Hold to your values when others are missing theirs

Honesty and integrity are central to effective human relationships and their weakness or absence can be fatally destructive. It’s arguably become a trend to devalue such values in public and business life, in favour of self-interest. Thus selfishness and narcissism has become more prominent amongst leaders. Yet examining our personal compass can be a healthy activity, even as it is so palpably missing in our leaders.

Professional values

In training to become counsellors, therapists or coaches, to name three helping professions where ethical guidelines are core to their work, attention is devoted to professional ethics. Thus one learns the importance of such values as confidentiality, respect and valuing the person, commitment to the client, client safety, and so on. Professional associations support such values. Often central to these values is honesty and integrity. Following professional values helps build trust and an effective working relationship upon which good work can be done. If such values are broken, trust is destroyed and usually the relationship will be terminated.

The therapist will often follow the practice of self-evaluation in various forms. They may cultivate self-awareness, the ability so much described in this blog of being able to observe what happens for the practitioner concerned and what isn’t serving them that might need to be modified. They may use an experienced fellow practitioner as a supervisor to help this process and strengthen their work.

The weakness of values in the public sphere

Many might say today that in the public sphere, in politics, government and business, such values are seriously lacking. A spectacular recent couple of cases has been the suspected failure of the Prime Minister’s (PM) senior advisor Dominic Cummings to adhere to the public health rules during the pandemic and then the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has been insisting on such adherence, being caught breaching the rules. Hancock was supported by the PM but shortly after resigned, leaving a question mark over the ethics of the PM, one which many believe to be already seriously tainted. The observer is left with the thought that “it’s one rule for you and another for us”.

Such moral inconsistency is deeply destructive of trust, already seriously in question for a number of years. Many people discount politicians’ values as typical of the breed. Yet non-observance of these values undermines government since people cease to comply when voluntary observance is crucial to the success of operations. That way lies either breakdown in policy or coercion.

Such weakness in leaders is not limited to politicians. Already certain professions are distrusted as being “like that”, such as estate agents or financial advisors. However there have been some spectacular failures in senior business management. A few years ago, the Royal Bank of Scotland led by Fred Godwin almost collapsed after the 2008 crash revealed major miscalculations in how the business was run. During the pandemic the retail business of Philip Green collapsed after a long run of dubious business practices. A book published in 2018 called “Reckless Opportunists” describes the rise of a whole generation of business and political leaders for whom a moral compass and sound leadership in the public good was less important than profit and personal gain. Indeed such characteristics seem commensurate with a heady increase in executive pay.

A moral compass

When society is struggling and leaders are failing to lead, it is arguably incumbent for people to look to themselves. In one sense what is happening “out there” is a reflection of a part of ourselves. This is Jung’s concept of the Shadow. In certain branches of psychology, the shadow contains a disowned part of the self. It is experienced outside us but not owned by us. It might leak out and affect our dealings with others, and others might detect a moral inconsistency in such dealings. We can sometimes detect this in things that keep occurring. It’s like the universe is trying to draw our attention to it. Thus the importance of self-enquiry and self-awareness.

We might not like what is occurring in the world right now, but that doesn’t stop us doing our best to clean up our own act, to maintain the integrity of our moral compass, to hold to principles, and to encourage, and campaign where appropriate, for others to do the same. Heaven knows, the world needs it.

Awareness gives us hope of another possibility

To say that the world is in a mess right now can seem like an understatement. Most of the globe is struggling with a second wave of the pandemic and many worry about the capacity of government to manage the situation. Many in the UK and elsewhere feel pessimistic about the future, both personally and for others and their country. Many are losing loved ones to the disease and/or losing their jobs. There are warnings that it is likely to get worse before it gets better. It can feel like this is the only possibility. In this situation it is easy to lose hope and to despair.

Losing hope, depression, despair – these things are a cycle that once we get locked into can be hard to get out of. We might give up on what can change for the better. Yet, hard though it can be to imagine, things do move on, and things can change. Nothing stays the same. Impermanance. All is in movement, often indiscernible, small, subtle shifts, or big changes. They can start to appear dimly on the horizon, like the beginnings of the dawn after a long, dark night, or they might be flashes of light, as the sun rises on a new day, and all can suddenly seem different. Despair is replaced by hope. We see things differently now.

