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Breathe, go within and be present

It’s ever so simple, and yet so profound. Breathe! Yes, just do it! Take in a deeper breath or two and breathe out long. Take a moment to really notice it and feel it. Feel your body as it responds. Notice how you feel. Really savour the moment. And notice the effect it has.

Now, what was going on for you? Where were you at when you read those words and took some deliberate, conscious breaths? Were you a bit somewhere else, a bit in your head, a bit on edge, or other ways that your mind uses to grab your attention? And how was your body? How were you feeling inside?

When we pause like this, and take in a few breaths, we give ourselves a moment to ourselves. To our Self. For a fleeting moment perhaps, we can sense pure heaven.

It’s an opportunity to come into the moment, be aware and fully conscious, to relax and let go, and go within and allow ourselves to feel more peaceful, connected and At One.

Very simple. But do we do it? Probably not as much as we’d like!

Do we do it?

As so often with taking care of ourselves, the challenge is in the doing of it. Remembering to take the simplest of actions to restore our equilibrium and balance can somehow elude us. Familiar?!

When I was in training, when our group would get a bit tense around something very emotional, our facilitator would call out, “Breathe!” with a long drawn out emphasis: “Breeeeeeathe!” And we’d all breathe, and let go, and the room would relax. It proved a great way to support oneself, which it is why it is so widely used by group practitioners. When there’s stuff going on in the room, you make a firm, steady effort to consciously breathe, down into the diaphragm, like you are expanding your belly, strengthening yourself in your power centre, grounding yourself, and being very present.

You can practice doing that in stressful situations. I have often coached people to use their breath when under pressure. It’s a great stress-management technique and superb in interpersonal conflict situations. It has often proved a great way to heighten awareness, since when you breathe consciously you start to feel and notice things you maybe weren’t attending to before. When people do this, they can start to react emotionally, but this is healthy since they can then be aware of and let go of stuff.

You can practice anywhere. After all, you’re breathing anyway, so why not give it some personal attention?! The situations are massively numerous. I found it particularly great when travelling, eg. when on the London Tube, on over-crowded trains or in delays at the airport.

How to breathe in meditation

It is also of course a fundamental technique in meditation, and a brilliant time to practice it. Consciously using the breath is a great way to start your meditation. You sit with the intention to meditate, taking a good, comfortable posture, and you start by attending to your breath. One or two deeper breaths, and then a gentler awareness of your breathing, breathing in, breathing out, and continue like that. There’s then a variety of ways you can notice your breathing and how you can use it to settle you, manage thoughts and refocus on your meditation when distracted.

When we slowly and steadily breathe like this, we become more calm, more peaceful, more relaxed, and more contented. We let go of stuff, and settle into a gentle steady presence, and be with ourselves in the Now.

You can practice this now if you like. There’s a link here to a page with a recording that will guide you into meditation using the breath. Click here.

It’s ever so simple, and yet so profound. A gift we have, which we can enjoy any time we choose to use it. Enjoy!

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There’s so much fear around at the moment and people are pessimistic

People say that there’s so much fear around at the moment and people are sad and pessimistic about the future. Events, issues and personal circumstances combine to give a negative outlook on life. In fact we can get completely absorbed in it. Is this how things are? Need they be?

Early spring sunrise - fear around
Early spring sunrise

I’ve been struck how people are saying that everything seems really miserable at the moment. Maybe it’s the weather, repeated bouts of very cold spells when we’re weary with winter, even as spring is in the offing. For many, national and world events are troubling and there seems so much conflict and anger around. People seem so divided from one another and antagonistic. Then, others have illness or difficulty in their personal lives too, and there’s a lot of unwelcome change. It’s as if the world’s conspiring to dump a whole load of negativity on us all at once.

What also happens is that we get absorbed in it. Almost without noticing, it becomes the norm. We live in it. That’s how life is. Then our work on ourselves, our focus on what uplifts us, fades into the background. Faith recedes. It can almost feel like a personality change. “God, I’ve become so grumpy!” one said the other day. I wondered what God thought about that.

