Monday, November 5, 2012

Surrender Is My New Magic Wand

"At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice."  
~ Maya Angelou

This blogs comes to you after a hibernation and transformation period, during which I was not ready to write.  In short, life has opened up again.  A new level of awareness has been that Maya Angelou apparently realized at the age of 15 (lucky girl!).

So much of my life I have struggled with and focused on my ability to resist.  To resist status-quo, "shoulds", temptations, labels, and my own thoughts & ideas.  Often times I wanted a stronger voice and more understanding in the moment.  It has only been recently that I have truly grasped the magnitude of  surrender...daily life surrender.
What occurred to me was that although I knew that finding my way had nothing to do with control, I was still trying to control a lot of things.  I put energies and thoughts into the plans of everything with the hopes that it would result in more security within my business, my kids, my self.  Instead, this over focus on personal thinking was allowing me to miss my insights along the way.

One day, I had a moment where my consciousness opened a bit and I saw myself on this hamster's wheel.  Spinning and spinning with good intentions, but having no more fun.

Since then it has simply made no sense to engage in this habitual thinking and planning that at one time seemed impossible to let go of completely.  "Who can let go of all control in this Western world?", I would say to myself.  Now I know the answer...I CAN!

The insight was something like "I won't know how much I know until I surrender & let go of this illusion of control."  As is always true of insights, since I provided the courage to go with it, I was rewarded instantly and massively.  It has become fun to look for the signs rather than direct traffic.  I'm now too engaged with life to busy myself with that old game.  I almost don't know how to explain the difference in my experience since I had this culminating realization, but I will try.

In my family life, I feel a feeling of letting everyone be.  Everyone gets to be what they are.  They get to be right when they are and they get to be wrong when they are.  No reason to get mad at that, but plenty reason to see the wisdom wherever it is.  I see so much more clearly that we all get caught up in personal thinking and step away from surrender and listening even with the best of intentions.  It's hard to bring your highest self to a situation if your sense of control sits behind the wheel.  I see this in myself and others, and what has happened is that I feel peaceful.  This peace is the platform by which I parent, partner and connect with those that I love.  I've never felt closer to my family and this brings immeasurable joy into our home.

In my professional life, I have not stopped being informed and prepared, but what guides me most is the wisdom that all there is to do is be aware.  I know that I'm supported by something that is all-knowing.  Seeing this means that all I have to do is have the ability to notice this wisdom and then choose to act.  This is so much different than having an important game plan, or needing my client to see something behind my words.  The trust and the confidence in it is contagious, and it shows in my recent business opportunities.  People feel my renewed faith in how much we each know.

On a community level, I am making strong connections suddenly that have an amazing influence on my life.  I'm being recognized and complimented.  I'm realizing that I have friends everywhere I go.  I'm smiling at strangers and they are infected by it too.  I'm seeing that I'm the kind of person out in the world that I want to be.  I'm not too busy planning to notice the woman who needs help or the litter on the ground.

None of these things were goals, but they're all happenings that grew from one moment when my thoughts got quiet.  Now I'm loving life more than ever and I see possibilities that I did not entertain before.  This...all of this came from a moment of clarity and a little insight.  The power that we have as humans can truly only be revealed when we realize it is within us...then we can surrender to it rather than search for it "out there".

Now, go find your magic wand, dust it off & have fun playing!

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Worry Is A Misuse Of Imagination"

I stumbled upon this quote by Dan Zadra at just the right is always the case when eyes are open.  A series of events had turned me into a serious worrier practically overnight.

I have friends, family members, and clients who worry.  I talk with them about how worry comes from our thinking.  I remind them that we are creating...we are painting the scene.  I know that if they hear the depth of this message, it will free them.  One finds it ridiculous to live in the feelings of self created possible futures once they realize they are creating it all.  This works like magic if the person listens and hears something from their own wisdom.  Poof, they are in the present moment again where new thought waits to bring new feelings.

This is all true, but because I am not a worrier, I found at times that I felt a frustrated when others held so strongly to their worrisome thinking.  There was a part of me that lacked a little understanding...a little empathy.  I didn't realize the nuances of this at the time, but the thinking was there.  I recognize it now, because of my recent divergence into the world of worry.  I suddenly realized how awful, how nagging, these thoughts of worry can be...the toll it can take on the human spirit.

