As tools to communicate, social media platforms are fantastically efficient: fast, (mostly) free and easy to access and they provide a whole world of connections, information and inspiration.
However when we begin to mis-use our social media feeds: say constantly checking our Facebook feed to get a hit of feeling good or begin to compare ourselves negatively with others or simply use it to distract ourselves from engaging in tasks we dislike, the Facebook feed no longer serve us and can become a hindrance to being or doing in the world as we would wish.
This is not the fault of the social media platforms, simply a result of how we use them. How nice it is when we switch off our social media feed for a while. Returning to our feed after a break, we get reminded too what a great tool it can be when we are clear about when it’s helpful and when it’s not.
Our social media feed is not so different from our cognitive function
Our cognitive function, our ability to reason and make judgement is a fabulous tool which is incredibly helpful when we are faced with certain problems, tasks or projects such as building a bridge, baking a cake, learning to play an instrument, organising a party, booking travel plans, doing our tax returns or buying tickets.
Where would we be without it?
It excels at assembling facts, looking critically at information, making judgements, weighing up pros and cons and coming to conclusions. All very useful skills in some areas of life. Imagine the world if this function did not exist?
But our analysing and judging capabilities are really, really rubbish when it comes to matters of the heart.
By matters of the heart, I mean that search for a sense of peace, well-being and connectedness which lies at the heart of what all human beings yearn for. We may not express it that way. We may express it as a yearning for a partner, a rewarding job, a family, good mental or physical health but these just look like ways we might get to feel these things, to feel ‘happy’.
The cognitive brain is really, really bad at helping us feel connected and peaceful.
In that arena, the cognitive mind is no use at all. It’s simply the wrong tool for the job.
Do you hear the calling?
There is in each of us a deep deep yearning. A yearning to be at rest, at peace. It is a yearning that propels people up mountains, to run marathons to meditation and yoga classes, into nature or reaching for the top of the career ladder or aspiring to drive a nice car. We reach blindly for things out there, mistakenly believing in that yoga class, in that summiting of the mountain, in that winning of that promotion, we will find what we seek.
The yearning to be at rest, to experience peace, comes from a desire to feel complete, okay, satisfied. To rest in the space where there is nothing to be done, no goals to be achieved, no expectations to be met.
Yet ironically we act on the belief that it is in the doing, setting goals, meeting expectations that we will find our happiness, not realising that mistaken belief, in itself, takes us away from our natural state of rest and well-being.
(How different it feels when we engage in activities because they occur to us, because they appeal to us, because they are fun or would be cool, rather than doing things in order to ‘feel better/whole.’)
The yearning is a kind of knowing
Knowing what is good for us, knowing what we need, knowing what we truly are. Underneath the business of judgements, opinions and criticism, underneath the ups and downs of mood, underneath the ebb and flow of life events, there is a space that some call home. A space we know intimately. It’s a space where the chatter of our cognitive thinking is less dominant, matters less. Where experience just happens without analysis and commentary. It is a space where all is well.
Rather like the addictive checking of a social media feed, we have mistakenly given far too much importance to what our cognitive brain thinks about everything, from how we feel on waking, what we had for breakfast, how much our neighbour’s dog barks, what our partner said last week, how we were brought up, the state of the world and the weather.
Rather than making use of this powerful and remarkable tool to help us create and serve others, we have got carried away with the idea that the cognitive function is there to make us feel better. So it sets to work doing what the cognitive function does: analysing, correlating and drawing conclusions. Which would be fine, except that being at peace and feeling connected does not occur through analysis. It is our natural state and occurs when we fall out of that way of thinking.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could switch off our cognitive brain like we can shut off our social media feed? And actually just log in to it when it is of use to us. Any time we feel wide open and curious, not engaged in judgement, criticism, opinions, should’s and shouldn’ts we touch a space where all is well, everything is wide open, everything is possible and we are at peace. And it is a space where fresh, helpful ideas can arise and be heard.
How do we fall into that space more often ?
I’m not sure it is in our gift to determine exactly when we fall into it and when we don’t but perhaps we can increase the odds. These things may help:-
- Recognising when we are in that space, ~ that’s anytime we feel warm and at peace, full of love, happily engaged in something, any time we feel all is well (even though emotions and events may be going up and down around us)
- Knowing that space is there and not dependent on an activity or being in a particular place, or with a particular person
- Knowing we’ll fall in and out of it, so there’s no sense in trying to hold on to it
- Knowing we can’t ‘think’ our way into that space
- Going with the ebb and flow without struggle or strain
- Recognising what takes us away from that space, i.e. getting engaged with our cognitive mind, identifying with thoughts as if they were personal
- Recognising we are not our thoughts or feelings ~ they are transitory and can do us no harm if we leave them alone
- Appreciating being in that space ~ being grateful for that
- Opening ourselves to being in it more often helps.
- Listening deeply, with nothing on our mind, when on your own
- Listening deeply, with nothing on our mind, to others
- Not worrying when we are not in it.
The space is always there. Only our awareness of being in it goes in and out, in and out, like the tide.