Notice what you focus on

When life gets like this, and it does, it’s important to notice that it’s got like this. Not to beat ourselves up, just notice. It’s the most powerful thing to do.

Where we place our mind, what we focus on, is what is, in awareness terms. That’s what we get. So we see around us, and experience more of, what we focus on. Such is the power of the mind, for better or for worse.

It’s not who we really are, much though it seems otherwise. It all an illusion, maya. And, what ever it is, “this too shall pass”. Things move on, and we can move on.

One big point in personal and spiritual development is to build an awareness of our inner truth of who we really as spiritual beings. Then we have more to hold on to during times of negativity, which do happen, since we are human after all!

So, once we’re aware that we’re absorbed in negativity, just pause and be still. Breathe in, breathe out and let go. Just let that moment be there, when you can notice that there is so much more, that we are so much more, than whatever we are habitually being caught up in.

Even in the midst of stuff going on, whatever that is, trust that within you there is so much more, that you are so much more, than whatever our ego self is doing right now.

Maybe make a commitment to spend just a few moments each day when you do this. Meditate if you can, but you can just have a little pause. It’s a reminder, a re-minder.

And spring is coming. New awakenings!

 

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What do you take for granted that you’d miss if you lost it?

What do you take for granted which you’d miss if it or they weren’t there? We live large chunks of our lives in a “knee-jerk” way. We get on with it, carry out our daily chores, converse with others, get from A to B, earn our daily bread, complete tasks, make connections, and more. All this makes up the necessities and desirables of life. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much of all that are you consciously paying attention to? And what gets left out, that you value if you thought about it, and that you’re not noticing? What would you miss if it wasn’t there?

NLP teaches that the mind can only pay attention to 7 to 8 bits of information out of the millions of bits of data that comes to us. A lot is outside of our awareness, in the background, submerged by all that stuff going on that I’ve just referred to. More importantly though can be those things or people that we deem important but don’t habitually pay attention to.

It’s worth reflecting on those things that you take for granted, but you’d really notice if they were taken away, or you couldn’t access. This could be because it or they go, or you lose the capacity to access them yourself. It goes both ways. They go – or you do. At some level.

Examples are many: the view outside your bedroom window, being able to go up and downstairs quickly and easily, seeing a friendly for regular get-togethers, hearing beautiful music, reading a favourite book, a call from a son or daughter, your parent calling you to ask you how you are, dropping in to your favourite café, your annual or bi-annual holiday. People often say that it’s the really simple things that matter, rather than anything complex or big-sounding, a smile on someone’s face, the sound of a child’s laughter, how they sat in a chair, seeing the arrival of the spring blossom on the trees, the sound of the wind, a walk along a favourite path.

When people go

At a very deeply personal level, I’ve heard many people speak of those who have died whom they never completed with, never talked through an ongoing or old issue and resolved it, never addressed a family problem, never said how important they were to them or, perfectly simply, told them how much they loved them.

And how could it have been different if you’d have given it or them the attention they deserved? Really noticed it, taken it in, taken the satisfaction of the experience – like it was even your last.

Try this one. Each morning, if you’re going out, say goodbye to your loved one, or if you are on your own, to a pet or simply to your room or home. Or when you go to bed. When you come back, really greet them, like you’re really glad to see them. Honour their part in your life. Express gratitude for that part.

And as you do that, connect with your heart centre, feel the connection there, and feel the love.

Love knows no limit. But we shut it out through our constant busyness.

And then we only notice it when it’s gone, and we’re left with regrets.

What does it cost to be present with it instead?

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Hope springs eternal even in the darkest of days

Winter can drag on, cold days, wet or frozen, windy, long nights, seemingly endless. It’s the time of year that people can feel really depressed, devoid of optimism and hope. We can get caught up in a cycle of depressed, moody days, and it can be hard to shift the mood. What’s the point of even trying since nothing changes. It just goes on and on. Some of us even wonder if we can go on and on.

Here it’s been very wet for days, windy but mild, the days dark, the valley shrouded in mist, people looking sad. The weather gets locked into its pattern. “When will this end?” one wonders. It can be very hard to have hope when things keep going on the same way and nothing seems to change.

