Archive | Awareness

John Gloster-Smith writes about the power and potential of awareness, how lack of awarenss holds us back, and the exciting possbilities when one explores Awareness at deeper levels

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?

Being patient is not something many of us do very well

Being patient is not something people seem to do well. On the contrary, we pile on the pressure, push the boundaries and demand results, impatient to get what we want. It can be self-limiting since it sets up resistance in the universe and the more we push, the harder it gets. The cycle of impatience is resisted by others and within us too. There’s another self inside crying out for attention and not getting heard.

We’re all in a rush to get somewhere, get something done, short of time, too much going on, on a deadline, other people demanding something, feeling guilty for not delivering, afraid we’ll be late, can’t stop, must get on, sorry not now, I’m too busy. You can hear the excuses. Think about the person tailgating you in their car or walking down the street with someone breathing down your neck. Or you doing it to someone else. Why don’t they hurry up or get out of the way?! Breathing expletives under your breath, muttering curses to your environment.

It’s a lot of pressure that we put ourselves under, mainly at our own expense in the end, as our bodies suffer long-term from accumulated stress.

Patience by contrast means allowing things to be, giving things time, waiting knowing all will be well, being present rather than in the future. It includes acceptance or tolerance. We don’t get into negative emotions like irritation, annoyance, or anger, nor be anxious or worry. It’s not an impatience being held at bay, since that’s an inauthenticity because the real underlying sense is impatience. It involves letting go of negativity and any thoughts that cut across patience.

It’s counter-cultural since so much of current society is bound up in multiple requirements done at speed and in being driven to achieve, which many people place as virtues.

Mindfulness practice involves being patient. Acceptance and allowing are central. If we are to let go of incessant thinking and be present, and if we are to make contact with inner stillness of being, we have to find a way to let go of impatience. We need to give ourselves time for the practice. Allowing things to be enables us to gently explore within. We become more able to make contact with our subtle experiencing, and very slowly and gradually this subtle level of being opens up to us.

Placing pressures on ourselves undermines that. Being still caught up in stuff and feeling the anger or fear of all that pressure cuts right across the subtlety of being, and drives away all the accumulated merit of the practice.

Someone who knows patience is unattached to what happens. They are able to let go and be. They can thus experience the joy of being.

Living like we do in our society we lose the real joy of life. Thus do we suffer.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We can just be, if we choose.

I give coaching to help people manage stress and learn and practice mindfulness. To contact me, click here.

We get unhealthily attached to wanting

I posted recently that we can get unhealthily attached to desire, especially where we feel something is lacking or missing or that we expect something from another. One difficulty with being attached to desire and wanting is that there’s no room for being, for acceptance of what is. We’re not at peace.

Our society is organised around desire. We want more, bigger, better. What we have isn’t enough. We want a new car, house, possessions, material goods, holidays and other things that for a short while fulfill our need, until we’re back on the hook with something else. In coaching, when I ask people what they want from life it is usually materially described. We don’t see that we’re caught in a cycle of desire, hoodwinked into feeling we’ll feel good this way.

You can’t take your possessions to heaven. They don’t such things there. When you die, what you’ve accumulated materially gets left behind, carved up amongst your heirs if they’re lucky. Then you become just like the next person. I was telling a successful businessman recently that he couldn’t take his business empire with him. We even talked about how he could conduct his conversation with St Peter at the Pearly Gates, or whatever your belief system, and when he asks what you’ve done with your life, you might say you’ve made a lot of money. St Peter (or whoever) might then ask what you will do with that now.

It can be quite sobering for people who have striven all these years to realise that what they’ve achieved is of no use going forward. This is something many a redundant employee realises when nobody will employ him or her. What was the point?

We want a relationship too. We most of us want someone else in our lives. Love is what it’s all about. At the higher level, that is true, but not at the level we humans frame it. We don’t like being alone. Many of us fear it. So we want another, to fill the gap inside. We want company. We want sex. We want what comes from coupledom. One of the biggest contributors to happiness is relationship, so Positive Psychology tells us. So there’s merit in seeking a good relationship and staying with it. Except that’s not what happens for many people, for example when they seek it to fill a deficit need, because we then don’t get satisfied through relationship. What happens when we lose our partner, or don’t get one in the first place? What happens when our partner doesn’t show up for us in the way we want? What happens when they don’t meet our needs, or we’re too heavily invested in trying to meet their needs? Yet, relationship is a great way to find the Oneness of Life, if we choose to look there.