Now we see but a poor reflection, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall fully know, even as I am fully known, wrote Paul to the Corinthians. He went on to say,  And now these three remain, faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (Bible, 1, Corinthians, 13)

There is another possibility

Hard though it can be to see through the gloom, there is another possibility. There is always another possibility, where the light shines and we feel hopeful once again. We might not just see it at the moment. To get there, we need faith and hope, but our underlying driving force is love.

When caught up in despair, we are disconnected from faith, hope and love.

What’s important for the mindful self-aware is to notice when we are caught up. This is the crucial first step, to become aware. To get it. We might still feel caught up, but we know what we’re doing, and there’s probably a part of us that knows it doesn’t serve us.

Then we need to step back from being caught up. This is the act of will, a choice, to get off it, to let go of what “caught-upness” we’re into.

So, breathe deeply, breathe out long, and then breathe in deeply again, as it were down to the diaphragm, breathing down into your stomach, where the fears can dwell, and feel the release of tension and upset as we breathe out long and let go of all that stuff. Let it all go. Breathe it out and blow it away.

You might need to repeat that.

That’s when you can no longer be attached to being “caught up”, but instead be aware of that state as if you are the observer of it, that in a sense it is “not you” but just a state you got into. You’re now the witness of it.

Now you can rest as the witness, in the relaxed, released state of Being, knowing, as you are fully known.

Being fully aware

When we become aware, step back and become the witness, we are in the moment, rather than “in a state”. We can be present with our selves. Then we very likely can connect with love, our state of Being.

This is real freedom, what we have inside us, the “other possibility” that we’d lost touch with while “in a state”.

Then we are better able to support ourselves and then also better able to support others through this crisis. This is a far stronger state, when we are grounded and anchored in our Being, not getting attached, caught up and fearful, and very importantly not letting our buttons be pushed by others around us who aren’t so aligned.

Stay strong, everybody, and take great care.

Beyond the suffering mind lies love

In the last post, I quoted the following, “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments” (From The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer). It can be scary, those empty moments. We can fill the day with all sorts of distractions, but it is often in the empty moments, like after sleeping or on awakening in the middle of the night, or in a walk by oneself, or while waiting, or at countless other moments, when a small voice inside almost like one’s conscience reminds us of that which troubles us. At the moment, for many, it is things around the threat from pandemic illness, but it might be something else. We might, despite all we know and all our best efforts, find ourselves descending into the familiar pit of our suffering. We might scramble to get out, but the sides keep falling in and there we are, stuck with our pain. That can be when one despairs.

These times come to test us. They can keep coming until we find a way to manage them. For some it can offer a way through to greater peace, but for others it just keeps coming. There can be many reasons. It might be our own personal process that we are working through but it might also be circumstances outside of us. In troubled times in the world we may also feel the pain of others and it can seem as if it is our own pain, when in fact we’re taking on others’ suffering. Now can be such a time.

Using awareness of suffering

This is where self awareness is important, to be able to enquire within as to what it’s about, and to be able to discriminate between our own pain and that of others.

I’ve suggested before that these “dark nights of the soul” can be very scary, but they can also be instructive. It can depend whether we are willing to embrace the situation and see it through to the important understanding that it can offer.

It is also be useful to be able to have ways to release ourselves from that which is troubling us, and each might find their own way to learn what the pain is about and how to release ourselves.

Understanding the mind

The Buddha said that Pain is certain. Suffering is optional. Humans suffer, unless or until they gain a mastery over it. Then they can be the observer of pain but not caught up in it. This is where understanding the mind is important.

Left to its own devices, the mind can take us all over the place. It’s very powerful. We can go to the heights of elation and the depths of despair. We can make up all sorts of things, about other people, ourselves, what’s going on. You name it. If we let it.

The mind is very creative. What we we think, we are. What we focus on, we draw to us. It’s the law of attraction, like a magnet. So, if you or I keep focusing on something, it’s more likely to happen. If we let it. Hence we have choice. It’s an option.

