How ‘right relationship’ is an outcome, not an instruction

How ‘right relationship’ is an outcome, not an instruction

Love Life and it will love you back

As the heart breaks open we discover a new meaning to ‘right relationship’.

In the eightfold path of Buddhism: right understanding, right attitude, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration are the way to end suffering.

The path could be summed up as being in ‘right relationship’ to self and others. In my twenties, ‘right relationship’ looked to be an instruction. I duly set about striving to be a good person and came up short, again and again.

These days right relationship looks different. It looks less about ‘working at’ being a good person and more about a deeper listening to our internal guidance system. When our hearts are touched, our minds begin to quieten. As we realise there is a deeper experience of being, we begin to tune in more and more to the nudges we get all day, every day. Nudges towards nourishing ourselves on every level: spiritual, emotional, physical and material.

As we nourish ourselves we naturally come into right relationship with others.

All others. Humans, animals, plants and land

I used to experience manic episodes followed by sabotaging rage and soul sapping depression. The adrenalised energy of the highs was captivating. I felt like superwoman. A special being that didn’t need sleep. I was frantically active in those periods, believing I could fly like this for ever. And I was terrified of the lows.

Inevitably I would crash. In a fast downward spiral I would feel as if I was wading through treacle, my confidence seemed to drain away and my mind became a heavy fog.

Just recently I have come to see this in a different way.

In those manic highs, I was as disconnected from myself and others as in the lows. I didn’t recognise any signals of exhaustion until it was too late. The belief that those highs were desirable because I felt invincible, over-rode the need for rest (mentally and physically). The adrenalin buzz of the highs was how I wanted to live. Innocently I was unaware of the possibility of a place of quiet creativity and peace.

I see too, the kindness of the lows when they came. A nervous system so highly strung, I was probably a good candidate for a heart attack. Yet the body mind system rescued me, turning my head to mush, effectively switching off cognitive function, over-riding my own spinning thought system which said more, more, more.

Don’t get me wrong, I suffered deeply (as did those around me) in those low times but mostly the suffering came from being wretchedly unaccepting of the state I found myself in. Rather than gracefully take rest, I fought and argued and bitched at myself for feeling the way I did and ended up in a black hole of dysfunction that was painful for me and hideous for those around me. The consequences of my actions at that time are still at play.

I had glimpsed but did not fully realise, we have an inner guidance system that knows what we need in any given moment to keep the mind body spirit system in balance. We are being nudged every moment of every day. The inner tension we feel comes when our conditioned thinking (what is not true) tries to over-ride those nudges from a deeper knowing (what is true).

When our minds are revved up we can miss those signals or misinterpret them. For me, urgency, tension and stress looked like signals to go faster, do more. I didn’t realise they were signals to get quieter, signs I was off kilter, not instructions for how to live.

As our minds quieten and we become aware of the stillness before thought,

those nudges get clearer and simpler. The noise in the system reduces.

The system is perfectly designed for each of us.

I sense now, those who suffer what is called chronic mental distress are those who over-ride what their mind body spirit system knows to be true. That the richness of life is not in the rational, mechanical analytical world (which is marvellous and can be fascinating) but in the deeper connection and awareness of the field of being that encompasses us and all living things.

We all have that deep knowing but some get caught in believing cultural or familial stories based on deep separation, conflict and division. Trying to act from their heart, these stories rush in and crush their spirit. They end up in a no-man’s land of deep suffering. Their heart cannot bear to confine itself in this way but their head takes issue with this, perceiving an illusory threat to their place in the modern world if they do not conform. When we do not realise where our experience comes from: via the Power of Thought, those intensely frightening thought loops that look true, can spiral us down into dark places of despair.

It is interesting to look at those contented souls who don’t suffer chronic mental distress. They are found everywhere. Women for example are: making homes, doing brain surgery, exploring the outer edges of spirituality, campaigning for more equitable societies, championing the rights of the marginalised and oppressed, growing food, raising children, researching quantum biology, writing poetry, filing accounts, checking groceries at the store.

What is the difference?

It’s not about what they are doing, rather where they are doing from. As we come more and more into right relationship with ourselves, naturally, we come more and more into right relationship to the world. In right relationship our minds, bodies and spirits are experienced as gifts. When we love them, they love us back, giving us clarity, compassion, vast depths of creativity, fun and love. Through this lens we see all others: humans, animals, plants and land, as gifts to be honoured.