What happened was this:  Our family cat had died, so we recently got two kittens to cheer everyone up.  Suddenly both kittens got of them became very ill.  I was doing all that I could with medications, steamy shower times, TLC etc.  The one kitten was not responding and was getting worse for about three days.  I thought of him constantly.  I thought about how I would tell my kids if he died.  I thought about where I would bury him.  I thought about how maybe I didn't get him into the vets soon enough.  I thought and thought until my stomach was sick and my head was spinning.

At about this time my young son came down with the stomach flu.  I spent two sleepless nights with him, consoling him while I worried some more.  Will he get better soon?  Will he need to go to the hospital?  Will he eat today?

Next, I got a text from my daughter who was visiting friends in California.  She sprained her ankle and was letting me know how much it hurt.  She was hoping it wasn't broken.  That was thinking had won.  My worry increased by ten-fold as I completed busy work throughout the day and as I attempted to sleep at night.  I was a wreck & try as I might to take my own advice about worry, it simply did not seem to work.

As I lay in bed one night, feeling perfectly awful, I realized I was going to be sick.  Suddenly I got mad at myself.  I reminded myself that I know more than I am illustrating.  I absolutely refused at that point to let this worry effect me.  In this moment of determination, my personal worry, dissipated for just long enough for me to have an insight.
Beyonce...she has an alter ego...I think it's Sasha Fierce or something.  Ya, she does...but why am I thinking about this?  Then it came to me...a crazy idea that packed a whole lot of well being.  I should create an alter ego too.  So, I did!

I sat there in bed.  I named myself Coco Hawthorne.  I was a vet-tech and I took care of sick cats every day.  It did not impact me and I had hope that all would be well.  I had a lot to do, and not time for worry.  I had kids at home and I was strong.  I was in charge and I did it with ease.

As I did this crazy brainstorming, a great thing happened!  I felt fine again.  I was not the old me anymore.  I had distracted myself and come to my senses.  I know that feeling better had nothing to do with Coco or Beyonce.  It was the act of following an insight that came on the heals of me remembering my own well being.  I was in such a place of despair, that I did not question it...anything was better than intense worry even if it seemed nuts. 

For me, the lesson here is two-fold.  One, we all get caught up in our thinking.  When it grips us, it feels real, and it feels big.  We also all know our way out, and reminding ourselves of this seems to be a brilliant first step.  Two, insights and wisdom come in many packages.  Who are we to judge?  We must have the faith it takes to follow them even when (or especially when) they seem outside of normalcy.  No matter how insane the insight seems, one must give way to it.

Hope you remember in your day to use your imagination wisely! :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Catching up with Einstein

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Einstein.

I've been plunged back into the world of London Public Health and sitting on the train home, I am delighted to take a moment to digest the developments that are occurring around wellbeing in the UK. It's all been happening! Mental health is becoming recognised as the key source of ill-health in the UK. In fact, as Lord Layard, the catalyst for 'Action for Happiness' stated at a recent LSE conference; Mental ill-health accounts for half of all sick days off and for almost half of all disabled people on incapacity benefit.

The Happiness/Well-being agenda has been bubbling away in England for the last 10 years. Back in 2001, the Department of health said “How people feel is not an elusive or abstract concept, but a significant public health indicator; as significant as rates of smoking, obesity and physical activity”

It's a powerful statement that has taken several years to really embed itself within the culture of public health. To be honest, we still have some way to go; but, hats off to the UK on this one. I am proud to see that we are making strong steps in the right direction.

After becoming involved in the Three Principles around 5 years ago, I began to recognise the impact that low quality thinking was having in every sphere of my life. In the office I noticed insecure conversations masked as authority. Working in community development I would frequently engage in conversations that, on the surface, appeared full of conflict and defense, but were actually fueled by fear. In my personal life, I began to discern between genuine conversations and those in which I was fixated on my own agenda or issue. I began to grow an awareness of those conversations which were ultimately limited in scope and clarity, due in part to my own limited listening in that moment. Like I've mentioned before, this is mental health. The fluctuating nature of our thinking is something we all confront on a daily basis. Thanks to my understanding of how the three principles of Thought, Mind and Consciousness work, I am more aware than ever of when I have clarity versus cloudy mental health.