Use mindfulness to manage the mind

So, it’s important to stop. Use the skills of mindfulness

  1. So notice what you are paying attention to. Become mindful of it. Notice you are thinking a certain thing. Become aware of it.
  2. Step back from it. Put distance between the thought and you. This is where the will is important.
  3. Notice it, like you are now the observer of it. As we say, witness it. Be the witness of your ego at work, but not caught up in it.

You are not your thoughts. You, and I, are so much more than our thoughts, the “sweaty ego”.

When we step back and witness our thoughts, we have true power.

The other side of fear is love. That’s who we are, in whatever understanding you have of that.

When we step back and become the observer, we let can love in.

This is why these dark nights of the soul are so important, to know the space beyond suffering.

Then rest in the witness. Rest in the awareness that you are love.

How illness holds within it an opportunity for awakening

Pandemic outbreaks of highly infectious disease like the Plague, Cholera, Influenza and now Coronavirus, sweep through human consciousness like a hurricane. They are like auguries of awakening, not always welcome ones, as the disease and suffering is not welcome, but they have a way to get us to address that from which we have been hithertoo averting our gaze. At the political level they have so often in the past heralded, accompanied or driven major change. At the personal level we might think we can after a while get back to life as normal but so often this is not so: such shocks to our sense of wellbeing can be lasting and profound. Our collective and individual cage has had a violent and unsettling shake. It is our choice whether or not we have an awakening and choose to pay attention and learn the lessons that beckon.

Powerfully existential

In one way, such an event impacts our very survival. The disease could kill us, or our loved ones. It thus directs us to reflect, if we can allow ourself, on the prospect of dying. It might flit tangentially on our awareness, and then we may look directly at the possibility. Many avoid it, not surprisingly, given the core human driver to survive.

I wonder how many of you have been making wills, or discussing with others the practical aspects of your departure. It’s an uncomfortable subject, one that many avoid entirely. In the UK around 54% of people don’t have wills. Also many don’t make practical arrangements for what they would want to happen if they were incapacitated, like a living will. It can be a useful, if unsettling, question to ask oneself: what if I die?

There’s not surprisingly an emotional side to this, to contemplate leaving the earth plane and what that might mean. It can be very scary. Some say that such existential dread underlies the human condition, and explains a lot about human behaviour. There are those who’ve nearly been there, who’ve had Near Death Experiences (NDE’s), or who have had to cope with and come through an event that threatened their survival. There are those who have done this who now have no fear of death. I have before in these pages recommended the work of Steve Taylor who has researched people who have had these or related experiences, and the bliss, joy and contentment that they have found as a result. See for example Out of the Darkness. At some point, many of his subjects broke through to another level of awareness.

Existentialists say that death is a “given”, something we will all face sooner or later. Our challenge is how we do that. We each find, or don’t find, our strategies for coping. It might for example be religion, spirituality, philosophy, or rationality. We might adopt a spiritual or mental practice. Then again, addiction, media and other stimuli can provide substitutes.

Perhaps this pandemic is one of those invitations for us to reconcile ourselves with our ending.

Alone in a lockdown, it’s hard to use others to help us avoid these issues. We’re in danger of being left alone with ourselves. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says at the end of her poem The Invitation,

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”

Fear and anxiety are a wake-up call

A lot of us in today’s world live in various states of fear and anxiety. It’s endemic in modern living. Existential anxiety is often linked with other reasons for us to feel anxious, like our job, our relationship or financial issues. Thus, while we might focus on the content of the anxiety, like what we fear might happen and the disaster scenarios that churn around in our minds, we might also use such occurrences as a reminder of what’s really behind this seeming regular visitation from the angel of fear. What has this fear to teach us, probaby one we’re resisting?

Thus visitations of fear and anxiety may also have something useful, much though it can be highly unpleasant to experience. We can use it to learn what positive potential might lie behind the fear. After all, as said in a recent post, fear is simply False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s an illusion.

I have often taught people to use fear in meditation, or simply when we wake up afraid, or encounter it during the day. This is to use it as a tool. What?, you might think, are you crazy?! We’re all crazy in this world! It’s a perception.

Breathe!

In this practice, we use the breath.

With fear you can breathe into it, let go of the thoughts, be present with the fear, focus on the feeling, feel it, and let it dissolve. It’s just an energy. Let it go. Then do this.

Breathe!

