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.