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.
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.
I live on a beautiful estuary on the western fringe of the UK and recently got curious about my experience of this place.
I love walking and go out across the sands at low tide several times a week if I can. My eyes are drawn to the sky and I am rarely disappointed. A while ago I noticed the sun almost always breaks through the cloud at some point on my walks.
I’ve lost count of the number of beautiful sunrises and sunsets, amazing arrangements of mist and cloud and the most heart stopping play of light on water. And my experience is of a place that gets more and more beautiful. I snap endless pictures on my phone with no particular purpose in mind. I’m just moved to capture and share the beauty I see.
Does this mean it never rains here? No.
Yet somehow rain isn’t a big feature of my experience of this estuary. I don’t really pay any attention to wet weather. If it’s raining hard I don’t venture out but it doesn’t seem to last long and in light drizzle, I might go out. Often it clears. Like today, when a beautiful rainbow filled the sky.
Ever more beautiful skies; ever more beautiful feelings
What occurred to me the other morning was, I wonder if this is how it works with our thoughts and feelings? Wouldn’t it be great if we could notice, appreciate and revel in the light, loving, beautiful feelings we get from time to time? To rest in those more and pay less attention to the troublesome, heavy, ‘wet weather’ thinking.
How would that work?
When you get a glimpse of the fact that how you are feeling in any given moment is coming from your thinking in that moment (whether you are aware of it or not), not from external circumstances, the past or the future, it begins to make sense to try to leave negative and unhelpful thinking alone.
Except, as I know only too well, this isn’t always possible because we don’t always see the illusory and transitory nature of our thoughts. When we don’t see the illusion, no amount of ‘willing’ ourselves into a better state of mind will help the mood shift any faster because it feels real, therefore it is our reality. It seems all we can do, is try to leave it alone and it will lift in its own sweet time.
However when we experience a quieter mind, we can get curious about seeing something deeper.
Our feelings do not come from beautiful sunsets and other nice things
It’s helpful to get curious about where our experience is coming from. I am very fortunate to live in a beautiful place and yet the deep feelings of appreciation I get when I walk on the estuary are coming not from the view, but from inside me.
How do I know this?
Because my experience of the estuary varies. For every day I am awed by the beauty there can be others where I have no such experience because I am thinking about a work project, a conversation or what I’m going to have for dinner.
So how I experience the beauty depends on my state of mind, not on the estuary.
It is an innocent mistake to think that feelings of peace loving joy come from certain people or places when, it is much more interesting than that. We bring our state of mind and therefore our feelings to people and places.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bring feelings of wonder and appreciation to our experience of being human?
Appreciating the incredible variety and beauty of our mental landscape
What if I related to my mental landscape the way I relate to the physical landscape I live in? What if I could appreciate and enjoy the wonderful aspects of my mind, my imagination, its creative power and pay less attention to the more troublesome aspects such as ruminating, feeling crappy.
Later I saw it more deeply. What goes on in my head, what we might experience as the interior conversation isn’t ‘MY mental landscape’ it is simply an aspect of what I know of as ‘me’. We often miss the presence of something deeper because we are busy latching on to unpleasant thoughts that catch our attention. They are often thoughts about the past or the future rather than the present.
What lies beyond our moods?
What if we get curious about experiencing more of the wonder, joy, love and beauty present in any moment, that is there but for thinking that sends us into a low mood?
As we open more and more to the wonder and awe of life, my experience is that we get to let go of more and more stories that no longer serve us and somehow this deepens our experience of love and appreciation without conscious effor. This in turn seems to increase the love and appreciation we experience. It just appreciates like a savings account with a healthy interest rate.
And in doing that we might find our life starts to get more and more beautiful, just as this estuary has. Just as rainy days and the odd storm will undoubtedly show up, we’re bound to still get insecure thinking, low moods, and periods of getting stuck but how wonderful to be more alive to the wonder and appreciation and less fussed about the low patches.
I have edited this article and yet it still feels as if something is missing, something I haven’t quite captured, I’d really appreciate hearing what you see or hear as often people’s comments bring more clarity. Please do add your comments.
Coming through the aircraft door onto the steps, the heat hit me like a wall. I was 21, arriving in a country 650 miles from the equator, where the humidity averaged 80% and the temperature hovered around 30 degrees C (88 degrees Fahrenheit) pretty much every day. I was signed up for a 3 year stint living and working in this heat. Talk about a shock. Cool, damp England had not prepared me for this. Yikes!