Sit if possible, and you could stand if need be. Focusing on your breath, take a deep breath and breathe in deeply, down as it were into your belly, such that you move your belly out, expand it, using the diaphragm. You breathe as it were “into” the stomach, where feelings are often felt. Then breathe out long. Then do it again several times. Not too often as you can get dizzy. As you breathe out, let go and relax. In fact you could say to yourself as you do this

Breathe in (breathe in deep)…(Slight pause)….Breathe out (Now breathe out long)…Let go (and relax)

(Very slight pause)

Breathe in (breathe in deep again)…(Slight pause)…Breathe out (Now breathe out long)…(and when you’ve breathed out and relaxed) And I am good.

Be present with with the understanding that you are good.

Then breathe naturally and in a relaxed state for a few minutes.

Thus in this practice, you focus on your breath and breathing, come into the present moment and simply be aware of your breath. You intentionally leave each end breath with a positive affirmation.

Focusing on the breath is a mindfulness practice, explained on this website. You can practice using breathing as a tool to let go of anxiety and have a positive focus.

Meditators use tools like the breath and they also use a mantra. Often mantras contain some positive element. So’ham or Hamsa (I am That) is a well-known one. If you look at the pages on this site on various mindfulness practices, you can practice using the breath and a mantra. Practice is essential. The benefits come in time.

It’s hard to intentionally focus on the breath and be anxious. Anxiety is a mental process. It is thoughts we don’t need and can let go of. Conscious breathing is a great tool. We do it all the time! So why not be aware that we doing it!

Opportunity

It might be hard to see this pandemic as an opportunity for an awakening and humans, being humans, might not use it as such. My take is that it offers us a painful way but a great way to see through how we are living on this planet and make real, lasting positive changes for all of us. One way is to experience consciousness and aliveness differently, for ourselves, for our planet, for our wellbeing, and for our relationships. As Lao Tzu said,  If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.

Choosing not to be consumed by fear

Is it feeling like the world’s gone crazy – a new virus, recession, climate change, Brexit, you name it – it’s all happening at once? The barriers are coming down and people are shutting off. Everywhere there’s a sense of doom and fear. How do we cope inside with all this?

Let’s look at some strategies for managing the situation for us ourselves inside. I don’t mean the practicals of living at present, and many of us are probably feeling stretched on that count alone. I’m thinking of how we are responding inside. How could the self aware, mindful person cope in a way that serves her or him, that gives empowered choices?

Being consumed by fear

The predominant emotion for many is likely to be fear, fear of what might happen, of how we’ll cope, of what harm we might come to, or might become of our loved ones.

Fear can be disabling. It can take over, cutting off the rational part of the brain, what Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence called “the amygdala hijack“. It’s the stress reaction, triggering the release of hormones which, while important in managing a real threat, can become habitual and harm our immune system, and thus our ability to fight off infection. This is how people suffering prolonged stress get sick. Thus it’s really important at a physical level to manage our stress levels.

Fear, worry and anxiety can take us over. We can get consumed by it, on and on, minute by minute. It can also be subtle, a background experience, lurking in the shadows, springing out every now and again, and, for some, paroxysms of trembling, gut-churning, shaking, pure, unadulturated fear. Or it can just hang on in there. “No, I’m perfectly rational and in control,” the rational part of us says, nose in the air, while actually deep inside, fear is active, perhaps exerting influences like being doubtful, a reluctance to act, a questioning, a hesitation, cynicism even. We can even live in a constant state of this low-level anxiety, outside of awareness but present. We might not know it consciously, but it’s there, eating away at our self-belief, our confidence, our faith, our certainty.

If I write these words, how do you react. “Everything will be OK”?

Did you believe it or not?

It’s a useful test.

The bottom-line negative emotion is fear

Fear is a fundamental emotion, what I call a bottom-line one, which is ironic in current circumstances. It’s what keeps us from inner contentment, from what some might call union with the One. At one level it’s there to look after us, to keep us safe, but in the ego’s grip it often becomes self-defeating. It can also lead us to make poor decisions, and take us where we don’t really want to go. Fear can take over our lives.

So, it’s really important to challenge fear. From a self awareness perspective, it’s where we need to get it, get that we’re doing this, running this number. No matter that you’ve been doing it all your life. This minute is the next moment of your life and time to make a shift.