We can lose sight of how things change. Nothing stays the same, although it doesn’t seem like it. Everything is in motion. The seasons change, slowly but inexorably. Winter is replaced by spring. Even as I write, the snowdrops are coming up. I brought them from England and put them in a little damp spot under a stone wall and they’ve survived the hot, dry summers and are peeping out of the ground, white tips appearing in the grey, auguries of approaching spring. The camellia,

Camellia perfection
Camellia perfection

battered by winds, is nevertheless likewise a mass of buds opening into pink heaven. Primroses on the lawn are showing buds, readying to flower soon, a carpet under the also-budding cherry tree. The seasonal cycle of nature calls us to remember, that warmer, sunnier weather is coming. Change brings new hope, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

The human spirit has hope. Without it, we wouldn’t do things in adversity. Life has faith, hope and trust built into it. We just need to attend to it.

I always think of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “…these three things remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians, 13:13).

It’s a powerful process, to re-member. We have this awareness within us, but it needs will and determination to shift our awareness within to the candle of love that burns constantly inside each of us. It might be a small, faint flicker, but it is there nonetheless.

Just before the dawn is the greatest darkness. It can even be our “dark night of the soul” as St John of the Cross recognised. The darkness can be black, gloomy and despairing, and it can contain the inner secrets of our salvation. We need to regularly revisit that space, not allowing the darkness to overwhelm us. For this, we need to exercise our will. “This too shall pass”, and the dawn will break once again. Nothing stays the same.

Always have hope, and know that this love is always within.

 

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When loneliness and feeling alone is no laughing matter

The Christmas season is usually a time when people gather and celebrate together. Paradoxically almost, it can be also a time when many people feel very lonely. The sense of loneliness can affect people who are single and in relationships, living with others or on their own. It transcends cultures, class and locality. It can affect even those who seem the most jolly and full of the joys of life. Particularly after Christmas, there’s a “let down” period. After the high adrenalin rush and the excess, there’s often a “down” time.

Christmas in the West is a big spending binge followed by a feast, a massive media-and-retail-fuelled hype, a collective energy that it’s hard not to get sucked up into. Not surprisingly there’s then a hangover, both physical and emotional. Families get together. Things are said. Agendas are revealed. Behind the jollity there can be other things going on too, ones we may not feel comfortable to address. There’s high expectations, especially for those raised on an idea of the “perfect” family Christmas, one remembered from childhood. Afterwards, when we once again find that those expectations don’t get met, there’s not surprisingly a sadness, even a depression for many.

Of course this is also a time for the religious to reflect on their connection to their faith, and this can be a time that that faith can be tested, as Christ was: “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)” (Matthew 27:46).

Allied to that, if one is aware of being alone already, this can be compounded. You’re not part of the fun. Not for you the sense of inclusion, of being part of something. Not the love that others seem to enjoy. The fact that a huge part of the human dilemma is that we are alone can still pass us by.

Existentialists say that this is after all one of the “givens” of being human, that we come into the world alone and leave it by the same route. They would say that we may dread our existence but it is for us to exercise free will and choice, to create the experience we seek. Famously, Viktor Frankl in Man’s search for meaning (1946) argued that for Auschwitz inmates to survive their enormous privations they had to continue to choose, to make meaning: “the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. He said, “Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress”.

Thus, even in the midst of company, or on one’s own, we can feel alone, or, exercising choice, we can feel alone and, for example, at One. Our experience is our choice. We become not the victim but the master (or mistress) of our choice.

Therefore too, we can feel contented and at peace, just as much by ourselves as in the company of others.

It’s a challenge of life and living.

That’s not to say it isn’t difficult. The testimony of many thinkers and writers over time show that it can often be a very hard path. The demon of loneliness can spring out even with the hardened practitioner. So we need to develop a skill and practice so that we can recover and bring ourselves back on to our path, so that we too in time may feel contentment whatever is going on and whenever.