From this place of understanding, we discover a flourishing not dependent on outside

circumstances

At university I had a dear friend who intrigued me. She was chilled and contented. I was not. I went off to meditation classes. That semester stands out for me, as a time when I was on a more even keel. When the noise of a busy mind quietened enough for me to pay attention to things like getting enough sleep and eating well. Life was easier, more enjoyable. I knew my friend didn’t need to go to meditation classes; I just didn’t know why.

I can see, how a simple thing, like over-riding the body’s need for sleep, created a ramped up nervous system again and again and again. In that agitated state it made sense to me to take in copious amounts of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and add more late nights. Unsurprisingly that led to a more and more revved up system. But I couldn’t see it.

When we’re not in our right mind, we’re not very smart

For many years I thought it was the meditation classes that gave me more equilibrium. It looked like it was. What I understand now is, a quieter mind comes via insight. As our hearts are touched and we realise, or have an experience of something before and beyond our small selves, our conditioned and unconscious thinking begins to drop away. Like the proverbial iceberg, we have no clue how much we can’t see. It is an ongoing unfolding.

As our stories about ourselves and the world begin to shimmer and their illusory nature is revealed, we begin to live more wholeheartedly with a more direct experience of life. Not all the time. We get lost and caught up in our stories, time and time again but we get to see the illusion of our thinking at play in more and more places.

And life gets more and more beautiful

An article like this one, germinates mid morning and despite other plans, I find myself sitting down and typing. The words come through and I receive them as the gift they are. Not really my words. The more we love Life, the more Life loves us. Guiding us, nudging us, sometimes howling at us until we hear the call and return to right relationship in which we are flowing with Life rather than arguing with it.

As our hearts crack open, we begin to fall in love with the wonderment of Life. To see Life as a gift we are given. A gift we can receive with gratitude and begin to see how to reciprocate by sharing our gifts with the world in whatever way we are called. That gift may be making a cup of tea for someone you love or writing a PhD thesis. Every gift is equal and part of the glorious reciprocity of Life.

Right relationship is not something we aspire to or work at, as I once thought, nor just the Buddhist version of the Christian Ten Commandments, rather it is a natural aligning that happens as we see deeper and deeper into the heart of the ineffable power that animates and guides us through life.

© Words by Juliet Fay 2021

© Artwork: heart collage on blue black acrylic on a wooden box frame by Juliet Fay 2021

The collage was inspired by my local #BuyNothing group. I received two pictures from a member who offered them to the group, thinking I might up-cycle them. I sanded and painted over the original pictures mixing a deep dark blue on an enamel plate gifted from the group. The collage is created from papers and fabric in my home, including: the cat tissue paper was wrapped around some candles I was given last Christmas, the red tissue paper and ribbon were wrapped around some soap I was gifted for my birthday this year; off cuts from the fabric I used to re-cover my office chair some years ago, the fabric covering a jar of mincemeat I was gifted in December, scraps from a Union Jack towel I bought on sale in Jubilee year, pieces of cotton, bought in a swatch from a patchwork shop in Northern California. A blue heart is currently in preparation for the second picture. My journey with the Buy Nothing Project is revealing more and more the abundance of Life. 

 

Juliet Fay is a poet & Three Principles Facilitator living on an estuary in West Wales, UK. She is dedicated to exploring and appreciating the wonder and power of the human spirit. Going deeper, beyond what we know. To do that she engages in heartfelt conversations pointing back home; mentors pioneers, creatives, community leaders, helpers and healers; hosts regular gatherings around books or topics close to her heart (by invitation only) and creates poetry, podcasts, illustration, artwork & prose to awaken the heart. She welcomes curious new subscribers to her email list ~ subscribe.
Poem: Boredom

Poem: Boredom

Artwork: 'Boredom' acrylic on paper by Juliet Fay ©2021

Easily mistaken,
boredom 
slips in,
disguised as
dissatisfaction
or frustration.

Boredom
rarely visits
busy minds,
guarded
with NO ENTRY
signs.

Alarmed by boredom,
Forces rally to chivy
and chide.
"Focus on
the task at hand"
"You're not the boss of me".

Yet boredom's
tentacles will
creep in 
nonetheless
and suffuse
our experience.

Muting desire,
interest and
motivation.
The mind feels
heavy
and murky.

What if
we let boredom
have its way
with us,
relax into
its meanderings?

It wanders
languidly
unimpressed
with all that 
once looked shiny -
a hint of haughtiness.