So, I suggest challenging fear each time it arises. As with most of these practices, you might quickly forget this, but when you next spot it’s happening, challenge it again. Say “stop!”

What’s happening is that one is firstly becoming aware that it’s going on, that your (or my) mind is doing this, and secondly, it is to breathe and to step back and notice it, become mindful of it. This is where the practice of mindfulness is so useful. We literally teach ourselves to step back and be aware. Here you become the observer, the Witness. Thus you are no longer caught up in the mind’s stuff, which is where fear dwells. Thus we can get that fear is really F.E.A.R., False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s not who we are.

Engage the will

Here you can engage the rational part of the mind, in this case the will. Here you can exercise choice, and chose a different strategy. There are many.

You could instead, for example, set an intention. Whatever you are fearful of could be turned around into an intention for a positive outcome. Let’s say you are worried that you will lose money. You could could instead create an intention for the positive creation of what you need for your health, happiness, wealth, wellbeing and wisdom.

There is a further step. Once you are as the Witness, allow your self to be really present as the witness, in the moment, aware, still, at peace. This is where we get truly that fear is not us.

Fear dissolves. It just goes. It’s ephemeral, something that passes, along with all those negative thoughts. We are so much more than all that stuff.

So, know the space beyond fear.

Now is really an important time to meditate, and practice being mindful.

For further practice

I’ve put some links up for those of you who want to practice using meditation. There a practice meditation session, a meditation using the breath, one using a mantra and finally one using body awareness.

 

Being the watcher of your self

So much of the time, we’re busy, hectic, rushing, no time for anything, madly dashing to get somewhere, moving on to the next thing, busy, busy, busy. So, this time, as you are about to plunge into your next day or moment of busyness, just pause a moment and give yourself, your self, some space.

Just pause, breathe deeply, let go, and be aware. And rest in that awareness a few moments. Take it in, within you.

We’re often so busy that we don’t have the mental space to pause and just be aware of our selves. It’s habitual, this busyness, particularly the mental bit.

It can that when we pause like this, we get to see what’s really going on, including what we’re doing and thinking that isn’t serving us. This is the beauty of self awareness.

One use of meditation is that it can act like a microcosm of our lives. When we meditate, we potentially get to see what we do in life, and see what our minds do. This is one reason why it is such an excellent self-development tool. So, to pause and meditate a bit, you can detach from your busyness and just observe it.

It is said that meditation is what happens when people sit with the intention to meditate. All our ways of being can be present and we can get to see all our patterns. For example we expect meditation to be a certain way and get disappointed when it doesn’t work out that way. A bit like life.

Being the watcher of your mind, as the witness

Most people comment that they keep getting all these thoughts. So, what can you do when you get these thoughts? Well, there is the practice of attending to the breath as a focus, or using a mantra, which is a sacred phrase or vibration. However, another very useful technique is to be the watcher of your thoughts, as the silent witness. You sit and observe your thoughts, in a non-judgemental way. You just notice them, while attending to your breathing. You don’t try to resist the thoughts, or get involved in the thinking, but just notice them. They say that a watched mind becomes still.

The part of us that watches the mind, the self aware part, we call the “witness”.

The witness is not an inner critic, which is another part of the ego. It is a still, silent, mindful, non-judgemental, observing state, an awareness. It has a great inner peace about it.

You just allow yourself to be the witness.

You can apply the technique in the rest of your life. Just notice what you’re doing, being aware of it, rather than let’s say caught up in a pattern that doesn’t serve you. This way you carry your calm state with you as you go about your life. When you find yourself caught up again in mental busyness, remember the witness, breathe and allow yourself to just notice. Witness it

Lack of empathy and social awareness can be very damaging

You’re having a row with your partner. In the midst of the fury, they scream at you, “you’re not hearing me!” You might carry on with self-justified, self-righteous anger, and then you might pause and think, for a moment, “what have I missed here?” You might just have saved your relationship. Been there? What cost lack of empathy in relationships?

It will be all right
It will be all right

Empathy, put simply, is the ability to be aware of and sensitive to another person’s perspective. It can be an emotional sensitivity, in which one senses another’s feelings, or it can be a cognitive or thought-based process where one seeks to grasp another position than one’s own. Sadly, this ability is lacking for most people, but it can be developed. Lacking empathy can have damaging consequences in certain situations.