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Acceptance gives you true freedom

Acceptance of your situation can feel like the opposite of what you want but its power lies in it being a paradox

We can encounter situations in life where our customary response is to dig our heels in, fight like mad for what we want and think we can by our efforts triumph in the end – and yet frustratingly get nowhere. Acceptance of the situation can feel like surrender, giving up, “giving in”, and somehow losing in another of life’s struggles. Nobody wants to be a “loser”: feel the shame of that! Yet true acceptance is not about this. It is about letting go, embracing what is, and allowing the universe to bring you what you truly need.

I was recently talking with someone about the physical pain they were in, a result of a severe back problem that seemingly wouldn’t go away. Rather the reverse, it looked it was there permanently and they might have to face living the rest of their life in pain, discomfort and restriction. This can be seriously hard to contemplate, especially if you have lived a lot of your life thinking the world’s your oyster and you can have anything you want. You can come down with a really hard bump if you suddenly realise that that isn’t so and that things are much more finite and limited than that. We think we’re immortal, and it can hurt when we discover that, in the material sense at least, we aren’t.

Acceptance of the situation

In this conversation, as I heard all the efforts that were being fruitlessly made to tackle the problem, I was suddenly struck that maybe what this person needed to do was accept the situation.

Now, you might think that this would have meant “giving in” and no longer working to bring about change. Surely what people should do is get into a positive mindset, challenge the situation and harness mind, body and spirit in the healing process? There is of course merit in this: look for example at how people have recovered at some level from back injuries that might otherwise have left them permanently disabled. However, one difficulty with focusing on the problem is that one can create more of the problem. According to the Law of Attraction, you draw to you more of what you focus on. So it depends on your approach. Getting the balance right is crucial.

To accept your situation is to embrace it and let go of it. It’s a paradox, almost like a contradiction. In accepting and letting go, we release ourselves of any attachment to the problem. It just is, like life.

It might be hard of course. Back pain can be pure hell. There could be lots to let go of, and grieving to be done for what we’re letting go of. When we let go and accept, we’re no longer resisting. “What we resist, persists”. Now, we truly allow it to be.

Here lies freedom. All sorts of possibilities can now come in.

In the case of our back problem, we might for example relax. With the release of tension the body can more easily re-adjust and potentially more easily allow the healing that’s needed. Some new possibility for a way of being can now come in that was being kept away by the resistance, for example by living life in a calmer, more stress-free way. Maybe there’s a learning there that was needed and can now be completed, for example allowing oneself to receive support from others rather than thinking one has to do it all oneself. Thus life can henceforth be lived at a new level of contentment that was previously excluded.

What do you need to accept that you are currently resisting?

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Every day we have moments of magic

Mid-summer early mornings can be times of magic. I was just woken at dawn on a hot summer’s morning by the first song of a blackbird in the cherry tree right by our bedroom window. Light was faintly appearing and its song wafted in like some welcoming celebration of another day, pure and clear. I then thought, “We live our lives experiencing suffering, when really we live in paradise. We just don’t see it.” It felt like I was being sung that as a song. A true wake-up call!

I guess I could then ask, how much do you or I notice and attend to our wake-up calls?

A sceptic might say, “Hey, that bird was just doing its thing marking out its territory!” Then, I could turn aside from my moment of magic, and my mind could get to work around what a birdsong is about and about what we make things mean. So, I’d go along some path of thinking. Thinking is useful, when it serves us, but as many say, “overthinking”, excessive mental activity, can disconnect us from the spiritual component of our experience. So we can lose touch of what we needed to hear, see or feel that connects us, you and me, with our inner self, soul, God, or whatever for you is meaningful around the real essence of your life.

We can get these moments of magic at all times. We might directly sense them. We might hear them from the words of another, read them on some billboard, see them on an advert, on TV, hear a song, remember an event, have a dream, or reflect on the words of a loved one.

Yet we need to notice them. Do you or I pay attention? Or are we too absorbed in the daily busyness of our lives and mind? Are we too disconnected, cut off from our real inner flow of Life? Is there a part of us that disconnects habitually, shuts off from our feelings and sensing,  desensitised or deflecting from what we may fear is too uncomfortable and threatening, and thus unable or unwilling to reach out, take risks, and experience our true inner Self. Habitual busyness, that ingrained mental activity, and outer activity, often stressed, very often “caught up” in the ego, keeps us stuck. We may even know it, but carry on anyway. “Some time I’ll start meditating”, we say, and then carry on as before.

