Archive | Meaning and purpose

Do you love to be in nature away from other people?

Is there a part of you that prefers to be in nature, away amongst mountains, by the sea or in the countryside, where there aren’t any people and you have to yourself the splendour of nature? Do you get times when you want to get away from the stresses and strains of dealing with your fellow humans and the crowded cities? Just recently someone was telling how she comes into her own when in nature, in the silence and stillness of remote mountains and their vast and massive rocky majesty. I thought, “me too!”

Your special place, if that is what it is, is very important. My correspondent was saying that for her there was this raw force of nature that was powerful, moving and brought out her passion and creativity. For me, there is a sense of Oneness, like I am connected to what I behold, as a part of me. Many have written of how they are moved by nature; in fact it helped spawn a whole artistic and cultural movement, Romanticism. For Wordsworth it was also a spiritual experience, beyond the material. It touches your soul.

There’s also this feeling that people and nature are somehow separate. It’s as though we can only be who we are in the depths of silence and stillness, as one can also find in meditation. Of course it is us having this experience and we are people! Yet for those of us who feel like this, we feel that we have somehow to get away from other people for this to work. Hence so many go off to live in isolated settings, being the hermit or in retreats, or having a house out on its own.

If you have this yearning, then try it, and see what happens after a while. For some it works. Others can find that all sorts of stuff comes up for them. One person told me how suddenly he felt acutely lonely and longed to be back with his wife. The aloneness was scary.

However, the other side of aloneness is at-Oneness. It’s perhaps where you put your focus. It might also be your understanding. It can be also be where you go when in silence and alone. There’s the whole thing about how you manage your state, and connect with your Self within.

Then, when you go back, if you do, to be with others, you might resist it. Then again you might feel refreshed and more ready to face what comes. It is worth reflecting that there too is Oneness. In the middle of a busy street, crowded with people, there too is God, or however you conceive of an underlying Presence of Being. When we resist our connection with others, and keep ourselves away, we keep ourselves separate, and can potentially therefore prevent ourselves from connection once more. It’s harder to do, of course, since this connection with others so often brings up our stuff. Yet there can lie our real challenge and our real opportunity.

I coach people to develop their real purpose, direction and life goals. To contact me click here.

What gives me meaning and purpose is an important issue to address

What gives me meaning and purpose? I meet many who ask this and feel dissatisfied with what currently seems to be in their life or sense there’s something missing. Not everybody has this as a driver in their lives, but it is a significant factor.The absense of meaning can be a big cause of frustration and discontent.

Humans, it is said, are meaning-making beings. We make interpretations, we fit things into a scheme, we connect things to our beliefs and values, we link what happens to our likes and preferences, we look to get value from what we do, and in other ways make sense of what happens for us. For some of us a sense of meaning might be religious or spiritual. For others it might be doing something for our fellow humans. Others might want to be achieving something of value or what sits well with their values.

Many I work with have reached a point in their lives where what they’ve been doing is no longer “enough” and they want to “put something back”. Some find they have achieved a lot in their careers and but now they want something more “meaningful”. There might also be a young person who is inspired by making a difference and wants his or her life to be one about meaning, rather than say money, status or material possessions. Or some event has occurred that has led them to question the value of what they do, who they are and where they are going.

The classic way of looking at this is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, where he describes his experiences as a labour inmate of Auschwitz and what distinguished those who survived as opposed to those that died in the final winter before liberation. He considered that those that lived, despite the terrible privations, were those that continued to make meaning, “the hopelessness of our struggle,” he wrote, “does not detract from its dignity and its meaning…(his purpose was) to find a full meaning in our life, then and there, in that hut and in that practically hopeless situation.” Each needed to take personal responsibility to find that meaning for themselves.

For those for whom this is an important driver in their lives the question is no small matter. For such people, it inspires and motivates them. It illuminates their lives and enriches them. They feel the absence of it strongly. Knowing your purpose is uplifting. It sustains you even when things are difficult and challenging. When distracted, it serves to bring you back to focus on what matters. It is therefore an important area to explore, and it’s never to late to do it.

I give coaching to help people clarify their mission, vision, and purpose and get the meaning they want from their lives. To read more about my coaching, click here.

New start or same old stuff and not moving forward?