Childhood boredom
comes to mind,
when afternoons
stretched into
an eternity of
nothingness.

Oh how we yearned
for something,
anything,
to appear,
to shake us
from the torpor.

Ennui
scans and
rejects every
idea of what 
has ever been
pleasing.

It finds
delight in 
nothing.
Turns away
with a
'meh'.

Slowly
a smile breaks
at this vast,
lazy demand,
to be entertained
or amused.

And having
given it
free rein,
it gathers itself
and swirls out with
a half-hearted flounce.

Barely noticed,
for the mind is
already engaged
elsewhere.
Fascinated by
wide ~ open ~ space

© Juliet Fay 2021

I'd love to hear what you see around boredom. 

 

I’m Juliet Fay, a poet & Three Principles Facilitator living on an estuary in West Wales, UK. I love to explore and appreciate the wonder and power of the human spirit. Going deeper, beyond what we know. To do that I engagee in heartfelt conversations pointing back home; mentors pioneers, creatives, community leaders, helpers and healers; host regular gatherings around books or topics close to my heart (by invitation only) and create soulful poetry, podcasts, illustration, artwork & prose to awaken the heart. I welcomes curious new subscribers to my email list ~ subscribe.
How a shift in consciousness brings about more us and less them

How a shift in consciousness brings about more us and less them

.The world is changing fast, in ways we cannot predict and people are waking up. Waking up to what matters. We need to adapt to what is coming (whatever that may be). Already this year, we are facing challenges, previously unseen for many in the richest countries.

The shocks coming thick and fast are exposing systems that are not fit for purpose: economic systems, healthcare systems, criminal justice systems, food and farming systems, the media, our relationship with time, ageing, dying, systems of relating to our fellow human beings, the natural world and most of all how we relate to what and who we really are. Countless people know at first hand how unfit these systems are but they adversely affect us all (even those who appear to benefit from them)

We live as if we are separate entities who must exploit, belittle or destroy those we deem less than us and flatter, worship and ingratiate ourselves with those we deem to be more powerful. We search endlessly for security and status in the material world all the while knowing that is not what really matters. It looks as if we must constantly fight to get and protect resources for ourselves and our loved ones.

It seems we live in an age of judgement and separation which taken to extremes will destroy us

From this standpoint we look like crazed animals fighting for a piece of a finite pie. Dog eat dog. And the big dogs get the little dogs to do their dirty work. It seems like a world where everything is evaluated on its worth based on narrow and soul destroying criteria. In the richest nations, we are a product of this culture whether we know it or not (and mostly it is invisible).

There have always been cycles of birth, growth, decay and destruction but now it looks like we are witnessing an acceleration of the destructive phase without a corresponding rise in the rate of birth and growth: birth of new species, new ideas, new depths of being. Things appear to have got badly out of balance. And we all know this in our hearts. But there is hope.

There is another way. A way to live generously with love in our hearts. To live in wonder at the fact of being alive. To live from abundance of spirit. To engage fully in life with all its ups and downs. To extend compassion to the hurt and hurting. With love in our hearts we are open and curious to the richness on offer when we engage with others. Other people, other cultures, other religions, other beliefs, other species, other times, other stages of life, other world views, other skills, other experiences. And this is not for when we have fixed the problems of hunger, poverty, violence and destruction. This is urgently needed in order to experience a different world.

Witness the popularity of natural history programmes, where skilled wildlife presenters give us a window on the world of species from the tiniest to the most majestic. The lens they invite us to look through, is one of wonder and curiosity.

What kind of world would we experience through this lens?

Everything, means everything: including the atrocities, the genocide, the cruelty, the violence and destruction that humans inflict on each other, other species and the land. What might we see if we really looked?

There is seeming unbearable pain and horror there. Something we don’t want to see. Something it is easier to look away from. Our hearts may already be hardened against touching this suffering.

  • If you see children in cages and see only a good lesson to the parents, your heart is hardened.
  • If you see a homeless person on the street and see only a blot on the landscape, your heart is hardened.
  • If you see refugees risking life and limb in leaky boats and see only stolen jobs and benefits, your heart is hardened.
  • If you nurse bitterness and blame about family estrangements, your heart is hardened.
  • If you wring your hands in the face of injustices and then judge your neighbour for the way they voted, your heart is hardened.

What happens if we get curious about our hardened places? What might we discover?