Then, we also need to attend to what our bit of magic is. Notice it, tune into it, feel it, get its resonances, enter into what it has to tell us. Step back and be the witness. Yes, and really get it. Attending, being with it, letting go of ego, and being present with our experience. Focusing. It involves an effort of will for many of us. A choice.

A woman recently said to me that, despite her many years of journeying she was “still unenlightened”, like she still hadn’t got “there” yet. I commented that hadn’t her guru told her that she was “already enlightened”? She got it.

It’s here, right now, in our moments of magic, paradise right here, right now. So what does it take to get it?

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When we let go it all flows

When we let go, it all flows. However, the ego won’t have it like that. Do you find yourself so wrapped up with stuff that you can’t solve it or make it work, and the more bogged down in it you get the worse it gets, and still you don’t want to let go of it? Today I was having great problems with my website. I couldn’t figure out why it was misdirecting links and I felt bogged down in a problem I felt unable to resolve.

In the middle of “all that stuff”, there was a distant and growing “honking” of geese: a huge flock of birds was flying overhead. We rushed outside in time to see wave upon wave of geese formations coming up from the direction of the Pyrenees and Spain, no doubt on their migration to Northern Europe. The Lot valley here in South West France must be a marker point for them. There were huge lines of birds in V-shaped formations, the birds flapping their wings and then gliding and then flapping again, with this constant sound of the birds calling, stretched out right across the sky. And they just kept coming. Beautiful!

Then I came back to my computer and suddenly thought of another way to deal with the issue, one that was very simple but one I hadn’t tried before. The problem was fixed!

Why was it that, before, nothing seemed to be working, and then after time spent with the uplifting, soaring sight of the birds in flight, all was simple and easy?

Whatever the real reason, what struck me was how I had left go of the problem and was enraptured by flight, and then all seemed to go with the flow. It just worked!

Let go and allow things to be

This to me is a simple illustration of the power of letting go and allowing things to just be.

You may well have this experience a lot in one form or another. It’s when we left go of the rationalising, thinking mind and let the unconscious do its work. Many possibilities all coexist in the present moment. Being present and “in the moment” releases all sorts of things that come to us when we allow it. It’s that thing of “getting out of our own way”, letting go of ego and its machinations that don’t serve us.

Ego in this case could be running all sorts of stories like, “I must sort this out”; “I can’t go out and play till this is done”; “I’m no good if I can’t do this”; “I’m stupid”: “I’m not good enough”; or whatever your or my repeat pattern is at core. One part can be thinking that you should do it, while another part doubts your ability. One part wants to get it done while another is concerned it won’t be right unless you spend more time on it. You might be worried that there are other things that need attention too and you are holding things up. The ego can run all sorts of stores like this, all to bolster or question some belief about your identity, who you think you are as this personality.

Yet, when we let go, all this “stuff” just goes. It’s like we drop it. Then in the moment we are calm, clear and centred, at peace, at One. We’re not being driven, or driving ourself. Then paradoxically we are at last in the real driving seat of our life. All flows, all works as it is meant to.

This is where we feel true freedom, at One with Spirit. As we are meant to Be.

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To let go of control is to allow life to happen as we intend

“Get back control” seems to be a mantra for our times, except that it can seem frustratingly difficult to achieve, especially where it’s in the gift of others. Yet the more we try to assert control, the more we don’t ultimately get what we really want.

I often used to hear business people tell me how important it was for them to have control, whether it was over others, a system or process, or the direction in which things were headed. To lack control was to be at the mercy of others or the system. and to be tossed about amidst a sea of uncertainty. People feel they have lost control to remote, alien and malign forces and that the world is no longer what it was. The sense of community and collaboration seems to have been replaced by a doctrine of “every man for himself”. Others are deciding things without consulting them and taking account of their interests.

