My internet connection went down two days before I went away. I vaguely hoped it would sort itself out if I just turned it on and off (my first resort with all electrical appliance misbehaviour). No luck. Somewhat reluctantly I called the provider the afternoon before my departure.
It was a fairly long call as diagnostic tests were run and the operator and I got chatting. When she found out I was off to the USA she shared stories of great adventures she’d had out there. By the end of the call, grateful for all the travel tips she’d shared, I laughed and said she should be working for Visit USA, such was her warmth and enthusiasm.
Since returning, I’ve had more calls with the provider but none quite as delightful as the first one.
What I noticed about that call was: I had nothing much on the outcome. I didn’t expect it would necessarily get sorted immediately and I was about to go off on a much anticipated trip so I wasn’t all that bothered. The operator was also in a space of open curiosity, full of goodwill and so what looked like it would be a hassle and irritating turned out to be one of those random joyous interactions in life.
How often we pre-judge what comes up
What strikes me about this is how often we pre-judge what comes up in life, usually based on how things went in the past. We react to our thoughts, other people and situations as if we have to follow a particular script, as if we know this is going to turn out badly or well. Acting in this way, (as if we could ever really know what will happen), cuts us off from just being with what comes up, with nothing on it.
“At times we are captivated by our own ego and become prisoners of our contaminated thoughts”
p.72 The Missing Link by Sydney Banks
Leaning into what is, with no judgement
Alternatively when we lean in to what comes up, expecting nothing, aware that in any moment we could have any one of an infinite number of experiences then we stop looking for some imagined outcome and get really present with what is happening right now. We are so quick to label ourselves, our thoughts, events and others as good, bad or ugly, that we experience our pre-judgement rather than what is actually happening.
Have you had this experience? Have you caught yourself, pre-determining how your day is going to go, how others are going to react? The funny thing is, our pre-judgement often proves to be true and so tends to reinforce our beliefs and judgements. What would happen if just for a moment you let go of those judgements, got less serious and just stay open to whatever is coming up?
I’d love to hear your comments.
#Judgemental #LeanIn #TheThreePrinciples #SydneyBanks #Ego
Next programme: Love Your Life Again Online starting Autumn 2018.
I went to look at contemporary art in a gallery recently. It wasn’t what I’d planned. I was heading to look at a collection from the nineteenth century but at the last minute found myself outside a modern art gallery and so, on a whim, I changed my plan and headed in despite a niggling feeling.
Why the reluctance?
I have an idea I just don’t ‘get’ modern art. Rather than come right out and admit that, in the past, I would have said it is pretentious, pointless or some other sweeping generalisation. But I thought I would give it a go.
Once in front of a multi-media exhibition I found myself examining the labels on each piece. Words. I like words. I was looking for a way in, to understand the point of the piece.
To my surprise I found myself amused and drawn by several pieces
Next up, a photographer’s work. Framed black and white print after framed black and white print with no captions. What! No descriptions. I read the bio of the artist and once I realised there were no captions, I relaxed and started to gaze at the prints. They were arresting and showed a variety of subjects. Instead of trying to work out where they were I found myself just enjoying the atmosphere and the feeling I got from the prints. I was captivated.
It strikes me it’s very easy to get all opinionated about life as it comes through us
To have all kinds of rules and stories about how things should be, in our heads and in our lives. This tends to leave us with a precarious relationship to what ‘is’ because most of what shows up falls into the ‘not okay’ category. And what I realised from my foray into contemporary art is you miss so much when you stick to randomly created ideas (calcified into beliefs) about what things are or are not, should or should not be.
‘Like’ or ‘dislike’ are totally arbitrary and subject to change
And more often than not our opinions and beliefs come from thoughts about the past rather than what is in front of us.
We may like the smell of coffee because we associate it with all sorts of ‘nice’ things. We may dislike wet weather because in the past we have felt down on a grey day. The sentiment is not really about the coffee or the rain it’s about what stories we hold about them.
And those can change at any time….. Who knows what you currently dislike or think is impossible that you could see differently, at any moment?
I’d love to hear what comes up for you on reading this article. Please add any comments, questions, reflections or insights below.
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 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.
Any time now, the travel companies will entice us with images of relaxed, happy people enjoying fun in the sun to try and sell us holidays for the year ahead. Anyone who has taken holidays will know the reality doesn’t always match up to the sales pitch.
Sure we might have fun but equally we might have arguments, feel down, get ill, feel de-motivated or just feel flat and grumpy on holiday. We might play along with the fiction and post our snaps of ‘fun times’ with gritted teeth behind the smiles, silently railing as kids play up, the weather turns poor or the traffic tails back 10 miles. The reality of holidays is that our feelings go up and down (as they do the rest of the time).
But we do like to cling on to the idea of the perfect holiday where all feels right with the world.
In much the same way, it can be very alluring searching for our ‘best’ selves. Looking to find and pin down the ideal version of ourselves, in the hope that it exists somewhere when life, ourselves or others get off our case. It’s like trying to capture it in a portrait image, frame it, hang it on the wall and proudly proclaim, “here is my best self”. As if that will somehow fool us and others into believing we always feel happy and well.
Because that ‘best self’ we search for is made up.
Looking for it will leave us ever frustrated and disappointed.
There is no such thing.
There is just how we show up, each moment. Sometimes, peaceful, sometimes grumpy, sometimes full of optimism, sometimes downcast. While we believe there is a ‘best self’ to find and put forward, on parade, we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed.
All those inspiring talks that tell us to reach for the stars, find the warrior in you, be the best you, they are innocently but mistakenly missing the transient nature of experience. Thoughts and feelings come and go, up and down and round and round. Events come and go. They are not related. There is no pass to get out of life and all it delivers.
So just as being seduced by the glossy holiday adverts can lead to a false idea of what a holiday actually is, so too chasing the idea of a ‘best you’, can lead to a false idea of what it is to be human and distract us from getting curious about a much more interesting and fruitful enquiry: what underlies the human experience?
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.