My boyfriend at the time gave me some words of advice.
This was a kind of heat that slammed into you and would not be ignored. A level of heat and humidity that resulted in instant sweating if you exerted yourself just by walking. Heat that was unremitting while the sun was up. Heat that caused you to stick to the PVC seats of pick up trucks without air conditioning. What on earth did he mean, ‘Think cool.’
That wasn’t my experience of the heat. It was bothersome.
“Isn’t it hot?”, I’d exclaim while fanning myself, being uncomfortably sweaty and slightly red in the face.
And of course all this exclaiming and complaining about the heat just kept reminding me of how hot it was, which tended to lead to lots of thoughts about how uncomfortable the heat was. While these thoughts dominated, it didn’t occur to me there might be ways to experience the heat differently and it also didn’t occur to me to adapt in any way. So I:-
- moved around too quickly
- wore clothes that stuck to me and were uncomfortable
- got sweaty but only showered once a day because that’s what I did in the UK
- spent much of the time, hot and bothered.
Needing some line of defence, I decided to try and “think cool”.
To my surprise, it worked like magic. It seemed to endorse my system’s capacity to acclimatise. As soon as I heard the words, the flap around being hot seemed to drop away.
It calmed down all those agitated feelings about the heat but what is more interesting, as those thoughts calmed down, different behaviours occurred to me.
What you might call common sense came to the fore. All my pre-conceived ideas about what you wear to work, what pace you move at, how often you wash. These fell away and I adopted a different way of living. Suddenly it seemed obvious to
- Slow down
- Wear fewer, loose fitting clothes
- Take 3 cold showers a day
- Stay in the shade during the hottest part of the day
- Not let things get ‘under my skin’
To this day, if I find myself somewhere hot, I smile inside as all those ‘hot country adaptations’ click in and I can enjoy the heat.
And it occurred to me this is very similar to how we often relate to other people’s moods.
When we spend a great deal of time huffing and puffing about what mood someone is in, and how hard/difficult/horrible/unbearable/ridiculous/unwelcome it is, we just get more and more ‘hot and bothered’ and that leads to actions (or lack of action) that tend to make both suffer.
So if the person is a bit irritable for instance, and we start having a great deal of thinking about that irritability, how that person shouldn’t be irritable, how unreasonable it is, how annoying it is or how it is spoiling our day, then we soon find ourselves also getting snappy, getting into an argument or getting tense.
Needless to say this just escalates bad feeling all round.
When we remember, the person in front of us is always okay (underneath whatever mood they are in), we tend to stay calmer, and in that state, various common sense things occur to us for instance, (in the words of a famous song), we might decide to let it go (because perhaps we can see, it’s not a big deal) or we might suggest a diversion or offer support, or ask how we can help, or simply ignore it and give someone a wide berth.
Knowing the person is okay and relating to them as if they are, also gives them space to find their well-being again and so they tend to move through their mood quicker.
Thinking back now, I see how the words Think cool were an invitation to experience the heat differently. It offered a tantalising glimpse at a different relationship with the climate I found myself in.
In the same way, when we truly realise the feelings we all experience are neither good nor bad, they just are, that insight, can be enough to bring us new thinking, which in turn will bring us a new experience of our own moods and those of others.
And we begin to see how our experience is never fixed. It changes. Always. And it is our changing state of consciousness that transforms our experience. And there is something far more interesting than moods (our own or other people’s). These are simply temporary states of mind.
There is something before and beyond thoughts, feelings and moods.
And when we get curious about the fact we create both the ‘hot and bothered’ experience and the ‘think cool’ experience, then we open up the possibility of a million other ways of experiencing other people and their moods.
A new thought, Think Cool, transformed my experience of heat, allowing my pre-conceptions to fall away.
I invite you to get curious about what lies before moods (yours and other people’s) and allow an entirely different experience of life’s ups and downs to open up for you.
I’d love to know what you hear in this post, please add your comments below.
I do a bit of yoga now and then.
At the first sense of tightness in a muscle, my whole system used to click into ‘this isn’t how it should be’ mode and at once the tightness in my body increased slightly and a corresponding tightness in my mind emerged.
But one time I saw it. I was doing it again.