To have control can however be an illusion. The universe operates as one and seeks for balance. When things are out of balance, the tendency is to restore balance. Thus humankind thinks it can control nature, until it hits back with massive destructive force: “I told you so”. Climate change is ironically a sign of nature’s re-assertion. How hard it is to remember that we need to go with the flow, not push against it. If we push against it, we get back what we put out, which is more obstacle and resistance.

“When we let go of control, we are in control”. This is a different way of seeing things. To surrender intentionally is not giving up. It is allowing things to be. Rather than being “nowhere”, directionless, out of control, we allow nature flow to occur, be “now here”, in the present, where our intention draws to us that which we need, and life happens in accordance with our plan for it. Control is replaced by a state of allowing things to be, guided by our intention. Thus we are aligned with the creative force of the universe.

Life can be so much easier when we allow it to be.

In the present, we don’t know what is going to happen. We have intention, but we are also surrendered. Hard though that can be for very many people in today’s highly goal-focused, driven and stressed existence, it is where we let go of ego, and be in what medieval mystics referred to as the “Cloud of Unknowing“.

It might be that we need to let go of what we are attached to, what we want. To fervently want is to be attached to desire. Then we push it away from us. We get what we put out, which is wanting. Surrendered to our Cloud of Unknowing, we can instead allow what we need to come to us, trusting in the process.

In today’s world, very many people are very anxious and fearful of the future, and think bad things are going to happen. This is exactly when it is time to step back, be aware of what is happening, re-connect with our core of Who We Are, be in the state of Being and surrender to the process, remember our intention and allow what we truly need to be revealed to us.

Life is so much easier when we let it happen.

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Are you disillusioned with life?

Has life not turned out as you thought it would? Has it dawned on you that things have not worked out as you had hoped? There can come a time when our hopes and dreams for life don’t materialise. We feel disappointed or disillusioned. Then we can get downhearted, depressed, cynical, cease to believe in what is possible, lose our faith, and give up on life.

Life’s disillusionments

This can occur at any stage. Perhaps you have had a dream of how you want your life to unfold. Maybe you have had career plans. Then you’ve had a desire for your ideal partner, have pictured where you’d be living and what you’d be doing. Perhaps you had a sense of how you’d be. It could be that when you started out, life seemed exciting, full of expectations. When you thought of the future, you’d have a thrill of excitement. Things were going to be really good.

Then life comes along, with its way of throwing up challenges. The job wasn’t what you had wanted. You had difficulties getting the career project off the ground. Your partner wasn’t quite who you’d longed for. The relationship proved rocky. You didn’t end up where you wanted. Money has been a constant challenge. Maybe you have had health problems. It could be that you didn’t get that ideal family and home. Perhaps some big crisis came along which spoilt all those plans.

We can attribute life’s difficulties to all sorts of things, other people, events, our own mistakes, our upbringing, our education, or flaws in our character. The list is endless. In fact we can get into a blame outlook about this, and give others, ourselves, God or life itself a hard time.

Your thoughts about your life are crucial

It is crucial, as an awareness skill, to notice that you have this thought about your life. I say awareness, since this view about our life can get habitual and ingrained, such that we don’t notice this underlying thought. I call these root thoughts, underpinning but often not seen.

The skill is to catch ourselves doing this. It might not be a thought in the obvious sense, but maybe a sense or feeling that we don’t articulate as such, until we do some self-enquiry, and become aware that this is going on.

Then you can notice that this is what you think about your life.

When you become aware, you then potentially have the tools in your hands to challenge and change.

Because it doesn’t have to be like this.

What you think about your life is what occurs. You are at cause.

Become your own creative force

When we lose our faith in life, and cease to proactively choose what we want, and believe in the outcome, then we start to be at the effect of it. It happens differently. If we have negative thoughts, we get negative outcomes.

Thus we need to do our own inner exploration, get what we’re thinking at a root level, and then let go and create new purpose and set new intentions. When we truly let go and intend healthily, if I can use that word in a non-medical sense, life happens and it’s OK. It happens because we have let go, of need and expectations, and are no longer attached to our illusions. Thus to be disillusioned is to be dis-illusioned, without illusion, maya, a construct of the ego. We can then be who we truly are.

I coach people who have got stuck on their path in life. Contact me