As many in the “people business” will testify, empathy is surprisingly low in the general population. Research has shown that only about 20% of the population are genetically predisposed to empathy. Those who in their work are involved in managing and developing others, or where what they do requires a good level of awareness and sensitivity to others, know that empathy needs to worked on to enhance performance. Those in relationship may also report that their partner lacks a certain sensitivity and understanding towards them and an appreciation, for example, of their needs. In fact it can be a complete blind area for certain people, with potentially unfortunate results.

An example might be where a customer makes a complaint but the customer service person responds by being defensive and self-justifying rather than getting where the customer might be coming from, what their problem really is and thus being better able to identify what isn’t right, fix it and thus retain customer satisfaction. Often a shift is needed, away from our own perpective and into trying to understand and respond to another’s perspective.

We might think we are a particular person with a particular style but we may be very unaware of how others experience us and the impact we have. As many at work will testify, managers with low Emotional Intelligence (EI) will be sources of stress and work anxiety. They will struggle with building effective relationships and are more likely to adopt poor management techniques which might deliver results but at a social cost. A classic way this shows up is the difficulty they may have with performance management and developing others, a crucial area in organisations today. Thus developmental discussions could be in danger of being instructional and one-way if empathy is low. A manager might fail to pick up on signals, not tune into a potential difficulty, not understand how and why someone might be having difficulty, not respond suitably to requests for help, struggle to understand another’s perspective, not utilise to best effect another’s views and contribution, etc. Today’s world of work actually needs strong collaboration, interactivity and mutual support. Low EI can be very counter-productive in this aspect.

This lack of empathy and social awareness blind spot can be very damaging and while the manager might deliver, he or she might do that at a social cost, in low engagement, high stress and high turnover in talent.

Equally outside work, a lack of empathy and social awareness can limit one’s ability to attend to and respond to the needs of others, such as in relationships, and people can feel undervalued and unappreciated and not taken sufficiently account of. It’s a common reason for people to leave their partners. Also children who grow up without sufficient attention and responsiveness from a parent may then lack this crucial skill as adult, and also potentially feel that no one was there for them as children. This can then get passed on to their children in turn.

As I suggested above, it is possible to turn this around. People can be taught empathy, and build the necessary self awareness that goes with it. They can learn how to tune into others and get where they are coming from. They can learn to build better relationships with others, and thus have their work and their lives be vastly more fulfilling in consequence. And the impact on others can be of incalculable value too.

Where the mind goes, the energy flows

The mind is powerfully creative, even when we’re thinking negatively. What we focus on is more likely to happen, even those things we don’t want. Understanding the power of the mind has great potential, not only to help bring about the things we want but also to make less likely the things we don’t want. We simply need to be aware of what we’re giving attention to, and make sure that that is being done with positive intent.

On one occasion I was delivering some workshops in London, which involved a short tube journey from my accommodation to the venue. The last morning I came downstairs for breakfast at the agreed time to find that the breakfast room was in darkness, with the shutters closed and nothing laid out. I waited some minutes and noticed my agitation rising. “This will delay me”, I thought. Eventually I went and called up the people in charge and got my breakfast.

Then, when I got to the tube station, the train was delayed. Again I noticed my state of mind and this time found I was thinking that the longer I waited the more the station would fill up, the more crowded the train would be and somehow the later I would get to my destination. Eventually I got a train on another route and then found myself thinking the change I’d need to make would lead to more crowded trains, more delays, and so on.

At some point in this internal dialogue I began to get a grip. “Stop!”, I told myself. “You’re too focused on delays. Stop this! (Deep breath in, breathe out, and let go) My train will have plenty of room, there is plenty of time and I will get there in time. I am flowing calmly, easily and effortlessly through the mass of people”. And so it was, even to getting there 10 minutes earlier than before!

This process is one I am familiar with. I find that what I think comes about, provided my intention is clear, I sustain the intention, and my on-going thoughts are supportive of that intention. And provided that I let go of being attached to it happening, eg. letting go of worrying that it won’t happen. If, by contrast I get embroiled in some negative self-talk, events follow in train with that internal conversation.

