Before you read: Please note - I am NOT an ancient history academic and whilst I enjoy reading some this is really intended to be a quick toe-dip into one story with a look at what lessons I have interpreted from it. Please feel free to comment, with respect. x
In this myth Orestes' father is killed by his mother. In vengeance, and to protect his family name (and to hide his shame) he feels it is his obligation to kill his mother. He tries to justify this (to the gods) by blaming others and claiming he had 'no choice' (he is not responsible). He is punished by the gods by being condemned to roam the earth and haunted by 'The Furies' - spirit voices that plague him with condemnation, increasing his guilt and suffering.
Several years pass and finally Orestes seeks refuge a sanctuary, where the gods allow the voices to sleep, temporarily, allowing Orestes to reach his goal - redemption in Athens. The Furies wake and catch up to him there. He asks the gods for forgiveness and takes responsibility for his actions. The gods answer his pleas and change the nature of the voices into benevolent spirits, that now support Orestes.They are his positive lessons that empower him. Their name is changed to the Eumenides, or "kindly ones," to symbolize their new character. For the rest of his life these spirits encourage and guide him.
This is a story of what can happen when we indulge vengeance, shame, obligation, and guilt and when we do not own our action. We suffer our internal voices and 'karma'. This can be addressed in many ways and one such was is to seek refuge and sanctuary (to allow us to see a way forward). When we have a clearer mind we can take positive action, which could include asking for help, forgiveness or taking the time to forgive ourselves. It is a journey of discovery that we can learn from.
As much as we are responsible for ourselves we also need each other and ultimately we may not have control of everything that is thrown our way, but we can strive to find the right actions for this time, place - to address our emotion and ourneeds and learn the lessons of the past.
I found the story useful in realising that all the mistakes we have made, problems we have or struggles that I face are essentially 'useful' and can become my greatest assets, if I can take ownership of them, work with them and seek the help I need, connecting with myself, with others and with something greater than myself alone. So many times I have seen people with great struggles, shame or mistakes go on to accept and forgive themselves and become strong once again. It is almost as if the bigger the mistake or shame the bigger the opportunity for growth - perhaps even a super power. My own struggles with shame, around my body, my ability to dance, the lies I've told in the past and the failings within my professional and personal life have all become part of my strengths, and continue to be. I believe this can be true for anyone.
I love words and there is an interesting tangent on this article, thanks to Etymology. Our words have deeper meaning than we give them credit. In this case the word 'Euphemism' comes from the Greek word εὐφημία (euphemia), meaning "the use of words of good omen". Etymologically, the 'eupheme' is the opposite of the 'blaspheme' "evil-speaking." The term euphemism itself was used as a euphemism by the ancient Greeks, meaning "to keep a holy silence" (speaking well by not speaking at all). Or as Don Miguel Ruiz said, in one of his 'Four Agreements': "Be Impeccable With Your Word."
Perhaps it is useful to remember that we can choose the words we say to ourselves and others. They can even be humorous, as many of today's Euphemisms are. Euphaisms can be a way to soften words and be kind, but it is a slippery slope towards dishonesty and ignorance. Life is a constantly moving adventure, which is why a Euphemism can be both damaging or beautiful, depending on the context. See the examples below.
Last week I went to see a talk (run by Positive Living), by the 'Barefoot Doctor', (Stephen Russell) who has just written his ‘New Manifesto’. He describes himself as a ‘Taoist alchemist’ and seeks to pass on his knowledge to help others manifest the bigger aspects of your self; to discern you natural path and align with it. He sees it as much more of an aligning with what is right for you - manifesting the deep state of what is enjoyable for you, so that there is an illusion that you are controlling it, but without getting hung up about whether it is fate or free will.
I thought he was a bit of a rambling mad man - yet wise and charming. He has had a fascinating life so far -a lifelong study of eastern spirituality, philosophy, martial arts and trust in intuition. In this way I was impressed. He claims not to have ‘belief’ in the strictest sense of the word, but rather is a curious observer and practitioner of the tools in his own life, with some great stories.
A couple of things that stood out, to me, from his class were two ideas:
Make - Making a state is simple and anyone can do that regardless of your situation. (One example exercise is to: Every third though, stick in this one: “I'm alive! I have the greatest gift there is” (3 times, with feeling.) “mmmmm…”) Doing this has stuck with me and gives me an appreciative perspective every now and then.