England is currently a hotbed for well-being and mental health pressure groups. Lord Layard is currently appealing for a minister for Mental Health. He calls it the 6th pillar to our Welfare State. Given our current cuts and reform, this topic is a political minefield. However, I thoroughly support his view of illuminating the importance of Mental Health for our nation. By doing so, it also begins to dispel the stigma associated with Mental Health. Importantly it also offers a platform for respectful discussion around the importance of our subjective experience. At last we can openly discuss and value our inside world and how it impacts upon our day to day lives.

Our subjective world creates meaning for us through the power of our thought. We humans are thinking creatures and as an early Buddhist text explains 'We are what we think; All that we are arises from our thoughts. With our Thoughts We Make the World'. So our thoughts, our subjective experience, have huge implications for how we navigate our daily life choices. For an English National, these discussions offer the green flag to take our happiness seriously. For our International readers, it may be worth me reminding you of the 'stiff upper lip' for which we Brits are famous. For the most part, try asking a Brit from the elder generation (i.e. the purse string holders!) if they are happy and they'll likely look at you as if you are mad, while replying with a stiff face, "Of course I am". The topic of happiness often becomes like a game of Chinese Whispers, where a genuine and caring question sounds more like an interrogation into how much money someone earns or an attack on how someone is living their life. Or at least this is often my experience. With all this talk about happiness, I've actually felt that there isn't much understanding about what happiness actually feels like. Therefore how can we really know if we have it?

So now, thanks to these people like Layard who are translating Happiness into Economic impact. We have a conversation about happiness that people have to take seriously. If you don't think you are worth being happy for, then be happy for your country! This may be a much more motivating message. And the how to? Well that's here as well thanks to the New Economics Foundation we have the Five Ways to Well-being; CONNECT, KEEP LEARNING, GIVE, BE ACTIVE and TAKE NOTICE, Thanks to the South London and Maudsley Mental Health Trust’s (SLAM) Well London Project; DIY Happiness we have a project which can gently lead people toward activities that remind how it really feels to connect with our felt-sense of happiness. So it's all there for us Brits, the momentum is building, which I find very exciting. I am sure that reconnecting with that felt sense is half the battle. It's the reminder of what's there for us when we loosen our grip on our thoughts and instead go with our felt experience.

At the end of the Layard conference a colleague from SLAM asked a wonderful question, paraphrased as "...Are you concerned with the quality of our thinking during these stressful times" Listening to the podcast earlier today, I applauded her. His answer pointed mostly toward meditation to soothe the mind. But most importantly, it seems to me that this Happiness movement is creating fertile and safe grounds to explore how our intellectual thinking minds may these days be overly dominating our felt, intuitive intelligence. Einstein would be proud.

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cheers To the Ornery!

 Like a tree in the wind, we are shaped by our resistance.
~ Author unknown

When I think of those whom I admire or those who stir my soul, one common denominator is usually evident.   They have found a way to be graceful and strong...a gentle force, but a force to be reckoned with...tough but tender.  In my own life I know there are times when I react instantly from a place of courage and grace.  Other times the "shoulds" get in my head and muck up the process.  

I've recently been quite aware that for me these "shoulds" greatly impact my ability to stand up for myself.  I feel I should be peaceful.  I think I should not be driven to action by feelings of anger.  I should take the high road at all times & the high road is always quiet and calm.

These ideas are grand...grandiose.  The truth is that my feelings are always my guide.  I use them to inform me of where my thinking is.  In a simplistic way, though, this can leave one to feel that bad feelings serve no other purpose.  They are not useful beyond their ability to alert us to our quality of thought.  The question, then, that I'm pondering is, Do "negative" feelings equal steps away from well being, or can they be helpful?