We might discover we all have those hard places. How the hardness of heart shows up varies. Often we can’t see our own hard heartedness. These are our blind spots. They look to be ‘just how it is’. Our reality. If challenged we would come up with all kinds of logical justifications for treating others as less or more than us. We might begin to realise we learnt that hardness as a coping mechanism, from our families, our communities, our cultures, our leaders. We might realise that hardness of heart comes from fear and insecurity. We might realise that anxiety about our place in the world, our past, our future drives all kinds of behaviour that reinforces the idea of separation.

Yet for every moment our hearts are hard, we might also notice there are other moments when we experience the joy and connectedness of an open heart. And so does everyone else. Those who beat, murder, oppress and orchestrate and perpetuate systems that hurt others, also feel moments of love and understanding for their loved ones, for animals, for ideas, for nature:-

  • When your heart fills as the sun sets behind a hill, your heart is open
  • When you take your child in your arms as they cry their heart out, wanting only to reach out to them, your heart is open
  • When you sit at the deathbed of a loved one and feel profound, timeless peace and love, your heart is open
  • When you catch the eye of a stranger and laugh at the incongruity of a passing scene your heart is open

How do we do more of that?

We move between open heart and hardness of heart all the time and that is natural. One comes from being in contact with our essence and the other from the illusion of insecurity. When we recognise that, really see it and experience it, then we experience a shift. A shift in our relationship to our own experience.

This shift does not come from trying to be compassionate or kind, from writing in a gratitude journal, from striving to be a ‘better’ person than your ex, your neighbour, your parents or your adult children. It comes from a shift in consciousness. When we get a glimpse of what is beyond our sense of separation. When we feel, really feel life coursing through us, unadulterated, unfiltered, without judgement or commentary. When our sense of self expands to include all life. Then, then, we cannot help but feel compassion, love and gratitude for all life: the rocks, plants, insects, algae, animals, trees, humans, living and dead.

Does it come all of a sudden? For some. Mostly, it is a gradual movement towards wholeness and away from separation. The fear and insecurity the progeny of separation that creates and experiences so much suffering begins to look less real, so we pay it less mind.

Made as it is by the incredible, infinite power of thought. The same power of thought that creates a symphony, feeds the hungry, opens shelters when homes are shattered and which we can experience as profound and timeless love on looking into the eyes of a newborn.

At any moment, we can wake up to our humanity

The word humanity is from the Latin humanitas for “human nature, kindness.”

As we wake up to our humanity, we naturally do less harm to ourselves and others. There is more us and less them. Day to day, just as the tide ebbs and flows, we can move in and out of a sense of our humanity, a sense of something beyond our temporary ever changing states of mind. But every day we have the opportunity to wake up, over and over, deeper and deeper.

If this article gets you curious, follow where that curiosity leads you.

© words and artwork Juliet Fay 2020 Artwork: detail from ‘Heartfelt’, acrylic on canvas 30cm x 30cm

Juliet Fay is a poet & Three Principles Facilitator living on an estuary in West Wales, UK. She is dedicated to exploring and appreciating the wonder and power of the human spirit. Going deeper, beyond what we know. To do that she engages in heartfelt conversations pointing back home; mentors pioneers, creatives, community leaders, helpers and healers; hosts regular gatherings around books or topics close to her heart (by invitation only) and creates soulful poetry, podcasts, illustration, artwork & prose to awaken the heart. She welcomes curious new subscribers to her email list ~ subscribe.

Consumption versus creativity

Consumption versus creativity

consumption, creativity: in breath, out breath.
every day, consuming food and drink: essential to life

but not all of it

every moment creating: things, relationships, ideas, experiences.
consuming ever more information, drama, energy, fuel, food, time,
the planet’s, ours, other people’s

always wanting more

over consumption driven by desires that cannot be met
for comfort, excitement, security, power, immortality even.
short term dopamine hits to soothe over-excited systems
if all we are is a lone separate human among 7 billion others

why wouldn’t we go on a binge?

chasing connection, inner fulfilment, chasing away our demons
with every click, glug, fight and scroll we get further away
draining the life blood from ourselves, our planet, our children
weary, frightened, ready to attack, we cower, duck or dive

the frenzy of desire takes us to the brink

to go forward is to fall into the abyss, chaos, destruction
we pause, catch a different note and hear a different song
the song of creation, re-formed in every out breath
our stories swirl like bridal gowns released from moth balls

but beyond is the crucible holding each sacred act of creation
fixing your hair, taking out the trash, typing a text
reading aloud to a child, waving at the neighbour
tiny acts unnoticed, forgotten, yet weaving this web of experience

acts of love, reciprocity, generosity and service
made daily, often unremarked, acts of humanity
everyday creation, pulling the threads that bind us
when we’re already swimming in the same sea

only we forget and flounder and flail about
and create the illusion of drowning when
all we’re doing is making a wave
in the sea of belonging, the sea of love

to notice, to see, just to see, is enough
to wake up and worship at the altar of creativity
go out, with glad hearts and celebrate
the daily acts of creation that connect us