Marvellous - Allow yourself to marvel at the mystery of existence, as it is by allowing more flexibility in how you describe and perceive reality. (One example exercise is to: When you notice a new location or situation add this thought or speak this sentence: “This is just a description! Mmmmm… with feeling, and without inhibition). This is to remind yourself of the fluidness of reality.
Magical - Magic is guiding destiny, benignly. Magic is recognising that humans have this super-natural ability (one example exercise is to: Every third though, stick in this one: “This is a supernatural being! To build wonderful awareness.) This one may or may not work for you, depending on your language preferences. I suggest dropping what turns you off.
Manifesting - Thinking about something you want and bring it into your visual mind, your feeling body and play with it (one example exercise is to: Put what you want in a bubble. Between you and it imagine entity in the way (doubt/fear) and it is trying to distract you. Instead, put your gaze into the centre ground of that bubble and see yourself walking towards it and the entity is obliged to move out of the way. Then you are in the bubble with the thing you wanted and feel what you will feel when you get it. “Mmmmm...”)
Moves - Use body movments to ‘incubate’ your intention and make it come about - like waving a wand. This has it’s roots in Qigong. He provides a variety of moves, mixed with imagination of energy, visualising what you want, feelings associated. This is rooted in ‘Wu Wei’ means effortless manifesting what you need in life.
Overall Stephen came across as a generous and lucky individual. He seems to want to genuinely help as many people as he can and pass on his skills and knowledge. So if your’e interested then look him up, cause I'm sure he will be eager to talk (as he couldn't shut up when I saw him!)
Much love. x
Today I has a one to one client and I also utilised the space at Breathe Bristol for the first time to give a free meditation session (the first of a regular Tuesday afternoon event). One of the items we discussed included ‘choices’ and I was reminded of this quote in Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ (highly recommended):
'You will never make a bad choice. Notice that what lies ahead are simply two paths - A and B - both of which are interesting and have their own set of experiences, trade-offs, pro’s and cons. Each path will have unique "goodies" of experience along the way, regardless of the outcome of the decision I make.'
This to me makes decision making so much less stressful and can change one's perspective completely. This is as simple as mindfulness gets - everything, when viewed objectively, is experience; learning opportunities. This also came up with my one to one client and we talked a bit more about language, which again is a result of reading the book. Susan calls is ‘Pain to Power Language’ and I think that just the simple awareness of the language one uses and awareness of possible alternatives can have a startling effect on one’s awareness of choice.
Pain -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> Power
I can't -------------------------------- I won't
I should ------------------------------- I could
It's not my fault ---------------------- I'm totally responsible
It's a problem ------------------------- It's an opportunity
Life's a struggle ---------------------- Life's an adventure
I'm never satisfied -------------------- I want to learn and grow
I hope --------------------------------- I know
If only -------------------------------- Next time
What will I do? ------------------------ I know I can handle it
It's terrible -------------------------- It's a learning experience
It is important to not ‘trick yourself’ by saying without understanding or feeling. The first step towards REAL change is awareness, the second is acceptance and that’s a whole other topic. If you want to learn more about that, get in touch or come along to the Level 1 and Level 2 workshops in November, where these subjects get covered at an introductory and then a more in-depth level. This wasn't the only thing that got me thinking about choice today...
FREE GUIDED MEDITATION - MUSINGS ON 'FEELING OF OBLIGATION'
...I gave my first of a regular free guided meditation and self-enquiry session. I’m doing this because it allows anyone to access the work or to come along and try out my particular way of teaching and guiding. I want to create a world where we can support each other into kind awareness, which doesn't always have an ‘obligation of reciprocation’ of money.
Why do I use this strange term, ‘obligation of reciprocation’? Well, I’m reading a book by Robert Caldini, called Influence, which is all about the psychology of persuasion. The book’s first chapters indicate that the human brain has created many ‘automatic’ responses, otherwise life would be overly complex. These responses include the feeling of obligation when one is given ‘a gift’. That obligation usually encourages the receiver to give something back. This is often manipulated by salesmen or canvassers, such as the Krishnas did in the 60’s when they presented people with a rose or a book. Even though the gift was often unwanted the receiver usually then felt obliged to give something back (a donation).
I’m reading more about influence as I go because I am seeking ways to inspire people into kind awareness, rather than passing out advice, judgement, or moralising. I encourage and inspire people to find their own path. I therefore teach effective communication techniques, including ‘positive means of influence’ in my Level 2 and 3 courses.