My short story goes like this.  I grew up as the middle child.  Wanted everyone to be happy and became the house comedian.  I helped everyone else and I was good at it.  I didn't have a voice for myself until much later in life.  Much of the time I felt that the world chewed me up and spit me out on a daily basis...a mild wind could knock me down.  Regardless though, you'd never find me without a smile on my face.  Fast forward to present day, and I've learned so much about my worth and my voice.  I am smile comes from here now.  I am strong.  I understand and am aware, which allows me to enjoy life with ease.  But, the work that I needed to do in terms of conflict resolution did not go away just because I became aware of how I create my own reality. 

Instead, I have become so self reliant, that at times when I need to include others I find myself stalling instead.  What I've found is that there are times when anger or disappointment can serve me very well & ignoring or dismissing these feelings does not bring on peace of mind.  Sometimes we want to be driven to action by a feeling, and that feeling does not always have to be "positive" to be a healthy catalyst.  

To clarify, when I began to understand deeply that my feelings are my creation regardless of outside situations, I began to take complete responsibility for them.  This is a beautiful thing!  I began to practice and found that I could get myself into and out of any feeling I wanted through thought.  I could observe this through my ability to be aware of my thinking, and I could count on a deeper wisdom to guide me.  Suddenly the world was interesting and I was not feeling chewed up or spit out.  This felt so good, that I stayed here...plateau-city.
Recently, as is true with all growth, this comfy spot was not enough anymore.  New experiences brought new opportunity, and I found that I wanted dialogue at times.  This wisdom that I have learned to listen to and follow was leading me down a high road that looked much different.  It was straight and clear.  It was not rocky, pointy, or edgy, but also was not billowing with fresh flowers and rolling hills.  It was the road of a warrior and it led to battle.   

Even though I knew I was on the right path, it was difficult for me to give myself permission to be mad, to share with someone how their actions had felt.  I saw from a new vantage point that my ability to self sooth so skillfully had also given some people the invitation to offer much less than their best to me...habitually.  Because my quiet, peaceful voice had gone unnoticed, I had to reach into my bag of tricks for something new.  Since I was being led by the wisest part of me, though, my anger looked more like patience for what I disappointment more like a need for hope.   

Coming out at the end of this life lesson I realize that I had done it again.  I had my understanding into little boxes.  Some boxes were good and some were and white.  Being the peacemaker, good; Being angry, bad.  The truth is so much more.  My compartmentalizing had not let me see that conflict may be necessary at times, and that I do not have to loose my grace or well being to participate.  Feelings aren't good or bad.  Hard feelings sometimes lead to actions that mend and heal.  

I can't pretend to know what compartment anything fits into anymore.  To quote the Chili Peppers "The more I see, the less I know".  All I can do is surrender...know what I know and that it's enough.  There will be times for anger and times for peace and I'll know what time it is because my answers are always with me.  If I choose the path of no resistance every time I will not travel far...I will not see great things...I will not be shaped by truth.

Cheers to the ornery!  Cheers to those with the loudest voice in the room!  Cheers to the lovers who speak up even when their voice quivers!   Cheers to anger & peace, and all that happens in between!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I smile because I sing

Earlier today I was told by a friend that he listens to music to quieten his otherwise hectic mind. The external offering of music can do wonders for a busy mind. We can become immersed in the music and lose our self in its beats, melody and lyrics. It offers a temporary escape from the perpetually created world of our thoughts. We all have this problem from time to time, and really it amazes me that this disabling symptom of the modern day is not more widely acknowledged. The constant narrative of a chattering mind can be deafening at times. From the sublime to the mundane. Our internal commentary can both help and hinder us. At this point I'd like to clarify, I am not talking about our commonly diagnosed mental health problems. This isn't what 'other' people suffer from. From what I understand, it is the fluctuating narrative that we all carry. Some days it may go completely unnoticed. Others, it offers a cheerful narrative to accompany our interactions with the world around us “I’m walking down the road...isn’t it sunny today...I feel good...etc". Sadly though, this narrative has a darker side. Sometimes, the talk can be so dense that it can almost severs our connection to the rest of our body. The heaviness and intensity of these thoughts can leave us so tense and cut off that the world around us becomes a nightmarish caricature of itself.