It’s not an easy process and requires will and effort to sustain. But training the mind has great benefits. What is crucial is to become aware, using self awareness, and stop the negative flow. Almost literally to drop them. Learning to drop them takes practice, as does re-framing the thoughts so as to fufill the desired outcome.

We have that power. Studies of the brain have shown that changing thought patterns lead to the old neural pathways withering away, while new ones become established in their place. The power of the mind is hugely creative.

So what do you find happens to your mind if you let it “do its own thing”? How easy do you find it to shift your thinking into something preferable? How do you feel about changing your thinking and letting a positive energy flow through your life?

Can you have engaged awareness in a world seemingly going crazy?

Is there a contradiction between being socially or politically engaged and personal growth and spirituality? Many traditions point to the evil of humankind’s ways and how we need to turn to “the truth”. Many encourage people to step aside from everyday life in order to do this. Can we have “engaged awareness”?

Laparade view over the Lot valley
Laparade view over the Lot valley

Yesterday my wife and I were on our terrace enjoying the view over the Lot valley in the evening sun, sipping an apéritif, absorbed in a discussion about the state of the world, and suddenly we became aware that we had hardly given the beauty of the view a real look. Our minds were elsewhere. A deep breath was needed!

Mindfulness teaches that such points of awareness are important, to pause, notice, breathe and be present with what is, to notice what our mind is doing, but not be “caught up” in the drama so that we lose our awareness of the bigger picture.

How might such awareness help the engaged?

Awareness and our demons

I would suggest that the distinction commonly made between “everyday life” and spirituality is a false one. Life is what happens every moment of every day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

We often refer to the “spiritual bypass”, how people get into some form of personal and spiritual development, adopt some belief system, or go to the mountain top, and can seem very deep and earnest in what they are doing or being. Yet, down inside, there’s a whole lot else going on. They might, for example, be angry people doing a great pretending they aren’t and are being very peaceful and at one. Until something pushes their deeper buttons and out comes some torrent of rage. The deeper unresolved stuff is still there, but denied. I think we’re seeing this right now in the world, big time!

Personal growth can often be the “journey” to identify and resolve these inner tensions, so that they no longer mess up one’s life. Awareness can be to know these different parts of ourselves and accept them. The more we know and learn to let go of them and return to a steady state, the more we acquire some degree of mastery. Being who we are is being who we are, warts and all.

Beware of the false heaven

There are those who make much of the serene heights of “enlightenment” as something only some people “attain” and others have to work at and have lots of these demons to deal with. Somehow only some are deemed worthy enough, have accumulated sufficient merit. It can be a version of the “elect”, those that somehow have it – but oh, no, you! You’ve got work to do! Humans like to make distinctions, to compare, and to put each other down, consciously or unconsciously, and there’s always some people who are deemed better than others.

Except they aren’t really: it’s another ego game, when we’re really all one anyway. Bit silly really!

So some will teach of a rarified heaven, but you’ve got to build up lots of credit to get there, and only certain people have the key. I’d like to say we all have the key. It’s whether we use it.

The world is what we make of it

Thus the world we live in can be presented in a bad way, and if you’re working in it, big trouble. “There’s so much evil!” This is very current at the moment, where there’s a lot of conflict and division. Countries are increasingly at odds with one another. Within countries, there’s an increasing sense, or so it seems, of conflict between different groups. In the West we have the rise of populism and “identity politics”. “Where you are from” seems a big issue. People are hateful towards people of a different ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or religion, or whatever. In Britain there’s a big urge to pull up the drawbridge and pull away from our European neighbours. It’s about “us versus them”. So much anger and hate.

How does the aware person live with this? Even more, from my personal perspective, be engaged in seeking to combat this loss of respect for one another, this separateness, disunity, hate and division.

Again my response is that to make a dichotomy between the way the world is and our personal and spiritual goals, however we define the latter, is to make a false dichotomy.

Dealing with the enraged Brexiter is as much spiritual as it is being at one with the view of the River Lot in beautiful South-West France. “See God in each other”. The world is what we make of it. We are responsible. We have choice. And we can choose to hold to our deeper awareness and be engaged in the world

In fact, I would suggest that we can make a better contribution to others, to humankind and the world we live in, in crisis though it is at the moment, by being being present and aware and engaged.