So, even though this is a completely free session it is interesting to be mindful of the feeling of obligation that may naturally occur - that feeling isn't always negative as it can create a virtuous, energy-giving cycle, but it is always helpful to be aware of choice vs obligation otherwise obligation becomes an unconscious weight to carry.
As it turned out some people cancelled and it ended up being a one-to-one session, which we both really enjoyed. We spent the first 20 minutes meditating and the feedback I got was that just this was a huge benefit, because it allowed the person to unwind and to clear her mind. The practice of meditation is something pivotal to helping us relax, connect with our inner wisdom of felt sensation and to become more self-aware. This is covered in depth in all levels of the courses.
Enlightenment is a big word that doesn't really mean much. It is a feeling of lightness. Perhaps this comes from a belief or an understanding or an attitude, or just simply laughter at something funny, or a beautiful sunny day enjoying the grass.
The permenent state of enlightenment is a mythical place where we feel this constantly - it doesn't work like that. If we are always wishing to 'attain' this we never quite succeed. Here is why: it's a process:
When you are young you accept life as amazing and magical. If you have a healthy upbringing this is supported and you develop a healthy self-esteem. If you have abuse or neglect you can develop some self-beliefs, judgements and tension in the body that will cause pain and shorten your enjoyment of the innocence of childhood. Either way there is a phase in your life that is new and forms your self beliefs.
As you grow up and develop a sense of identity and an ‘understanding’ of how the world works (based on the culture of fear and scarcity usually) you forget about the magic and start to take it all very seriously. It can be fun but also very scary, dangerous, ugly, painful and harmful. Teenage and young adult years are filled with change, but that is sometimes harder to embrace once one ‘thinks’ one know what the world is about. Social understanding can lead to embarrassment, self-hatred, fear, depression etc. Or if one has support or a good early sense of self-esteem it can be a wonderful time of making friends, learning skills and finding direction. . Either way there is a phase in your life that is new and forms your direction.
At some point in your adult life, when one is ready, we start investigating deeply our beliefs; ones feelings and ones relationship with the world a lot of realisations happen. There are many paths to these realisations; pain, dis-ease, depression, music, dance, breakdown, spiritual awakening, following your desire, tantra…. As many as there are thoughts in your head. The journey can be a painful struggle or a battle or a near death experience. It can also be a gentle allowing, or a disciplined and patient observing, or a screaming thrill-ride, or an orgasmic melting. If you really pay attention you get to choose. Either way this is a period of investigation and understanding. To know oneself.
So what do these realisations bring? Well, nothing physical. It’s something non-tangible – a connection with your nature - a remembering that the world IS amazing and magical and beautiful and rich and ever changing. It can also bring a new sense of power paradoxically tinged with powerlessness. Faith that everything is perfect and you are fully responsible, but only if you let go of needing and control. That is the real paradox – in order to be truly powerful one must surrender. Anything else is tinged with a hint of fear of loss or lack. Depending on the support through the other stages, interactions and reading, education and which path you chose you will get there either quickly of slowly, painfully or easily, joyfully or angrily… or you may never quite get there until your last moments, when you are forced to face the nature of your temporary reality. This is a period of enlightenment and there are many paths.
So let’s imagine we have got to this place, this attitude and understanding that the world is perfectly unfolding in magic. So what? Then what?
Well now you get to play. Really play. There will be fear and you can allow the fear and do the stuff you love anyway. There will be sadness and joy and disgust and pain and you can relax and allow all of them, paying attention and seeing the beauty or resisting and enjoying the fight and the thrill of swimming with or against the flow. Deep down you understand your beliefs are just that and you know what you want. This is a time of clarity.
I call enlightenment ‘Embracing the mystery’. It doesn’t mean losing your curiosity – quite the opposite. One can still quest for scientific understanding or spiritual connection and awakening or learning new skills and having challenging relationships. But now one does these things from a place of love. One does things for the love of it, not because of some consequence if one doesn’t do it. Life isn’t so serious that things are imperative. There may be ‘needs’ in order to ‘accomplish a goal’ (which often feels great), but at the end of the day you know that those goals are fun and part of the joy of life, in the same way as mistakes, failure, rejection, loss and hardship. If you fail it doesn’t mean anything about who-you-are (deep down) or even what-you-can-do. You know that physical life is temporary and ever changing and you can handle anything, be anything, do anything that you set your mind to. So what do you want to do today? That is a mystery to me.