Are you looking forward to a new start with eager anticipation, or do you find you’re quickly back where you were, with the same old stuff going on and you’re no further forward? It can be a hard one, as everybody else can seem all fired up and we aren’t. Who likes to be a party pooper? And so we suffer in silence.

This can be a seasonal thing for many of us,  like a new year supposedly brings new hopes and yet we can still feel we’ve got the same problems. It’s even like positive thinking is for others and not for us. Thus times like January can be the graveyard of many hopes and aspirations as we get deterred by the obstacles that were already there before.

There’s short-term remedies, a new exercise routines, distractions and diversions, entertainment, getting out and seeing people, booking another holiday, reading a self-help book…the suggestions can be endless – and in themselves can be useful. But is it enough?

One question can hover in the background, what real underlying issue are you not addressing?

You might just no longer be grabbed by that job of yours. You just cannot get along with that boss you’re now stuck with. Your relationship has brief revivals, but you wonder how long you can keep going with the same person when there’s an unpleasant truth you don’t want to have to face. You yourself have been getting increasingly negative about life, other people and even yourself, and your partner is getting fed up with it – or you’re beginning to ask whether the real problem is you. Life is passing you by and you wonder when you’re finally going to get up and grab it and say that it’s time you had your turn now. You’ve passed some major milestone in your life, and you are asking, “Is this it?”

You might have some prevailing pattern going on, which you seem stuck in. It might be a cycle, that you keep going back to, and “it” isn’t getting fixed. You might know what “it” is, but until now haven’t plucked up the courage to address it.

When people do finally decide to make the move, and address the underlying issue, it can be the real change that changes everything. And that change might simply be the decision to do something, something real, tangible, and yet life changing. This sort of choice is an act of will. “I am now going to do something about this”. It has the quality of no going back. There is only forward.

When people really make these kinds of moves, they can be transformative, although they don’t seem it at the time. There is however a crucial element of hope. And it has the power of intention with it. You will now move forward.

And then go and get that real, solid help that will support you in fulfilling that intention.

Like come and get some coaching, that addresses these underlying goals and supports you in taking action towards meeting them. Then you can really change your life.

To talk to me about how my coaching might help, contact me here.

Do you view adversity as a failure and not as a learning?

People can experience setbacks and adversity as failure and then compare themselves negatively with “successful people”. They can therefore miss the learnings and the benefits to them of the setbacks and hardships they encounter. It is often said that the successful entrepreneur is viewed from the perspective of their success story, not the reversals and financial disasters along the way. Someone whose has had a serious accident or illness and had to give on their dream in consequence may look back with regret, but not necessarily see what they’ve gained from their life so far. Yet there are those too who recover from the setback and build something new, maybe more satisfying to them than the old.

This is where we can get attached to a particular view of life that for it to be working out OK everything has to go according to plan and we must be achieving our goals. Then when those goals get frustrated or they don’t work out as we thought they would, somehow we’re disillusioned, disappointed or frustrated. The danger then can be to slide into a state of negativity, view life henceforth pessimistically and expect poor outcomes.

This is about the perspective we take and the assumptions we make. What can get missed is that those very setbacks, as we see them, actually might contain important lessons. Maybe we were too attached to the goal. Maybe we were going about it in ways that were harmful. Maybe they weren’t actually the goals that would best serve our higher purpose. Maybe we needed adversity to teach us something about ourselves and about life. Maybe we needed more humility. Maybe we’d become too arrogant or selfish or inconsiderate of others. Maybe we were just too driven and needed to slow down. Maybe now we need to see the finer things in life, that might come for example in what happens every moment, and the ultimately really important things like how we love, the company we keep, our family, or whatever it actually is that we need for our fulfillment in life.

It might be that adversity teaches you or me surrender, letting go and acceptance of what is. As John Lennon famously wrote,  “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. We can miss what’s right in front of our eyes and in the moment. There’s an old saying that it’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. How you show up, moment by moment.

Adversity can strengthen us and help us gain greater understanding of ourselves and others. It can get us to reassess our values and bring us closer to what really matters for us.

It’s when we need to pause, breathe, let go and be in the moment. Is this what your life is really about?

I coach people on their direction and their goals. Click here

What do you regret?

It’s a useful question to ask, and many of us hit occasions when we do just that – on the last day of your life, what do you regret?