From a personal perspective, I know that whatever story is being woven can be extremely compelling. Whether it's offering a epic tale full of adventure with enemies at each corner, or a suffocating scene of social dynamics to comment on. It can feel like it’s the only thing that really matters in that moment. However, what can frequently be overlooked is that this story is limiting my experience from its full potential. No matter how compelling, the chances are that this interpretation is limiting me from responding optimally to my surroundings. Plainly said. When my personal thoughts are loud, I don't hear others in the same way. I don't see the world in the same way. And I don’t see opportunity. In these times I would like to be a fly on the wall, observing how my insecurity seeps into every interaction. In modern day computer speak. My connection is down. I'm working offline. There is a vast space between me and the world and quite frankly it's impeding my ability to be the kind, compassionate human being that I know I really am. On many levels, when the narrative is loud, life can be hard to navigate. But, more so, if you are unaware that it’s the narrative that got loud, then life can be incomprehensibly harsh.

Which leads me back to a conversation I had last night. What is it I care about? I am involved in the Three Principles, in Community Development in the form of capacity building, community organising and supporting access to health promotion and well-being awareness. The root of all this, is I want to help people make healthy decisions. This isn't prescriptive. It's about raising awareness of the fact that we all live in fluctuating and dynamic environments. We are permanently caught in a web of complex social and physical influencers. The right solution for now, wont necessarily be the right answer in half an hour. We cling to formulas, education and research as if they offer us the key to happy unconscious living. The result is that we tend to sleep walk through our days making more and more decisions based on old habits of thoughts, fear responses or what worked for us last time. In the midst of such a busy mind, decisions become even more difficult. The funny thing is that often, when we are in the grips of this over productive thinking mind, we are not always aware that that is what is happening. Hence the sleep walking. The harshness of our thinking can manifest unhelpful interpretations of the outside world. Our low quality thoughts can lead to a limited potential to find a creative solution or making a healthy choice.

This is a human experience. For some perhaps, it is more frequent than others. Where I sit on that continuum I am not sure. But as the pendulum of my thinking mind swings I can take some comfort in my understanding of what is happening behind the scenes. Without trying to understand why, I can instead understand that this is a temporary ‘human experience’. By having an awareness of how my body feels. For instance tense or heavy, I can be with my body as well as my thoughts. The narrative can't take over completely, and in the meantime, while my body feels heavy, I know I don't have to take my thinking too seriously. I can be aware and listen for that moment when my thoughts, feelings and actions are light and flowing again. I feel very strongly that we are all able to be that kind, compassionate and connected human being that we know we are. From that space, I also believe that we can all make healthy choices in each given moment. For anyone who knows me, they'll be aware of my recent obsession with a book written by Iain McGilchrist, a British Psychiatrist, which is called 'The Divided Brain: The Master and the Emissary'. Among the many important aspects of this book, which I will likely to wax lyrical about in another blog, I have always been touched by this quote when he talks about our interaction with modern Art. He says something like 'These days we mistake our lonely monologue for dialog'. I believe this is the case for so many of us in our modern world. Whether that lonely monologue is full of cheer or misery, it so frequently stands between us and our full potential for a two-way connection to the real world around us.

Sometimes, the narrative of our thoughts can be so loud that we may not notice their bulldozing impact on the world around us. We may not even realise quite how suffocating and limiting this narrative is, until it begins to pass, or a tiny hole gets punctured in the validity of its story. From that point, we can at least entertain the idea that there might be a bigger picture than we are able to see at this point. The simplicity of the Three Principles, is that in union, they offer an anchor to cling on to when the seas get rough. Thought: When my thoughts are heavy and domineering, I know that they are coming to me on a moment to moment basis. The experience is temporary. Mind: my connection to something profoundly more creative and wise is still there. I am still the kind, compassionate human being that I 'know' myself to be. I’m just feeling a little bit lost. Consciousness: I know that in any given moment, my consciousness may raise. My thinking may become more useful, or my connection to Mind may offer me insight. This potential for new thought gives me strength to stay calm and as still as possible until it arrives.