Mindfulness is simple, yet very difficult to achieve. It can make one realize the inner judgements about oneself. If there is self-hatred or scorn, even a little bit we can feel it as sensation in the body after the thought occurs.
If we are to sustain meditation and mindfulness It requires one to know, deep in their bones, that they are okay; that they are complete and perfect, as they are; that they are living the best they can; that every choice they make is the right one for their journey ad will bring its own experiences and 'goodies'; that they are as worthy as any other person and that they are as loved, capable, beautiful and gorgeously human. Everyone is the same, yet paradoxically totally unique - the world depends on unique people, otherwise we may as well be robots or vegetables.
Mindfulness wraps up all of this knowledge in a smiling, knowing observation and appreciation of every experience that you perceive. When we are aware of ourselves in this way, every experience has beauty and every person we meet or situation is acceptable, or even fascinating and enjoyable. This is the essence of unconditional love - to accept, with curiosity and celebration, every experience. To be willing to experience it all!
My job is to help people get to that place of deep knowing that they are perfect, so that they can play with life, mindfully. To help people get past their worries and judgements about themselves and develop mindful confidence.
Why bother being mindful?
Intuition is the most powerful of all wisdom.
Rational thinking is useful in the modern world - it is also fun and interesting, but will send you round in circles, chasing a mystery that can never be solved. We can’t know everything before we take action, we must take action first - play, try, experiment, move, take a risk. As we learn we think. But no amount of thinking will 'add to you' - you are perfect and if you cultivate mindfulness you’ll always be able to tune in and remember that - this is powerful. It is resilience in the face of vulnerability - any shitty or difficult situation you find yourself in can be handled with composure and without depression, rage, terror. When you know you can handle anything you can really start to investigate what you want in life.
The more you practice, the more honest you can be with everyone around you (because you’re not so embarrassed or ashamed of the deeper 'you'when you take time to consciously appreciate it)
Then you start to drop the behaviours, things, and relationships that you don;'t serve or that serve you (or that you dislike)
Then you ATTRACT the people and things you do like.
When we drop the masks and people see us for how we really are is helps us.
The final bit - and the best bit - is that when other people see you doing this it SOMETIMES inspires them to be more accepting of themselves too. It becomes a positive cycle that infects everyone - OK, not everyone! - some people are still predominantly living through the egoic mind, very automatically and they might react very negatively to you. Those are the people that I’ll discuss below:
Ego? Isn't that judgemental? What if this meditation thing just isn't for me?
Well that’s fine too - you’ll carry on living organically, as you always have. Your mind will be influenced by your past wounding (physical and mental) and by the cultural messages around you, as it has been up until this point. You may be completely fine and blissfully ignorant. The point is that if you're not aware you are truly vulnerable to the ravages of judgement, craving and aversion - you’ll be in the illusion of 'control' and the way the mind works you’ll probably be drawn in by the ideas of comfort, security, wealth and popularity, all mixed in with an underlying fear of being rejected, of failing and ultimately of death. These underlying fears can cause the strong negative emotional states of depression or rage.
In me I had a strong sense of hopelessness and a craving to be liked and to show the world a bullshit image of strength and skillfulness. I still do, actually, but I'm more aware and self accepting and so these characteristics have less power over me. Now I find I can CHOOSE how to respond when someone doesn't like me. We might find it difficult to shift these things, but when we accept them they are OK. That goes for illnesses too, most of which are due to stress (inner tension) which has it’s origins in your attitude - how you see the world and what you resist.
Ultimately all of this life will end in death so it really doesn’t matter if you choose to be mindful or not - you’ll carry on living for as long as you do and you’ll either enjoy it or you won’t. If you don’t you’ll probably find you reach some sort of crisis point, which happens to most people, and then eventually you’ll say something like: “why am I being so afraid? What’s wrong with me? Oh fuck it, I’m just going to focus on enjoying my life!” And you will… for a while… until you forget the lesson and repeat the whole cycle of life-pain-acceptance-enjoyment all over again. Probably - that's what I did.
The idea behind mindfulness is that you don’t have to do that - you can balance your life so that you get more of the acceptance-enjoyment and less of the pain. It is a practice to help sustain enjoyment - at least it is for me. I like feeling happy - at peace - the best way for me to sustain that feeling is to have the ability to be at peace in any given situation. The ability to create happiness. I believe mindfulness is one tool that enables us to do that. It is one of the best tools because it is universal - it can be used by anyone and in any situation. It doesn't require changing anything.