© words and artwork, image of original watercolour pencil artwork, sun & moon abstract by Juliet Fay 2020

This piece is in a new style for me, neither prose nor poetry, inspired by the writing of Bernadine Evaristo, author of Booker Prize joint winner with Girl, Woman, Other. In the book she uses no capital letters, just line breaks. I was amazed how quickly I got over the initial feeling of disruption and adjusted to it as the new normal.

Juliet Fay is a poet and Three Principles facilitator and local admin of a Buy Nothing Project group. Subscribe to her list to hear news of gatherings (virtual for now), and receive original writing and artwork direct to your inbox. Find out about being mentored by Juliet or Wellbeing Sessions

Reflections on being in service

Reflections on being in service

This article has been bubbling up for 5 days now. At first a jumble of confused ideas were jotted down, explored a little in the Daily Gathering, but now on this sunny Sunday morning I am starting fresh.

Tears are close for me today a sign, not, of the times, but of the vibrancy of this human instrument, feeling depths, as yet, unfathomable.

Feeling deeply has never seemed more of a gift than it does now. When tears and laughter tumble one after the other like children chasing a stray ball, there is an expansion of the heart that allows our perspective to be blasted open, and take us far above our usual worm’s eye view.

There is something that wants to be said, and I’m not at all sure what it is, but here goes……

Helping and serving

The helping/service instinct never dies. It lurks close by, ready to surface whenever the murk clears. It can hibernate; sometimes for years and then all of a sudden it blooms like one of my Grandfather’s home bred orchids that threw a single bloom after a drought of 15 years.

Stories of service are spreading around the globe faster than the virus. And sitting here in a small village in self-isolation, they are coming thick and fast; in all shapes and sizes; from a myriad of sources: virtual and physical.

A hot meal on my doorstep, covered with tin foil; a neighbour’s wave up at my window as they turn their car; daily video chats with my love, 10,000 miles away; the much loved sound of an old friend’s laughter on the phone ; a daily online gathering bursting my heart open again and again.

I feel the dilemmas of those wanting to serve yet being fearful, for themselves, for those they love, wondering about their capacity, their resilience. Those in confusion; those who are lonely; those who are scared; those who bridle at the restrictions; those who want to shout and scream and those who want to hide.

I see the ebb and flow of emotions through me and all around: now, more than ever, in glorious technicolour. Frenzied activity; crying in the toilet; dazed; desolate; arguing; stressed; moments of peace and joy; tenderness; tantrums; bonhomie; nostalgia.

The disorientation on waking and forgetting, then remembering. Guilt over stolen moments of peace and joy as if these times call for seriousness and worry.

And through it all, rather than seeing right or wrong; appropriate or inappropriate; helpful or unhelpful; I feel my horizons being expanded, all the while in confinement, and I am invited to wonder at how things are in service, even when, especially when, I cannot see how.

Service ~ an act of help or assistance

The more acts of service I see; the more I am open to look for the act of service in what I see.

In the impossible dilemmas facing so many of us: helping ourselves versus helping others; helping strangers versus helping our families; not helping others lest we become a burden; fearing others versus accepting help; keeping our distance when our hearts want to throw our arms around those we love; keeping our distance because our hearts can’t bear to do anything else; striding towards the front line because we come alive in the service of others; exhausting ourselves with frenzied activity; the unsung carer, quietly sitting by the bedside of a 91 year old at home with Corvid19 symptoms, well versed in the care of the sick and dying.

The old codes of sacrifice, moral duty, greater good do not go far enough.

For at this time; the old parameters and measures of what is helpful, what is in service are to be thrown up in the air.

It is a time to question what we are ‘in service to’? What impels us to act or not act.

Beyond service to self and loved ones, community, country, the natural world, there is being in service to Life.

What is Life?

Whatever you imagine it to be.

That which stirs your heart. The mystery that animates all living things.