At one level, desire is a natural part of us. We do have needs to fulfill, as Maslow pointed out, like security, food, shelter, love and fulfillment. Yet at another level we get unhealthily attached to it and allow it to drive us. Thus we don’t experience peace and stillness. It gets in the way of being in the moment and at One with life, as the meditator will know. Go within, be still and focus on your breath, and then very often you’ll find your mind is off on some desire-related thought. It is the great interrupter of inner peace. This is one reason why mindfulness teaches acceptance of what is.

Desire and want can be barriers to happiness

Desire and want are riven through so much of our thought, speech and action. Listen to someone speak and you will hear quite quickly an expression of need, sometimes negatively and sometimes positively. It’s ingrained in our consciousness but perhaps unsurprisingly it also flags up an aspect of our way of being that doesn’t necessarily always serve us. In fact they can make us miserable.

In coaching, for example, it is often a very effective question to ask, “What do you want?” It can invite someone who is feeling unclear to explore their desires and can bring out what is really motivating them and the statements and actions that they most need to make. Knowing what you want is very useful. You’ve probably got a clearer idea where you are going and what you want to accomplish. You know what to ask for. It helps in communication since it invites honesty and directness. “Tell it straight” is a powerful communication enhancer, if a bit challenging for the less direct amongst us, especially if done without attitude. Then people know where they stand and can respond appropriately. Organisations are often structured arrangements for the meeting of needs, such as the requirements of stakeholders, customers, managers and so on.

Yet desire and want are also about what is missing, about lack. Stating a want can also be a statement that you don’t have which can draw more lack to you, for those familiar with this way of thinking. It’s not surprising. Humanity has such a massive history of hunger, poverty and deprivation and so it’s in the blueprint. Deficit need is a well-known aspect of psychological difficulty for many of us, the unmet need for, for example, love and affection. Our consumer society is geared to the repeated desire for and satisfaction of material need, usually then replaced by some other need.

Not surprisingly too, Eastern spiritual traditions caution against attachment to desire. One great interrupter of spiritual practice is some thought process related to desire and wanting. Those who meditate regularly will know this all too well. In the midst of some gradual deepening of inner calm can come thoughts like “I need to put the oven on,” “My partner wants me to do something for him/her,” “I’m supposed to be leaving the house in half an hour,” “I want some more money,” “I wish she/he would appreciate me more.” Yes, it’s just about anything. However, the persistent ones will be about an ongoing or regular issue that occurs in our life.

It’s worth noticing what these desire-related issues are that keep cropping up. Then we know what we’re dealing with. Then we can also know more accurately what to “name” from a mindfulness perspective, and let go of. We can notice when they are hovering around in the background. We can tell when we’re feeling some hurt of upset what’s got triggered and what it is that is really nagging away at us.

Then remember. It’s not who we are, and let go, breathe, be still. We are so much more than our desires.

Desire is the great interrupter of evenness and equipoise, of inner stillness and contentment. Thus the ability to distinguish when desire is present and is an aspect that doesn’t serve us is very important.

I give coaching to help people accomplish what they want and also let go of unhealthy or self-defeating desire. To learn more, click here.

Our harshest judge is our inner critic

People will often admit that their harshest critics are themselves. It’s like there’s a voice inside telling them what they should or should not be doing, and telling them off for their perceived failings. It’s like there’s a constant guilt trip at work, pulling us back, putting us in order, keeping us on the straight and narrow, correcting our misdeeds as we see them, and pointing out when we’re not coming up to scratch. It can be hard work livinng with our inner critic.

A lot of our inner critic comes from our upbringing. Some people even say they can hear their mother or father speaking to them. Of course our parents meant the best for us and did the best they could based on what they knew. Yet we learned these things before we were old enough to reason and question, and often blindly took on board what we were told. Then these became internalised and our own standards for behaviour.

Shoulds, oughts and musts

Hence we use words like “should”, “ought”, “must”, or “have to”, what are called introjects, internalised rules for behaviour, by which we judge ourselves. It’s like it’s compulsive, like we have no choice. We may also speak in terms of whether something is “right” or “wrong”, often using what we think are generally accepted rules without necessarily asking whether they are quite simply our own. If we aren’t following these rules we may feel guilty, like we’re potentially going to get into trouble, even though rationally we know this is impossible. So we judge ourselves.