It just takes a little effort, a little patience and a little more self awareness than you had in the previous moment. Step by step this is the way to get better at anything, there is no magic quantum leap - this is just changing the way you think, a little at a time.
In Winter 2015 I went to a 10 day silent meditation retreat at the Dhamma Dipa Vipassana Meditation Centre in Hereford. I left on day 5 and here is my tale.
The retreat is free, you are invited to give a donation at the end. They give you a code of ethics at the start and you agree to keep to it. It involves
I also iinitially chose to go because I thought I needed that ‘medicine’. Perhaps, like a course of antibiotics, I should have finished it to fully ‘fix’ some of the issues I have, but I don’t think this is true.
What was my experience?
I arrived at 5pm, dropped my wallet and phone in the glove box of my car. With only an overnight bag, a thermos, water bottle and meditation stool I walked through the ‘male’ entrance and into a large hall with tables and chairs and saw the ‘male registration desk’ straight ahead, with two friendly men sitting at it. I was feeling excited, but earlier in the day I had been nauseous and nervous and full of self-doubt. I registered and dropped my bag off in my room (room number B4 - which seemed ironic - I was staying in Be-fore). I had the room to myself, because my room mate didn’t show up to utilise the second bed. I went back to the registration area, which I also realised was the canteen. The room was full of men on one side and women on the other, all talking away but divided a movable partition wall, which was currently open and we could see the women in the other half of the room. I helped myself to a cup of tea and sat down. I started up a conversation with a young Japanese guy. He was an artist with an interesting tale and he had no prior meditation experience. Some more guys joined us at the table and we talked until 7pm when silence descended. The partition wall was closed off - no more contact with women. We were instructed; No more verbal, physical or gestured contact with each other. We were to maintain ‘noble silence’ and work as if working in isolation. We were to commit to staying the whole ten days.
The routine consisted of waking up early (4am), heading to a large, modern meditation hall where we sat on our assigned floor spaces - women on one side of the hall, men on the other. In fact the whole complex was divided this way, and the men’s side including had a few buildings connected by covered walkways with little gardens - it was a cross between a school and a converted farmstead. In the meditation hall we could choose our own cushions from a large pile, but we weren't allowed to lie down or point our feet out (legs straight). We were told we could stand for short periods but were encouraged to try and maintain position for as long as possible, yet also shift it if we really needed to. We meditated for about 12 hours a day, with breaks for breakfast, lunch and tea. Within the 12 hours we had four blocks of meditation lasting about 3 hours each. Sometimes they allowed meditation in our own rooms during meditation hours but there was at least one hour in each block of time where we had to be in the hall and we received some instruction. At the end of every day we received a long video (the discourse).
Whilst most of the time spent sitting was silent there was some guidance. Within the guidance and the videos we listened to the strange chantings / singing of an Indian man, S.N Goenka. He had some very odd chants and he would repeat instructions over and over again. I found it quite grating at times. Other times it was useful to remind myself of the basic practice. He would reiterate that it was all about the sentiment: “start again, with a calm and equanimous mind”.
EARLY DAYS - THOUGHTS
For the first three days all we did was focus on the breathing and sensations in the area in and below the nostrils. We were to ‘try’ and stay focused and not to get distracted. That’s pretty much the whole practice. The teacher was also available to ask questions - quietly, of course, and one-on-one. This 10 day course was designed to be a practical exercise, rather than a philosophical one - we were here to practice continuously and see what happens. I liked that, but at the same time my mind wanted to think. I tried to keep my mind calm and relatively clear all day long, but after the evening discourse, in bed at night, my mind would be whirring with lots of philosophical debate!
Thoughts and pictures in my mind during the first two days were interesting and I grew to appreciate my mind a lot.Initially I saw things being played out on facebook! My mind was so attuned to facebook it was thinking in that way. Morals of films like Groundhog Day and The Shawshank Redemption was very present in my thoughts too: “Get busy living or get busy dying” popped into my head a lot. Shawshank also had a great quote which really came up, particularly when I was leaving the complex in the morning of day 5. The quote comes from one of the characters, who is set free from prison and is on his way to be reunited with his friend:
“I find I'm so excited, I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain”
Lastly the film Into the Wild had a poignant quote that was present for me: “Happiness is only real when shared” which I was now thinking isn’t true, because here I am, on my own and quite happy plugging away. It seems happiness is always here, waiting for us to enjoy alone or in company.