It’s like to reach down inside to the love that’s really you, and then get out there and make a difference!

Healing conflict in ourselves and in the world is needed right now

These are undoubtedly very testing times for very many of us. Countries are beset by political conflict and division. People in the UK are about to be confronted by a very serious political crisis, but they are not alone. In other countries in Europe and America, there are also serious crises. So what does the concerned, consciously aware person do in such circumstances? Is there something that can be done around reducing or healing conflict?

You might feel yourself getting caught up in the conflict, taking sides, feeling angry about what is happening and indignant about certain actions. Or you might want to avoid it all, and try to pretend it isn’t happening, that is of course until perhaps the incoming tide washes at your shores too. I don’t find it easy myself, with all these feelings about Brexit. Yet, there are certain understandings and approaches that can be useful.

Being aware that you are caught up

Getting caught up is what the ego does. According to the understandings used in this blog, the ego is about survival and an identity construct is created to support that. “Who I think I am” is one who is, for example, fearful, and a defence against fear is to get angry. Often these are creations from childhood. As an example, you or I might be afraid of being left alone and abandoned, as a knee-jerk response from that time. So when it looks like there might be terrible upheaval and chaos, my fear might kick in, but masked as anger directed at some perceived “other”. But this is a false construct, my ego. It is not who I really am. I’m pure spirit and light and at essence love, part of the whole. My ego however fears separation from that essence of who I am and the fear of separation often lies at the core of ego.

What we are experiencing at the moment, in my view, is acute separation consciousness, manifesting as division from one another. Over Brexit, whole families and neighbourhoods are at odds with one another, very angry. New enmities are being created. Separation.

Use your awareness

The aware person at this point needs to pause, notice, step back and see, sense, feel, think. Enter your aware state and what we call witness consciousness. From that higher perspective, you need no longer be caught up in ego and separation. You can witness what is going on.

Others may not be doing this, of course, but that doesn’t mean they are not beings of light like you, even opponents. They just aren’t aware of it right now.

Letting go in this way, enables you firstly to release yourself from what’s going on. That doesn’t mean you won’t get caught up again, but you know who you really are, and you can come back to this state whenever you choose.

The key is to practice and to know that place more and more. Hold that inside. Meditate on it. That way it builds, and your confidence, your faith, will grow too.

Extend what you know to others as healing energy

Yet the aware person could do more than that, if he or she so chooses. Does not this world need healing right now? Could we not be standing, as the witness, for something higher than this conflict? People may not consciously listen, but it can help. People can pick up the subtlest of energetic shifts after all, at some level.

You might feel, for example, as I do, that now is the time to be really sending out healing, to be healing conflict.

There’s an excellent book by James Twyman called “Emissary of Light” that describes how a group of people came together in the midst of the Bosnian civil war to meditate and send out healing light. That was right in the middle of it, even when troops approached their building – and passed by not even seeing it!

These emissaries would sit everyday in a circle and meditate for 12 hours. Each would focus on sending energy to a person in the centre of the group who would then channel the energy out into the world. Every day while the conflict lasted. What service!

How to extend your energy – an activity

You could do this too, if you wanted to and were willing to commit to it, as a contribution to healing conflict. For example, you could sit and meditate, and while meditating, say in the last few minutes, do this:

Allow your awareness to focus on a happy memory. It might be a person, a place, a particular occasion or some other way of accessing inner joy. It might be your love, either for a person, animal or something else. Really be aware of that.

Now bring that joy or love to your heart centre or chakra. Very gently allow the energy to build in your heart centre. Really allow it to grow in your heart.

Then imagine there is a door in your heart that you can open to let out that energy to the world. So, when you are ready, just open that door and let out all that love and joy into the world and send it right out there to all beings who are suffering and in conflict. Do it without judgement and any feeling other than what is inside your heart centre. Send every last bit.

Then, when you have finished, bless the world in whichever way you might do that and then bring your meditation to a close.

You can access a download of this process as an mp3, for a limited time, here

What we wish for ourselves, we give to others

After all, don’t we also want healing, love and peace too? All we’re doing is giving to others what we also want for ourselves, healing conflict in ourselves. After all, we are all One.