I’ve known people spend some free time out somewhere but have not been able to really relax and enjoy themselves because they felt guilty and that they “should” be working. As a teacher I used for ages to feel guilty that I was not doing “enough” to contribute to school activities even though I was already working all God’s hours. It was as though I could feel my headmaster over my shoulder looking in disapproval. How often do you feel you have your boss or other allegedly superior person (even at the top of the business!) somehow in the background in your mind watching what you do. We don’t need to create Big Brother. We already have him in our minds! People will for ages feel they have failed in some way, even though others may think they are successful, because they didn’t come up to their own standards, however well they did. It wasn’t “good enough”.

Not good enough

Can you imagine the inner parent saying this to the small child? “That’s not good enough!” The understanding of not being “good enough” is one of the most powerful self limiting beliefs I think one can have, very common and very constraining.

In practicing mindfulness or self awareness it can be useful to catch ourselves using such words and then asking ourselves whether we still want to judge ourselves in this way. “Does this serve me?” Fritz Perls used to speak of dealing with introjection as being about “chewing over” what we previously did unquestioningly and then choosing based on a more developed sense of our needs and who we now believe ourselves to be. He believed that it was as toddlers that we learned this stuff and didn’t get to orally-speaking chew over it fully and decide whether to swallow it as it was or spit it out.

Instead we choose our own values and principles for what we do, and go out and live according to those principles, and fulfill ourselves and feel contented according to who we really are and what we choose to express in the world. In the end, who we are is OK just as we are. Amen.

I coach people to deal with their inner critic and choose new paths in life. To learn more, click here

Do you allow the opinion of others to affect what you feel and do?

How much does the opinion of others impact what you think, say and do? Many people say to me that one of their greatest fears is of not being thought well of by others. The role of judgement plays a huge part in our lives, more than we’d perhaps care to admit. Yet, it is just worth bearing in mind that it is just that, a judgement.

Consider the role that judgement plays in our lives. For starters there is religion which in an increasingly secular world still plays a huge part, and much religion is about judgement at some level, usually about those struggling to fully practice what the religion preaches. Many of us will, if we’re honest, still feel inside that there’s some higher being watching us and passing judgement on our thoughts, words and actions. So it rubs off.

Judgement has also powerfully influenced the development of secularism, despite the latter’s protestations. There’s also legal systems and law enforcement. In my book, “Connecting to Inner Peace”, I explain how judgement works, and you might like to think about such things related to it like suspicion, investigation, accusation, defence, exoneration, confession, evidence of guilt or innocence, the verdict, guilt again, the judgement itself, the sentence, punishment, guilt and shame, repentance, admission of weakness, examination of one’s failings, purging, forgiveness, release. Have I left anything out? It’s a big list! And we carry all this around inside us as a means by which we regulate our lives.

It can feel like someone else is regulating our lives, were it not that we are also doing this to ourselves, if we look at this psychologically. What a lot to deal with!

A lot of this can sound part of a system or someone inside us, but let’s not forget that this is also the product of our society and our upbringing, the social consensus. We’re communicating this stuff to each other all the time. We judge each other seemingly all the time. No wonder people can be anxious about what others think.

Except that often they don’t. They are too busy thinking about themselves!

No wonder we need to be aware of the role of judgement in our lives

The practice of mindfulness gives a big emphasis to being non-judgemental about our experience. Rather it encourages us to accept what occurs as phenomena and to rest as the witness, the non-judgemental observer. People development practitioners of various hues will, if their own development has included this, also stress the value of this approach since it frees the client up to explore their own beliefs, attitudes, values and approaches without, it is to be hoped, any sense of interference from the stance of the practitioner.

Carl Rogers said that for healing to take place three core conditions were necessary, congruence, empathy, and respect. They sound good, but they are a challenge to practice and yet still a lesson for life and relationship with others, not just for certain professionals.

Many of us still struggle hugely to respect others, be ourselves, and accept others for who they are too. Instead we invest our energies in making others wrong and then punish them at some level. We seem so unable to accept, live and let be.

Yet to heal the world we need to start with ourselves. “First cast out the beam in your own eye”, said Christ.