IMPROVEMENT WITH FOCUS
As time went on and I practiced diligently I realised that I was improving at keeping a calm mind and pulling my focus back to the object of my meditation, throughout physical and mental distractions. The phrases that the teacher said that helped me the most were:
WHEN NOT MEDITATING - IMAGINING
When I was not meditating I was either eating in the mess hall, napping, walking in the grounds or using the bathroom (I showered and brushed my teeth A LOT). During these times I observed things whilst eating and noticed how my mind became busy, because of the visual and physical stimulus. I started assigning funny names to the other meditators, based on their appearance and it was causing me to giggle (a very sweet sensation giggling)… but the teacher told me “this was not in line with the practice - imaginative thinking was only adding fuel to the fire. I should to try to keep my mind quiet.” So giggling or laughing was not permitted - it disturbs the other meditators for a start.
KEEPING THE PEACE
Non-disturbance of others was a big part of the moment to moment practice. I witnessed how others moved carefully and how I preferred those people to the ones who moved loudly and clumsily. So I started moving slowly and carefully. It was an incredible change - i was enjoying every little thing more. Including nature - which because much more beautiful and without the need for meaning or labels to describe the beauty. I was able to just be with it, in pure enjoyment.
All this seemed easy in this place. That’s because everything else was taken care of. All I had to do was follow the rules, do the work and I even got fed and looked after. What started bothering me is that this wasn’t real life. I was thinking that ‘real-life’ is much more difficult and challenging than this and there are all sorts of decisions that need to be made, relationships to engage with, chores and mental work… how was this practice going to help with all that? It didn’t seem to have enough content to do that. This was my mind ‘forgetting’ that this was a retreat, a singular experience, not a whole life ethos - my ego was cleverly creating justification for a way out...
I was also noticing that it was very painful to sit for more than an hour in any one position, especially with the prescriptions about not allowing straight legs on the floor. My knees had strong pain sensations, which were different from other pain sensations in my body. Something in my intuition said “listen to this pain Neil - react - stand up - or you’ll be damaged”. So I did and I decided that the awkward, floor-based positions were not yet for me. I wanted to practice the focusing exercises without the limitation of risking harming my body. I asked the teacher about this and he said “well we are not doctors, so change position if you wish, but the practice is to try not to be distracted and react to sensations, but to focus on the sensations, including pain, one at a time, in order.” I was also noticing other people limping and I began to think “This isn’t physically healthy - people are harming themselves by sitting still in positions that their bodies aren’t used to”. So after three days of putting up with the pain I decided to take a chair and I was able to sit still for hours.
I realised that the only thing stopping me getting more comfortable earlier was that I wanted to try to accept the pain and I thought it was cowardly and weak to get a chair. When I saw others opting for chairs I thought I was better than them. I also thought that they would be missing out on learning. It didn’t take me long to notice that this is a judgmental, arrogant and narcissistic thought pattern - I was really noticing what kind of person I was and what self beliefs I had. Clearly, somewhere within me is a judgement of weakness, which is at the root of my own self-hatred. There and then I simply chose to stop thinking in that way and choose compassion. It’s okay to have weakness; we are all doing our best.
EASY BUT NOT EASY
The practice was now straight forward and I enjoyed the silence and stillness and sensations. I did not enjoy the discourses, singing and teachings from Goenka - It didn’t interest me any more because something within the philosophy were some moral choices, inaccurate scientific observations and use of discouraging or inaccurate language which disagreed with my mind. This made the practice very difficult. So in a way it was easy, but difficult. My mind was the only thing making it difficult.
EXPRESSING THE THOUGHTS- EVENING OF DAY 4
That night I wanted to write - to express something - to put my thoughts down. So I snuck out between evening meditations, to the car, and retrieved my phone. It was super exciting and I loved the thrill. I felt like a secret agent! The adrenaline pumping was a beautiful and intense sensation, which I sat through the next meditation experiencing. That night I wrote until midnight and felt a strong compulsion that I wanted to ‘get busy living’. I knew there would be judgements and I would be missing out on teachings, but I wanted to get back to my important projects and see the people that I loved and to dance and have sex! The only connection I’d had with another living being since being here was with a cheeky Robin who landed on my head! I craved connection.
CHOOSING TO LEAVE
I slept on it. In the morning I meditated for an hour; sensation, observation, enjoying the focus. After meditation I wrote a bit more and made up my mind. It was time to leave. I had a nap before breakfast. I showered and I ate. I saw the Japanese man that I had met at the start and wanted to get his contact details, so I snuck over and spoke to him (which I felt a bit guilty about - I interrupted his silence) but he happily agreed and wished me well.