And rather like our social media feed, if we get too obsessed and start trying to use our cognitive mind for purposes it wasn’t designed for, i.e. to try and find peace of mind, we’ll start to feel yucky. It will feel sticky and stressful and not okay and we might notice we feel tired and cranky. It’s a nudge we are using the wrong tool. Let it be. Look away.
Willingness to turn away from the cognitive mind (not being seduced by FOMO ~ fear of missing out), and just falling into our natural state, hearing and feeling that deep yearning that longs for your busy cognitive mind to fade out, that will luxuriate in the space that is always there, beyond that.
I’d love to hear what comes up for you on reading this article. Please add any comments, questions, reflections or insights below.
When the gloom descends there is an invitation to be humble in the face of powerful forces sweeping through us. An invitation to open wide just as we yearn to close down. To hold up the light and look for undiscovered treasure.
To dance on the cusp of awareness of the hurt and wounded self reaching for the whisky tumbler and the whisper of something else that is timeless and profound.
In that magical place, all we think we know falls away and time stands still. And gratitude flows for the grace of such a glimpse.
And we may dance between the two, cowering beneath the fully-felt force of life’s seemingly cruel blows to this frail and fallible self, licking wounds and yet and yet, as we teeter on the edge of despair, often there comes unbidden, a glimmer of something new, an imperceptible change of course that catches a little wind in our sails and sets a different self on a different tack.
Unbidden, for though our little self strives for peace and perfection, reaching always for a port in the storm, there is a greater awareness that conjures the storm, the port and the self that is flailing and recovering, flailing and recovering.
That greater awareness is always calling us home to our essence, to the peace that ‘passeth all understanding’. Calling us to open to what is. Inviting us to be aware of being home in any moment. To see perfection in the illusion just as it is: in the flailing and recovering; in the port and in the storm. For in each moment lies the infinite richness and potential of life served up for the unique, created self of that moment to experience.
And that is all there is: at once so little and so much. Each moment and the potential of it.
The harbour wall
Photo © Juliet Fay
Burry Port 3 January 2018
During the festive season, ordinary streets and buildings are lit up by hundreds of tiny fairy lights. One or two strings of lights would have little impact but as hundreds and thousands of lights go on, for a few short weeks, we create a magical world.
In the same way, a little bit of goodwill when brought to our workplaces, our communities, our families and ourselves, has the power to transform our world. When many of us bring goodwill to bear, the changes can be remarkable.
When we feel out of sorts and ill-tempered, we fall to blaming and criticising what is before us: our circumstances, our environment, our leaders, our co-workers, our loved ones, ourselves.
Through the filter of ill-temper other people are rude and uncaring and the world seems full of potholes and bumps.
But then goodwill rises.
Our hearts expand, our load lightens and the world transforms. We breathe a little easier. The world seems to spin a little slower on its axis and space opens up in our mental landscape.
The tautness we carry in our forehead, neck, shoulders, stomach, fingers or calves releases and we feel a little softer in our skin.
And people change. Faults turn into foibles. The world stops revolving around the me that feels wounded or attacked and instead we feel the humanity in the caring and sharing, the strife and the woe.
Those difficult people are suddenly just like us, doing the best they can. The annoying habits become endearing. Resilience shines through stories of hardship and terror.
And how do we get to a feeling of goodwill I hear you ask?
It is what remains when the mind is free and clear. When the ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ fall away. When we are graced with the knowing to embrace what is rather than worrying about what isn’t.
And in that gentle place of goodwill, we soften towards the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ Turning away from slights and hurts, giving them no dwelling place in our hearts, letting them glance off us, we return to that peaceful, easy feeling that refreshes and renews ourselves and others. The more goodwill we extend, the more goodwill shows up.
Imagine a world illuminated with goodwill.
When you shake up a bottle of water with sand inside, the sand swirls around frantically until you set the bottle down. Then the sand slowly sinks to the bottom and the water gradually clears.
It takes a little time.
There is nothing you can do to that bottle of sand to make it settle faster. In fact everything you do, such as tipping it, inverting it, lying it down, shaking it, will impede the settling down.
The mind is like that.
Left undisturbed, it’s natural state is one of being settled down. The agitated sand is like our racing thoughts that swirl around. Shaking the bottle is like getting stuck in thinking that takes us into a low mood and keeps us stuck there. Going round and round with the same, stale old thoughts, keeps us stuck in the same stressful feeling state.
But once the sand settles, we realise what looked to be a bottle full of sand is actually a bottle full of clear water with just a little sand at the bottom. When we begin to look away from the swirling sand, we notice the calm, clear water, the stillness and from that place of peace and clarity, new thoughts, wisdom, arises and our world transforms.
Yet paradoxically you cannot settle your mind down by ‘trying’. It is an allowing not a forcing. It is easy, light, open and relaxed not tight and full of effort. The sand in the bottle won’t settle more quickly if you mess about with it. In fact that has the opposite effect.
Trying to make yourself settle down is like wading into the middle of a beautiful mountain lake and trying to smooth out the ripples you are creating by flailing your arms around in the water.
To let the water settle, you have to get out.
Get out of the water. Get out of the way.
Then you’ll notice how beautiful the water is.