Use mindfulness to drop negative feelings

It might seem the holy grail to many of us, the ability to drop negative feelings at will. Believe it or not but it can be done, although for many of us too it can be after some effort, and not always healthily. Mindfulness offers a very healthy alternative and the benefit comes with knowledge and practice.

Do you find that negative feelings can hang around for ages, like you’re hooked on them? We can struggle to let go of anger, upset or sadness. They can pollute our life and interrupt our enjoyment. They can affect the choices we make and even the directions we take. They can get locked into patterns, becoming knee-jerk responses to things that occur.

If we do make an effort to deal with them, it can have the effect of suppression, and can still remain in our body and cause sickness and muscle tension. It can leak out sideways later, causing us and others surprise. It can get projected on to others, so that it seems like others have what we seek to deny. It can erupt later, causing far more collateral damage. One example I often see is where people start laughing for it to shift to crying, the tears being in the background or underground. We can of course totally deny our feelings and become disconnected from vital aspects of life, as many do.

With a mindfulness approach, there is still an effort of will needed, but it has a very healthy result. What we do is learn with knowledge and practice to be the witness of such experiences and to gently and non-judgementally feel the feeling while letting go of the thoughts. There are techniques one can use to heal negative feelings, and their associated thoughts. By being mindful we are not caught up in the cycle of thought and feeling, but the witness or observer of them. We learn to approach such “negativity”, and now I use inverted commas, with loving kindness, respect, compassion, gentleness, non-judgementally and with acceptance. Thus the very word “negative”, which can suggest a value judgement, becomes a phenomenon to observe, to be aware of, but not caught up in.

Thus we can learn to dissolve the feeling and experience peace.

The practice of mindfulness, used with knowledge and understanding, teaches us to step back from such phenomena and be aware of them. They are not who we are. Therein lies great freedom.

You can learn more about this transformative ability on our programs, starting with our one-day event on 8 March 2014 and developed in much more detail and taken further on our retreat in southern France on 21-28 June 2014.

Letting go can be the hardest thing to do

Do you find you get so caught up in something that you don’t see that what you really need to do is let go? We can get so attached to something that hanging on to the direction we’re taking seems the only option and we thus lack choices about alternatives. Letting go of “it” can seem a weakness, giving up.

It can seem obvious to an outsider but to us in the middle of “it”, whatever that is, “it” is all that matters. You want something to happen but “it” won’t oblige! The frustration builds up and we work all the harder to try to make “it” happen, with a resulting log-jam in the universal delivery service. So, what’s to be done, if anything?

For those of us caught in today’s rat-race, trying to bring in the cash, trying to square all sorts of competing demands on our time, trying to stay on course, we get locked into a way of thinking and thus deprive ourselves of the ability to see the bigger picture. For some it’s not till they get sick or some other event happens that compels them to pause and assess what’s going on.

With mindfulness, what happens is that we step back from the content of our lives, bring our minds away from what we’re caught up in, or whatever our mind is doing, come into the moment and can see what’s going on. Being able to take this perspective means we can see what is happening while it’s happening. You learn to witness yourself in action. You learn that these thoughts are not who you are. This awareness is just a breath away.

To let go is part of the process. Once you take your awareness away from being caught up in “it”, you let go. With this approach we are also non-judgemental and accepting. Thus it gives us freedom. So when we let go, we allow all sorts of possibilities to be present, we “allow” the universe to do what is needed, which could be what you really want – except that you are no longer driven by it, attached to it, and equally you are open to other possibilities. It’s a paradox. To get what you want you have to let go of it.

If there’s an ounce (or gram!) of attachment, then it doesn’t work. You need to find a way to totally let go. Then the log-jam can clear and things can flow again. When we are caught up, we can’t see this, or don’t want to.

So, have a think: what are you at this moment attached to that you need to let go of? Often this is uncomfortable, because what we don’t include in this are the very things we need to let go of most. So your list would need to include your strongest attachments. And in your struggle over this, you can use mindfulness to witness the part of you that is attached and see what that might be about too.

This is where peace lies.

We are running a series of mindfulness courses this year to train people in this vital ability. To learn more, click here

Being mindful of what you are thinking feeling and sensing

I’ve recently been preparing a new mindfulness course and in the process reflecting on what for me was one of the most invaluable things I learned from mindfulness many years ago, that of what is called metacognition. This is where your mind is aware that you are thinking, feeling and sensing as it is happening. For me, this experience of being mindful, once I had learned how to practice it, was truly transformative.