I spoke to the teacher before leaving and he quickly realised that I was sure about my decision. He was very calm (robot like) and told me there was no need to apologise. I was asked to wait until 8am to leave - once people had started the mid-morning meditation. So I went to the nature area and walking track to wait.
It was 7:45am and there was the most beautiful sunrise. The whole sky was red, the air was still, the ground frosty. It was like a frozen picture and I was slowly moving through it. I was aware of a clear mind. It was utterly beautiful.
When I got into the car I put some Nina Simone on and drove home, smiling and singing some of favourite lyrics: “I wish I could share all the love that's in my heart...” and everything was perfect! I knew that from this moment everything would always be perfect, even if I was ‘wrong’ for leaving, I knew I was just going to enjoy my life. I was heading off to work on what was REALLY important to me and develop disciplines that would allow me to share this with others.
But I don’t think so. I think I’m fine and the technique that they prescribed was an overly simplistic for my whole life. I don’t really want to be like the Buddha, sitting under a tree all my life. I want a balance - calm and chaos - because I recognise that a healthy human being is an emotional being as well as a peaceful being. But at the same time I can see how, in modern life, stillness and awareness are essential to living in a balanced way.
I realise that I am a ‘yes’ person in life, and so, like Jim Carrey in ‘Yes Man’ I am often out of balance - I’m loud and expressive, clumsy and scattered. One of my biggest practices is to tune in and express clear and honest ‘no’s’ to things in life, so that I can choose where to put my attention - into things, people, places and actions that are in line with both my rational values and my heart felt instincts.
I can choose to re-balance and practice more careful mindfulness, more sensitive honesty, more self-enforced focus and discipline. I can’t do all of that by focusing on what I want - you might call it positive thinking, but I’ve learned that this is an art form which opens life up for you. I can only do it by positive focus - on what I do want. Because whenever we say yes to something there is always a natural no to something else. Focusing on what you don’t want only brings more of that. We have to make some things more important than others. In this, we have no choice, otherwise we stagnate and die. Ignorance of yourself, Indecision and dis-honesty with yourself causes me more suffering than anything else.
I go through long spells of distraction away from this choice - the practice is to start again, as often as possible, without self judgment. Just do your best.
Choose to see beauty
One of my favourite philosophers, Alan Watts, says that a human being is just an expression of life/nature. I totally agree, Humans have evolved to have a powerful mind and in doing so the mind is able to conceptualise life and give it meaning and then the mind evolves further and realises the illusion of the self-created meaning and so it can go one of two ways - it can give up trying and die (because it perceives life as a struggle with no point) or it can give up struggling and enjoy life for as long as possible (because it perceives life as beautiful).The latter decision will allow positivity to grow and our species to thrive. The former attitude will lead to suffering, depression and death.
Decide what you are for
In making decisions and facing the consequences with the mind of an emotional being is to consciously remember and remind myself that I am loved and worthy exactly as I am. I have value in just my pure existence - I am gorgeous; I am flawed, I am scared, I make mistakes; I am beautiful in these ways and more. I can choose to accept all of me, because I now totally realise that good and bad are just labels that our mind creates. There is no ‘real’ deeper meaning. This is all just stuff happening and it’s not what you do, but how you do it; what your attitude is and what you choose to believe. And what if I don’t feel a strong yes or a strong no? Then let do nothing and let someone else decide or do something, it matters not, eventually - with some self-awareness you will feel a something, a strong desire. The monks at the Vipassana have chosen that for most of their lives they will meditate and feel the awareness without reacting. My view is that we are all ultimately drawn towards that place too, the closer we get to death. I don’t know what happens after death, but I feel it’s pretty close to what the monks are doing - coming together with themselves. They call it the ultimate enlightenment or Nirvana.
Here’s what I believe - There is no ‘point’ to life. So why bother at all? Well, if you stagnate or commit suicide that will be the ultimate ‘missing out’. You’ll miss everything, all the fun, joy, love, lust, passion, learning, experiences, pain, ecstasy, sadness, heartache, excitement, fear, horror, peace, magic, connection and inspiration… I’ll pick one and go with it and my imagination with create the magic. I'm finding my own path as I walk.