So in hindsight, my response about my friend listening to music to quieten his mind was rather dismissive. I said 'I sometimes feel like listening to music is just masking the symptoms of our crazy world, instead of dealing with the root cause of our uncomfortable busy minds’. In hindsight, this response was very much coming from my own 'heavy thinking' of that moment. Because, now as I sit here writing this and listening to music. My toes are tapping, my body is swaying and I'm becoming more aware of the rest of my body. My tension is easing and I feel more creative. So here I am reminded of the importance of art, of music and connected conversation. For each of these, in their own unique way offer us a fleeting reminder of our natural state of mind. With that reminder we have a contrasting feeling so that we know when our chattering narrative is stealing the show. With that kind of gauge we can become better decision makers. Ideally, by knowing when we are in a state of mind that fosters clarity, creativity and ultimately supports us to make those healthy decisions. Or in contrast, when we know that we should perhaps throw down the anchor and instead of making any big decisions, indulge in some art and enjoy the drift.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Whip It...Whip It Good!

“Being smart as a whip includes knowing when not to crack it.”
~ Vera Nazarian

There's an important life lesson on my that is seldom spoken of, but that is subtly contemplated many times throughout each day. If we shine no awareness on this elusive process we inevitably waste time, energy and our own peace-of-mind. I have had this familiar feeling of confusion and frustration many times in my life. If we open our eyes to this lesson, however, there is no end to the learning and rewards that appear. The sparkly discovery that I'm pointing to is our constant ability to use our free will to decrypt any thought we conger up.

One rarely spends a moment to think about this cogitating that goes on within the confines of our own minds, but we're constantly deciding whether are not we will trust the thoughts we create. Sometimes we drop thinking that would serve us quite well. At other times, we may give power to thinking that gets us into trouble. Either way, we decide to trust some thinking, while we dismiss other thoughts. This does not mean that we should begin a practice of manipulating our thoughts...this is not a possibility. Instead, we can begin to count on our thinking...knowing new thought will come whenever we feel leery of the current selection.

So far, this is common sense...a simple truth that goes unnoticed as we live our lives. It comes up, though, all the time, and goes unnoticed even when we begin to feel lost...hopeless. Paying attention to how you use your thinking is in many ways the key to getting what you want...whatever that may be. Can you see the importance of deciding not to trust your thinking at times? Further, can you slip beyond seeing this and put it into action?

I was observing recently, both myself and others. There is a pattern I see in a lot of us...dare I say most of us. It's this ability we have as humans to have a loud, proud voice when we speak up for others, and yet we loose this confidence and volume at times when we need to use our voice for ourselves. I think the root of this is two-fold. One,we have a tremendous connection to each other...causing us to feel powerful and immediate empathy for one another. This happens quite naturally and spontaneously...and without our permission at times. Two, we somehow decide regularly to allow less of this esteem for ourselves...our vision of ourselves is not as clear. Not as affirmative.

I see this in friends and clients, who insist on believing the worst in themselves, but will then quickly believe me when I offer them a less destructive perspective. It's as though they want to hear about their own worth but they will not call it up for themselves. They hear beyond my words something they know is true...they are redeeming, but they let themselves forget this until I release it into our setting.

There are many stories I could tell about times when I have felt vocal for other people. The love I felt for them in their time of need overshadowed any thought I had to be question their character. This may even be the powerful feeling that led me to the field of counseling to begin with. Somehow, though, when I am the one in need these thoughts of questioning and doubting appear to be valid...stopping me at times when action is needed. What is good enough for my fellow-human is too good for me in my own mind!

One story fits well here, because I was aware throughout the process that I would not have been so strong on my own behalf. My good friend was being manipulated by a person who was herself very lost at the time. My friend was in tears. Without hesitation, I walked the short distance to this person's house and dealt with the matter. I spoke from the heart...I found a way to point out my friend's strengths without attacking this other person's character. I was even, solid, and fearless. I remember feeling like I wished someone would do this for me in all of the compromised friendships I had at the time. Funny I never thought of enlisting myself!

In a way the learning curve has been steeper when I throw myself into the picture. Conversely, this is why it is so moving when I realize occasionally how beautifully other people see me...the ease at which they forgive me and move on with their image of me untarnished.