At the time I knew it as “witnessing”, since my training had also been with people versed in certain traditions that integrated Eastern mysticism with Western Transpersonal Psychology. There the Witness was also Atman, the Self. However, you don’t have to be associated with any particular tradition to use this approach. Once you become more fully conversant with the witness state, you then start to discover much more profound states of being.

However, for secular mindfulness training, being the observer or witness is in itself hugely liberating. For starters it enabled me to see much more clearly into what was happening for me. It enabled me to then exercise more choice, and wiser choices, than before. It links very well with what many people call Self Awareness, the core competency of Emotional Intelligence. It has not only proved immensely useful in terms of identifying the underlying causes of my own less beneficial behaviours but also served very well in enabling me to work as a coach and group facilitator. In the latter, I trained in Gestalt and in that tradition you need to be very aware of your own process and put it on one side (the rule of epoché) to be as present and as fully aware as you can be with another. This training also involved learning to “centre” yourself, to be fully present and aware and in your body, still and focused. It was all very empowering, and there is too that sense of gaining in inner power.

Core to all this work was however the practice of meditation. When I started meditating it was in the mindfulness tradition and I used it very effectively to manage and reduce my stress as a teacher, along with doing a body scan, relaxation, yoga and exercise. Meditation really is at its most effective when practiced daily, and initially I meditated for 20 minutes in the early morning and 20 minutes after work. Only later did I get up early each morning and meditate for 45 minutes or more. It is in itself a mindfulness practice, where you can use the breath as a focus and learn to take your attention away from your thoughts and back to your breath, or a mantra. The continued practice of this is fabulous for training the mind to let go of thoughts and to direct attention to what is more fruitful. With practice too, the focus of the breath or the mantra fades and you can get to experience deeper awarenesses of being. In meditation can lie the whole practice of mindfulness, which you can practice not just in the meditation but in life as a whole.

If you want to learn for yourself how to use these techniques and to take control of your life, click here.

Getting to know the different parts of ourselves can be healing

You might think that the good person whom you like to think you are is always perfectly nice and reasonable, pleasant to be around, positive, calm and agreeable, and that that’s what others want. Then you might also want to throw your toys out of the pram, have a tantrum and be perfectly obnoxious. These different parts of ourselves can feel uncomfortable to be around. For example you may know you can’t be like that, having tantrums, quite simply for various reasons of a social kind, like that’s not what one does, others don’t like it – and they certainly won’t like us – and we might not get what we want. But then again you might get home and out it comes in yelling at the kids or at your partner or at the dog. What’s this “other side” of us? I mean, are we really like this, and might we really be nasty people trying not to be? Well, who are we?

Being a nice person of course is a very effective strategy for getting what you want. In ego terms it is a survival strategy. Not everybody does it. Some just get what they want by being beastly. Period. Not that people I work with necessarily see it like that. They may want to be “nice” (such an English term, folks!) and they may want others to be the same. They may be fearful of others being beastly and so being nice helps to prevent that. Then again they may simply want peace and calm (who doesn’t?!) and this strategy seems to do it for them, well most of the time, or they’d like it that way. But people aren’t all like that. Bother.

There’s another factor: ourselves. There’s what Jung called the Shadow, the  disowned part of us that we’re not comfortable with and that we project on to others. Somehow we learned early on that being beastly wasn’t OK so we suppressed it, made it “not me”, and instead we experience it in others. That’s how projection works. It seems to be others who are like that, and we don’t see that we have a bit of that quality within us too. Uncomfortable realisation.

Effective personal growth work can involve getting to know that part of us, and not disowning it but rather learning to find a non-toxic way of integrating it into our lives. It often has something to teach us. The paradox is so often that when we own our different “sides”, we start to become more “whole”, authentic and real. For example, some learn to stand up for themselves a lot more, and find shouting for example and being unreasonable releases pent up rage, and lets go of rules they grew up with that don’t serve them, so that this underlying energy dissipates (I did say, in a non-toxic way, please bear in mind). Then people buy us a lot more, trust us more and actually feel more comfortable with us. Comfortable outcome.

So the bit of us that wants to throw the toys out of the pram is invaluable. Paradoxically too, for some of us that way can lie peace.

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