Positive lessons I learned:
Life is beautiful. I’m enough - I’m perfect as I am. My mind attaches ‘meaning’ to things and that is the only thing that makes it ‘right/good’ or ‘wrong/bad’. Life is just a bunch of stuff happening and we are lucky enough to have minds with vivid imaginations to create. Or more eloquently put by Shakespeare:
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Balance in life is important so it’s important to stop once in a while, make sure that I know what my priorities are and adjust accordingly. I need hardship, stillness, focus and work as much as I need play, being, relaxation and excitement. Any choice I make is the right choice for me as long as I make it from a place of love and wisdom, not fear. I can choose to think and do anything and I recognise the fundamental important things to me are human connection, expression and support. An easy barometer for decision making is to decide if I am drawn to it - if I like it and if it is inline with my values.
So here is an easy list of stuff I specific events and stuff I learned:
What I disliked and disagreed with?
Many, but at the same time, none that hold strong emotional charge around. The course was designed very intelligently and I realise now, with hindsight, that I allowed one of my core ‘monkey-mind’ traits to convince me that leaving was the best choice. That trait was fear of missing out, or FOMO.
I allowed my mind to jump in and rationalise the whole philosophy behind the course and use it as an excuse to justify my leaving. I see the fallacy in my own disagreements about the philosophies within the course. I wish the course had stated more clearly that it is a course, not a routine to follow your whole life. It is an experience to provide contrast for your life. It is to help cultivate control of your own mind so that you can make calm, informed choices throughout difficult times and you can choose, in every moment, what you put your attention on and what you even think about. Then the moral choices will be much easier.
At the end of the day all of these are excuses. I didn’t do the full work and now I have missed a rare opportunity to do that work in a single week. It means I will now have to weave that work into my life, organically, gradually and with some effort, with a weaker starting point than I could have had completed. If I had sat the whole 10 days I would be re-entering life with a stronger and more controlled mind and in some ways it would be easier to continue to carry forward into my life.
However, I cannot be certain this is true. Leaving is a unique experience that has brought it’s own goodies and experiences. Right now I have lots of ‘bonus’ days-off to sit and contemplate, talk with mature and experienced friends, reflect and decide upon what I liked, learned, disliked, regretted and now committed to do in my life. So like all things it is even possible to accept my regrets, to choose not to worry and to beat myself up, to take positives from the experience forward into my life. I still feel good about the experience and the choice to leave. Tomorrow do thy worst, for today I have lived, fully.
Conclusion and practical bits
I feel emotionally sad that I broke my commitment and all that it means I miss out on some learning experience (but I got others instead) and it highlight my weaknesses. At the same time I feel at peace and happy to be alive, with loved ones and freedom to choose how to spend my limited time. It’s great to be here!
By having the time to write this and work out how to integrate what I’ve learnt into my life, whilst the information is still fresh, is invaluable. I have chosen to:
I’ve come to realise is that there is no universal truth - they are all true and important - universal nature is full of harmony and paradox, but nature requires us to make a decision as to what is important in this moment and then focus upon that. I believe that for my journey, in this moment, decisiveness and balance are important for me to focus upon - and my balance includes sometimes getting over excited - which is great as long as one remembers that nature also requires calm.
S.N. Goenka - Dhamma Discourses
S.N. Goenka standard sound of 1 hour meditation
The power of meditation - as shown in prisons
The Dangers of Meditation
Cold Shower therapy
And Some Quotes:
..“Krishnamurti says to people, ‘Now look, there is nothing you can do to be liberated because all of your efforts in the direction of liberation are phony. They are based on your desire to boost and continue your ego and that will never lead to liberation. All you can do,’ he says, ‘is to be aware of yourself as you are without judgement. See What IS.’ but, then, if you can do that, you have no further problem. But, if you try to do it you’re in the same mess all over again….
And, when you find out, you see, there isn’t any way of forcing it, that, for most people is the only way of getting them to stop forcing it. Because they won’t believe, when you tell them in the first instance, ‘You’ve got to do this without forcing it.’ They’ll say, ‘Well, it won’t work. It won’t happen because I’m very unevolved. I’m just an ordinary human being. I’m just poor little me. And, if I don’t force it, nothing will happen. Like people who think that if they don’t struggle and strain they won’t have a bowel movement or whatever it is. They think they’ve got to do that work in order to make it happen.
“In the West, I do not think it advisable to follow Buddhism. Changing religions is not like changing professions. Excitement lessens over the years, and soon you are not excited, and then where are you? Homeless inside yourself."
– The Dalai Lama, quoted in Tibet, Tibet by Patrick French
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com