How could we ever know what is or isn’t in service to Life? For every act in the end is an act of Life. Life in motion. Life expressing through us all.

It is only our judgement that says an act is cruel or kind, helpful or unhelpful. But how could we know? How could we possibly zoom far enough out to get a perspective vast enough to see how all the threads of every action of every living creature make, unmake and make the whole over and over again.

And what if we began to trust that every cross word, every loss, every change, every reaction, every action, every thought, word and deed is part of a bigger picture that we can never see or understand?

And what if it is all guided by an unseen hand?

Am I talking about God?

No, not in the sense I understood God, as a young person attending Protestant Church of England services. Not an external deity.

I’m talking about the mystery behind life which I don’t understand.

So what is the point of looking in this direction?

Some may call it delusional but if it is, for me, it’s a helpful delusion.

The sense of Wisdom at play does several things for me.

It allows me to relax more into whatever is happening in my head and just go about my day.

After all, inside our mind is where the drama of our lives plays out

Realising I don’t need to understand, nor do I need to make sense of my experience in terms of analysing, explaining or justifying it, gives me welcome permission to simply experience whatever is running through me at any given time. To act or rest with less and less comparing, judging, analysing and drawing conclusions.

Worrying less about the tumult of feelings running through me, means I sometimes, get to pay less attention to them, and when I pay less attention to them I start noticing some interesting things:

  • How changeable my experience is: one moment, still and contented, the next teary, comic, manic, reflective, insecure. Like xx men lining up.
  • My experience is not directly related to what is happening out there (what is even happening out there? All I can see from my window is a peaceful sunny street).
  • How thankful I am that my experience keeps changing regardless of circumstances, as my mother used to say to me when my children where toddlers and I was tearing my hair out about the latest phase, ‘if you don’t like what’s showing up now, there’ll be a different phase along soon’. That alone is a huge help. Short hand – this too shall pass.
  • When I begin to trust that every experience is brought to me by Wisdom, my own bespoke navigational system, it takes a big load off. It’s not all up to me, I don’t have to fix/control/sort out everything.
  • I don’t have to like every experience; that’s not the point. If I think of Wisdom in action it can get me wondering how being uncomfortable, scared, confused might be ’in service’. That can lead to some shedding as I get radically honest with myself. Perhaps feeling like I can’t cope is protective, stopping me from taking on too much.
  • A productive day is nice and I’m grateful
  • A day of feeling lost, weepy and wandering round my place, not knowing what to do, is probably also a gift, even if I can’t see it. A ‘step off the bus day’, allowing my system some down time and much needed release and reset.
  • Feeling guilty about my privilege is a herald of gratitude
  • Wondering about how everything is ‘in service’ expands my heart.
  • The story of a woman complaining loudly about the socially distanced queueing in the local food store, reminds me we do not know what is going on in people’s heads nor what might be awaiting them at home or work. Following this woman’s reactions and actions (trying to sneak into the front of the queue) led another woman to offer her place in the queue.
  • Seeing others’ heartache and vulnerability shared openly and honestly; touching a place in my heart that floods me with compassion one day and walling up against the flood the next. Both gifts to self and others
  • My human system, our human system, the system of life moving, shifting, creating, sustaining, destroying over again responding, reacting, and interacting simultaneously in billions and billions of unseen movements from the cellular level to the level of continental drift.
  • Seeing service in the sunny days and the wet. Service in the arguments and the love. The possibility of service in the violence and the loss (yes, that is hard).
  • Looking for and trusting in the unseen hand of Wisdom and wondering about the act of service inherent in every breath of life, doesn’t lead to passivity or not caring, on the contrary it opens us up to ever richer, more high definition participation in the web of Life.
  • Knowing we cannot see the significance of our tiny part but just knowing that it has significance. Knowing only that we are part of something far bigger, far more beautiful, far kinder than we could ever know.

What if, at every turn, our rage, our despair, our hopelessness, our joy, our tenderness, they are all in service. Our judging, our taking offence, our numbness, our reaching out; they are all in service.

What if our fascination with our small selves and others fades, as we get to wonder at the marvel of Life in motion, ever ceaseless motion, and wonder at the gift of consciousness, that allows us to have a sense of that motion. Every twinge we feel in muscle, heart or gut, is a note in the human string section, that is joined with the grand orchestra of all living creatures.