Recently, though, I had some insight that is helping me blaze a new trail. There is a process regarding personal thinking that I see with great clarity in other people. This is the fact that when someone is in a bad feeling, they have gotten there by believing some personal thinking that they shouldn't have. This has led them somewhere where they cannot easily thrive. I know this for myself too, but mostly I would not make this connection until after a decision had been made. The feelings all along the way were too often ignored. Although realization (at any time) that I had followed harmful thinking was helpful, it did not always lead to action in real time.

I began to see the personal truth in something that I had only deemed true for others in the past. Here it is....when my feeling state is off, this is not just an indication that my personal thinking should be ignored. It is actually a notification that I should not make decisions at this time. This is quite different, because the first level of understanding still leaves a lot of room for different, yet just as destructive personal thinking to be at play. The second, deeper, understanding has a whispering of reassurance in it...something like “Just let it be. New thought is on the way. There is no reason to continue on this path you've chosen. Your answer is waiting for you to get out of the way.”

There is so much freedom here! Somehow this little tweak in my understanding means that my feeling state can guide me with much more ease. These decisions that I make every day, big and small, can be informed by my feelings rather than analyzed later. I'm the only one attached to the thinking that is informing me at any given time...I'm the only one who can veto it. The goal, after all, is to make decisions that are right for me...not to make decisions because I've locked myself into them in my head. This does not take courage...maybe just patience.

I love when these glimpses into the nature of thought allow me to change my behavior. Because I give myself total permission to dismiss my personal thinking when necessary, I will not make as many unfortunate decisions for myself. Waiting for the right answer is more logical. Insisting on a thought that I just made up, does not hold any merit. Noticing later the wrong feelings I was in while I made a decision, is not good enough anymore.

This, ladies and gents, is how change happens. Instantaneous, because you are suddenly informed by a new perspective that makes your old process seem obsolete. Suddenly the shackles are off and you realize that you had the key. Just like that, you can become smart as a whip, without worrying that you'll injure yourself with a lashing!

Friday, January 6, 2012

If you are not ready, just start.

I returned to the UK a couple of weeks ago and life has truly hit me in the face. My old life, that is. The life I once lived, but now can't quite remember myself within. This is no bad thing. I am just learning to find my place again. It's like trying lots of pieces of the puzzle within a well known picture. I'm feeling my way through to see what bits fit snugly and which ones, despite looking right and familiar, just aren’t a comfortable fit. It's a process that has its ups and downs. There are moments of surprise when I do something, or behave in a way that I might not have done last year. There are also fleeting moments of sadness that come when I realise I've fallen into old ways of being, ways that I thought I had long gotten over. I'm frequently thrown out of my comfort zone and required to act gracefully within the discomfort. At these times I remind myself, discomfort is an opportunity for growth.

With all this going on, I've also been entertaining my Blogger's block. Giving it way too much power as it itches away at my mind. I’ve so much to write and comment about, but I’m in a familiar environment where I once wouldn't write so freely. I’ve felt the conflict between the old habits of insecure thinking about my writing against my more recent desire to just write and share my ideas. Being back in the village where I grew up has surfaced a number of those insecure thoughts, which I had happily abandoned while being in the States. So, here's what I've noticed:

My understanding of the Three Principles supports a deep understanding of how, as a human, I create my experience of life via the thoughts to which I choose to give my attention. This brings a unique understanding and standpoint to life and my interactions. However, this understanding doesn't rid me of unhelpful thoughts. Neither does it cure me of my idiosyncratic behaviours. Rather, on a daily basis, it brings me closer to a human connection that we all share. So when these idiosyncratic behaviours and unhelpful thoughts show up, I can begin to navigate them more gracefully. Over time, without having fed them and taken them too seriously, I expect they may well disappear altogether. But, in the meantime, I’ll continue to stumble.

For a few days now, I’ve been taking my Blogger's block surprisingly seriously. I asked myself, “has it ended before it's even started?” Each time I sat down at the computer my thinking felt serious, my body felt heavy and under pressure. These were sure signs that my thinking was getting in the way of any potential good ideas I had brewing. Tonight however, after taking myself so seriously, I decided to listen to my own advice, "If you are not ready, just start". So I did. I ignored my concerns and my excuses, regardless of how compelling they felt. I sat down and started writing. Now, I find myself writing and I am enjoying the process. My flow of words feels like it is bypassing too much analysis. It's a connection that was only possible once I'd dropped any dominating thoughts. I'd gotten out of my own way.

