourselves to be. This emotes a fight/flight/freeze response, so feelings of anger, fear or sadness become prevalent and override our higher brain functions of rational thought. Brene brown talks about the thoughts she experiences in her 'Vulnerability Hangover.'
"Vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage" (Brene Brown)
Drop can come in many different forms. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
REDUCTION / PREVENTION
These steps may reduce the chance of dropping.
A drop kit can be helpful to deal with feelings of loneliness, mental and physical exhaustion, confusion, insecurity and many other possible physical symptoms. It is important to take care of yourself during times of drop. This kit will put all the things necessary at your fingertips.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, please feel free to add your own personal selections.
WHAT TO DO WHEN DROPPING
Well, it's a possible reality, so let's discuss the best way to deal with it:
NOTICE YOUR THOUGHTS - VULNERABILITY
If you've just been in a space where you may have shared difficult things and learned new things about yourself it is often a big challenge to our sense of safety and identity.
We are all growing and it inevitably comes with some self doubts when we feel the discomfort. Take time to recognise the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts - give them space to settle and for the fog of stress to clear. Struggle and discomfort is an essential part of growth. Brene Brown realised this after her first TED talk as she says here.
WHY THIS IS ALL POSITIVE
We are always growing - whether we enjoy it or not. With practice it gets easier to enjoy. The more times we go in and out of spaces which stretch our comfort zone, the easier it becomes. The first few times are always hard - when we begin practice. Over time the mind and muscles become more supple and we can push ourselves further, do things with less effort.
We also learn what tools work for us - we learn about ourselves. For me, I like to make sure I connect with one or two of the people from the workshop afterwards, perhaps the day after and relive some of it. This is my strategy and it works for me, but it’s not for everyone. But you may have also triggered emotions that were caught up in an old memory (trauma) and it may be prudent to seek help if you are struggling. Click on the trauma link for advice.
This is important work - we must acknowledge that it is important for us to work on ourselves before we can really help others. So every time we spend some time in fantastic highs and uncomfortable drops we can see that we grow and we can also see that this will enable us to help others more in the future.Sometimes we plateaux for a while, but rest assured, the game will always be challenging - but without challenge life would be pretty dull!
I hope these tips help you to grow less painfully and with more acceptance and happiness
Love and hugs
As well as Brene Brown my biggest inspiration for this post is London Faerie, who created Sacred Pleasures - a place for authentic transformation, which includes working with sexual desires (Trigger Warning), so may not be suitable to view at work - but his article is available here.
"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
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com