NOTE

This article was written 29 March 2020. Since then I have begun an exploration into uncovering my hidden biases around racism and so I pondered about whether to publish this article now or not. In the end, I am publishing it as a record of what I saw at that time. Every moment feels like the moment to look unflinchingly at what we are up to. Consider if words, thoughts and deeds are self-serving, protecting our ego, our privilege or are they in service to something bigger than us? Are we willing to open our hearts, to surrender, to be wrong, to discover new horizons?, to surrender, to be wrong, to discover new horizons?

What are you seeing around being in service? What are you curious about?

Boggarts (and other difficult people)

The Boggart appears in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, one of the series of books about the boy wizard Harry Potter by J K Rowling. In these books, a Bogart is a shape shifting spirit that will appear disguised as your worst fear.

Often hidden, it will burst out when you least expect it. To ‘overcome’ your initial terror, Harry and his friends learn from Professor Remus Lupin to use a Riddikulus charm to change the appearance of the Bogart into something less fearful or ridiculous. Neville, a particularly nervous pupil, tries out the spell, re-dressing the Bogart (who’s appeared as his nemesis Professor Snape) in a green silk gown, bonnet and high heels. The comedy breaks the grip of terror.

Like a Boggart, difficult people seem to pop up in our lives and disturb us (and sometimes hang around a LONG time). I wanted to share my ever evolving understanding of this topic, as it often come up in sessions I facilitate.

At first it can look as if the difficult person needs to change for us to find peace. Or perhaps we just want rid of that person. Because they are SO difficult and annoying.

Perhaps, we sense, we may have something to do with our experience of the difficult person

If we have some inkling that our experience of the difficult person is actually all ours and nothing to do with the person in question, we might realise at one level that we are dealing with ‘difficult thinking’ about the person which gives us the experience of a difficult person. Rather than an actual difficult person. After all other people get along with this person perfectly well.

However if this is more theoretical than felt or realised, we might still wrestle with this experience, and innocently reach for a better ‘story’ to rid us of our uncomfortable feelings.

Different stories come in all shapes and sizes, like:-

He/she doesn’t communicate well

He/she is having a hard time/has problems/has had a hard life etc etc

He/she is over-reacting

He/she is so judgemental

He/she is so negative

He/she is an a**!#%#e

He/she just can’t get over it

Or if you’ve been around the Principles understanding for a while it can come out in more subtle story making:-

It is just his or her thinking

They are not self-aware

I did the best I could

They did the best they could

They must be suffering, it must be so hard to be them

Subtle and sneaky: ways we try to avoid discomfort

These are all subtle ways we seek to avoid the discomfort we are experiencing that seems to be about this difficult person. It’s like dressing up the Bogart in different clothes to force quit our experience of difficulty. 

But why would we avoid feeling discomfort? What’s the big deal about feeling uncomfortable? If we now that it is temporary and inherently unreliable as an indicator of anything other than our state of mind, why would it bother us to feel uncomfortable?

And yet …. it’s very seductive, this ‘making a better story’, easing ourselves away from discomfort.

But this is where we’ve got the wrong end of the stick (again!).

While we are busy story making, we are moving further and further away from engaging in our experience (uncomfortable though it may be) and seeing the heart of the other person.

Both of which are far more interesting and less draining than the endless merry go round of story making. Which, you remember was all about not being uncomfortable. 

Let’s look at what can happen…… 

We have a story about something that happened: say a ‘difficult’ person didn’t answer an email and ……… we don’t like that.

So we make a story about why they didn’t answer the email.

e.g. they don’t care about us, they don’t like us, we don’t matter, why don’t they give us an answer, they’re so annoying, etc etc then we can begin to add more layers to try and come up with a story that feels better.

So the story goes round and round, with more flesh being added to the bones e.g. they always do this, why are they such hard work, how am I supposed to make arrangements when they don’t answer etc etc. We move from blame to judgement to self-judgement and back again. Before we know it we have moved into a movie of our own creation where we play the aggrieved party and the other plays the offending party (or we take turns).

What’s interesting about this, is that by the time we actually make contact, we have already written the scene with our part and the other person’s part laid out ready. So we’ll be resentful and hurt, they get a blast of judgement even before any words are exchanged and they are likely to be either off hand, defensive or equally hurt and so it goes on.

Lights, camera, action!

You get the picture. We create a story and hey presto, if we don’t see what’s going on, it happens again and again in ever more resourceful and imaginative scenes where hurt, slights, misunderstanding and counter hurt, play out on endless repeat.

Next time you catch yourself feeling hurt, offended, jealous, bewildered or uncomfortable and it looks like it is because of someone else, check out how cranked up your story making machine is.