The interesting result of this is that this experience is relevant for all of us right now. With New Year comes the inevitable New Year’s Resolutions. A handful of promises made in an attempt to rid ourselves of any nasty habits and become a better person. For those of us that bother to try, the first week normally starts out well. We're inspired by the newness of the year. We even feel brave enough to admit our failures and dream of a new way. However, often as time goes by, our old habitual thinking can take hold. It starts creeping back in because actually nothing has changed. We are still surrounded by the same cues, the same people and therefore tempted daily by the same familiar thinking paths to bad habits. Nothing changed except the last digit of the year that we scrawl down occasionally and a shiny new calendar to hang on the wall.

And, perhaps this is why New Year’s resolutions don't necessarily work. Responding to an external environment will likely only bring a short-term change. Deep down we all know that change comes from within. It's something I am learning more and more about every day. It's like a gentle unpicking of myself and my automatic responses. I recognize the thoughts that feel good, light or fresh and I move forward with them. At the same time, the more difficult bit is that I am learning to recognise the thoughts that bring a sense of fear, lethargic comfort or just plain old habitual thinking (that leaves no room for surprise). These thoughts of familiarity and comfort are harder to distinguish, but they too often only bring a short-term relief. These are the thoughts that lead us away from being that new and improved healthy self, the one we dreamed about on December 31st. These thoughts, I don’t act on. I let them pass by without too much fuss.

So, while I deal with my own acculturation issues back here in the UK and the few New Year's resolutions that I couldn't resist making, I remember this. When I notice I am moving off track, either within my thinking or my overt behaviour, I recognise the opportunity to gracefully move on out of it. Any crankiness or shyness that might be the symptom of an unhelpful thought, for instance; 'why is everyone so unenthusiastic?' (I have just spent 6 months in America!), or 'I can't be bothered to go for a walk' have quickly been recognised as unhelpful. I can tell because they come with a physically heavy feeling. It also disconnects me from my interaction with others and takes me out of a natural flow with my environment. This recognition, with my understanding of the Three Principles has given me the opportunity to recognise this experience as 'thought-led'. Thought being a moment to moment creation that I can't control, but I can let pass by. So if it feels sticky, I remember that under that heavy thinking is something more pure and insightful, or even just the potential for some other new thought. The more I trust this, the more I experience it to be true. In the times that I have a deeper felt sense of what I want to do, I acknowledge that I am not quite ready and I just start. In the cases where there is no deeper felt sense, I stay still and remain kind to myself.

Eventually, a more useful thought may come along bringing something new and fresh. In some cases, this may even just be to apologize and smile. It's incredible what these non-automatic responses can bring about. When we offer genuine, non-automatic responses we leave behind the clumsiness of the previous experience. We give ourselves permission to not berate ourselves and due to this, we can genuinely move forward into unknown territory.

The beauty of facing a new year is that our thinking and subsequent expectations get a chance to run wild. Temporarily our slate is blank and anything is possible. We are not restricted by our everyday, self created identity. In these moments we are more likely to entertain our potential for change, brave enough to admit our less attractive sides and more willing to shine without fear of what others might think. There's a lot to be gained from this time and the ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. But as the dust settles and we fall back into our more familiar life, remember that the excitement and potential we felt came from a thought. A thought about changing the number 2011, to the number 2012. This means that really we have that potential at every moment. New habits, from eating, to exercise and to the way we communicate with each other are all there for your making. The most important thing we can do to cultivate them is to listen to the feeling that our thoughts create before we act on them. By doing this, we'll always know we are doing the best that we can in any given moment.

So, when you fall off your shining new horse, take notice, dust yourself down and then grab the reins and climb back on. And if the idea of that sounds easier said than done, what I actually mean is; take notice, take a deep breath, let go of previous thoughts and move as gracefully as possible into the next fresh moment. Just remember to go steady when the inevitable and often familiar thought-led obstacles come along, you’ll know them by the feeling they bring.