I was wanting what showed up to be different to how it was. Thinking what showed up – tightness in a muscle – was not okay because it didn’t feel okay, or didn’t match my definition of okay which is ‘easy, happy, light, effortless.’
I noticed it and let it be and the tightness faded in my mind and body.
Not feeling okay, is NOT a problem
I saw once again the persistence of the illusion that is oh so common. The innocently misguided notion that not feeling okay is a problem.
Based as it is, on the mistaken idea that we are only okay if we feel okay. This innocent misunderstanding leads on to a whole heap of other misunderstandings.
So if I don’t feel okay, there’s a problem that needs fixing, so I have to look for a solution. So we start looking….
It must be because I need to be/have/get/do/feel something else. That what I am/have/got/do/feel right now is simply not good enough/wrong/inadequate/bad.
This innocent misunderstanding is the root of a whole series of follow on thoughts, feelings and sometimes actions that generally create suffering of one sort or another.
They create suffering because we are at odds with what is. Resisting it. And paradoxically causing it to persist and often increase in intensity.
Have you ever noticed what you desperately want rid of in your life (feelings, people, circumstances) has a way of hanging around like a bad smell?
Why does the belief that we need to ‘feel’ okay to be okay persist?
Because we think we are what we feel.
We are not.
We are much, much more than that.
How do we see through this illusion?
The way to clear up this misunderstanding is when we realise okay-ness doesn’t come from feelings (at all, ever).
The folly of seeking okay-ness in our feelings, or in other things like our relationships, our work or in any stuff out there, is, that all those things are subject to change.
They are all impermanent
The feeling of okay-ness we seek from those things can only ever be temporary, fleeting, apt to evaporate.
Worse, measuring ourselves by whether or not we feel ‘okay’ means we are forever destined to grade ourselves with an F for failure because we can never keep the feeling of okay-ness that sometimes, at random, passes through us.
Okay-ness is built in
Each of us has the potential to realise that okay-ness doesn’t reside in our feelings, but in fact lies far, far below the surface of our thoughts, feelings and moods.
And in fact okay-ness is not a feeling at all. It is a state of being. It is an awareness.
When we realise this, we can relax, stop obsessing about how we feel and come alive more and more to the wonder of what is.
Then feelings begin to matter far less and we can embrace any feeling (emotional or physical). Tightness in a muscle becomes, not something to worry about but simply something to notice and get curious about.
If the only thing people learned was not to be afraid of their experience, that alone would change the world.
‘Doing’ yoga becomes not about trying to feel better in my body but simply about embracing and getting curious about whatever shows up in mind, body or spirit while ‘doing’ yoga.
When you see the truth of the absolute, unchanging, constant, timeless okay-ness of that which allows you to experience your thoughts, feelings and moods, then okay-ness is no longer something you strive for, something you search for, something you try to grab and hold on to.
Okay-ness just is
It’s your natural state and it is present whether or not you are aware of it.
And feeling happy or sad, up or down becomes not a measure of who we are, not something to fix or change, simply a different flavour of being human in that moment.
An experience we get to have because we are here in this human existence. Paradoxically the more we embrace what is, the richer our experience becomes and the more it flows. Opening ourselves to what is, we get to feel, to really feel, in the raw, all of it, the whole gamut of emotions.
From searing loss that takes your breath away to belly laughs that have you bent double, and a flood of compassion that carries in it the sorrows of the world. Opening to these experiences while anchored in the deep knowing of our okay-ness brings a wonder and awe at the fact of aliveness.
The invitation is simply to be and do
And in our being and doing to expand our awareness and surrender to the aliveness, the animation, the soulfulness of everything, in every moment.
And in that surrender to invite more aliveness, more beauty, more wonder, joy and being-ness into our lives and the lives of those we touch.
“What we are talking about is learning to live in the present moment, in the now. When you aren’t distracted by your own negative thinking, when you don’t allow yourself to get lost in moments that are gone or yet to come, you are left with this moment. This moment-now-truly is the only moment you have. It is beautiful and special. Life is simply a series of such moments to be experienced one right after another. If you attend to the moment you are in and stay connected to your soul and remain happy, you will find that your heart is filled with positive feelings.”
Next time the thought occurs to you to stretch your body, do some breathing exercises, move into a yoga pose, what if you simply do it? Do it and embrace all that arises in that doing, and wonder at the aliveness that allows you to do it and moves you (inside and out).
I’d love if it you’d share what this post brings up for you.