Before the story completely takes over, what happens if you pause and just feel the discomfort rather than trying to avoid it?

If you truly know that it is not created by the other person, it’s more likely that you’ll have the wherewithal to pause. When that subsides (as it will, of its own accord, if you leave it be), see what else arises? What’s new?

The stories we make up about our ‘difficult people’ are fascinating

They reach back into the past for evidence and predict the future based on the past. They leave no room for people (including yourself) to be as they are. Have you noticed how you’re not relaxed and easy when you finally get in front of the ‘difficult’ person?

When we meet someone in a story like this we’ve made up, we only ever get to experience that story, not the actual living breathing person in front of us.

If we use these stories to try and take decisions in the present, they are pretty much guaranteed to backfire. They’re not helpful. They’re based on a simulation of that person that is entirely self-created, like an avatar in a computer game. Have you noticed how your difficult person has no redeeming features, their every action is suspect and they become like a cartoon baddie? Irredeemable. 

It’s very human to do this.

We are, after all, story making machines. And even knowing what you know, something ‘bigger’ will likely crop up that looks entirely and utterly as if your experience is coming from someone (or somewhere) else. Go easy on yourself. In this case…..

Love will do if understanding is absent

But if you can see it in action, you get curious: though better stories might be appealing, there is something beyond all the stories.

If for one moment you can step out of the story and simply breathe and open to the heart of the person in front of you, the invitation is there for both of you to have a new experience.

Without the script from the story, you can simply be interested in who is in front of you in that moment. Like a stranger you meet on a train journey when you have all the time in the world and as they begin to speak, you find yourself curious and fascinated by who this person is, what their experience is. You forget yourself as you get immersed in this exchange.

And in this space, what you experience might surprise you.

And what about the ‘easy’people?

Funnily enough, you might notice, with the ‘easy’ people in your life, the stories you carry about them are very sparse.

You just love them. Enjoy them. You don’t endlessly analyse their words and actions. You don’t tend to worry about them. You don’t mind if you don’t see them. When you think of them, there’s a warm feeling. You love their foibles and funny little ways. When you’re with them it’s fun and easy whether you’re doing the dishes or dining out.

Notice with the difficult people (especially when this feels like a long standing problem), there is a mountain of thinking. You analyse things they said and chew over things they failed to do or say. And it comes with uneasy feelings. If only they would give you want you want: a fair hearing, understanding, love, acceptance?

You aren’t meeting them in the here and now, you are meeting them in chapter four of the block buster novel you wrote about them.

Until you see the story for what it is – a huge great bundle of thought – you are destined to experience only the person you made up and not the living breathing being in front of you.

Funnily enough, the love and understanding you so desperately want from the ‘difficult’ person are likely the very same things you are denying yourself in some aspect of your life.

Nowhere is this easier to miss than in your own story.

Which chapter are you stuck in?

The one where things never work out; where it’s better to be alone rather than risk getting hurt; the one where you’re too old or too young to do what you dream of doing; the one where you blew it and there’s no get out of jail card; the one where you are too depleted from illness, disappointment, loss, heartache or chronic conditions or the one where other people’s expectations and demands are too crushing? It’s so easy for this to look and feel true.

If you see it for what it is. You can turn the page and open to what is. Go from there. And who knows what might happen.

I love the story of the Bogart and the pink frilly gown. While the Bogart looks real, dressing it up in a pink frilly gown might be temporarily helpful. However, until you see the Bogart for what it really is – a figment of your imagination – made of thought – it will keep appearing attached to so called ‘difficult’ people, difficult situations, difficult memories, or difficult imaginings about the future. When one bows out, a new one will be ready and waiting to play the part.

When you see it for what it is, the Bogart diminishes of its own accord and what remains is the essence of your experience (whatever or whoever it is): that essence is love and beauty. Anything else is opinion, judgement, belief ~ in short, a story.

While there is no magic wand for seeing the illusory nature of thought, in the case of a difficult person or any other so called difficulty, if we have glimpsed the understanding that all of our experience comes via the Power of Thought then we can at least, look away from the story and get curious about the awesome creativity of that Power and what lies beyond it.

As ever thank you to those I am in conversation with. This article was inspired by a recent group and various conversations I’ve had recently. It occurred to me to write this and in doing so, I have seen deeper into my own stories. It is a joy to be in this conversation. If you are interested to join me in conversation please contact me.