A palliative care nurse recently compiled a list of the top 5 things the dying stated they regretted. These might not surprise you:

1.    I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
2.    I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
3.    I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
4.    I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
5.    I wish that I had let myself be happier

You could check how much this list fits with your everyday concerns, and whether key ones in this list are not actually attended to by you on a day to day basis. In other words, what’s really missing?

The thing is we don’t come up with “I wish I had done that trip to some special part of the world, or had this or that experience, or made my fortune and retired happily ever after, or had this or that lifestyle”. It’s the really fundamental things, those that strike at the core of our being, who we are.

Where you feel the power of the emotion of that thought.

This is really key. Depending on what you believe, there are many traditions that say we go through some kind of life review at the end of our lives. This question brings us up face to face with what we’ve really been doing or not doing with our lives. And there can be something unfinished, incomplete, not resolved.

There may be an aspect to this that we may of course come to learn to accept. Letting go of regrets and forgiving others can be part of the journey of personal and spiritual growth.

However there are others that we may well have choice over in other ways. Yet we continue to plough our furrow and not deal with them. We deflect ourselves away from making contact with these fundamental things within us, and thus live life on the dimmer switch. We deny our own life force. It can be almost perverse.

Yet we do have choice. As humans we do have free will. Will you choose life?

So, here’s where you can make your choice. Use the up-coming workshop next Saturday to explore for yourself:

1.    How I might choose to starting living a life where I am true to myself
2.    How I might make changes in my work that meet my real life goals
3.    How I might be more authentic
4.    How I might be more connected to others
5.    How I might bring lasting happiness into my life

You can book here: click here.

Having a web detox to help you find what is really meaningful

As so many of us are habitually connected to the web, it might seem strange to suggest that we would benefit from internet/mobile “holidays” or detoxes. Just in case at this point you might be strongly tempted to click out, just pause on this as you might miss out on something important for your health and well-being.

Yes, I felt I had to write that last bit as that is exactly what people do, quickly move on from something that doesn’t have instant interest. Stickability, perseverence, seeing it through, isn’t a habit the net exactly encourages. Yet, this is how we’re, very many of us, living right now: fast, now, instant, mobile, flitting. It’s a norm, such that it doesn’t occur to question it. Yet there’s lots of evidence that it can actually disconnect some of us from others, since the contact is online rather than face-to-face, a very different experience psychologically, and faciliates a form of stress that we aren’t aware of until it has really got us: tense, twitchy, irritable, sleepless nights, etc.

Thus, a web detox is useful periodically just to get a sense of what it can mean to be “off-line”. On this matter it’s worth watching this video. The journalist concerned concluded by saying he couldn’t wait to get back online, so compulsive I would suggest is his addiction, although as a technology correspondent he might have difficulty with that perception.

The point about compulsiveness, addiction if you like, is that we aren’t aware we’ve got it. “It” just runs us. However, if you read between the lines of the accompanying article to the above-mentioned video, you’ll see that he gets time to play the piano, which he usually misses, and has more time for conversation.

When I first tried a web detox, I found I needed to really focus on relaxation. That was perhaps no surprise, given my kind of work, but what I was more struck by was feeling bored. Suddenly there were whole gaps in the day that I was accustomed to filling with the myriad data of the net, and all that online interaction.

Now boredom of course is healthy, potentially that is, as it presents one with a challenge as to how to change the experience into interest. Of course I could simply be in the moment, and be present and aware. This in itself is immensely rewarding, but might perplex very many people not used to doing that and unaware of the whole background conversation around awareness and mindfulness and how useful it is. Another might be to go and meditate, also hugely beneficial. However there was for me a bigger issue to address. What were the most meaningful aspects to my life that I miss out on through being hooked up so much of the time? Like the journalist it could be neglected interests of a non-web kind and of course that vastly missing part of today’s culture, human physical interaction.

It’s worth pausing and thinking about what personal relationship you are neglecting (What are the excuses? eg.”don’t have the time”). Then there is the whole relationship with life, people and engagement. What activities could you do, involving others, that you don’t do and leave you perhaps a bit isolated.

What if the internet was suddenly unavailable to you for an extended period? And what is your life really about? Here’s the really beneficial reflection: what are you doing with your life that gives you meaning? And what could you do about that?

At what cost do you violate your personal integrity?

What price one’s personal integrity? On the day that a UK MP and his wife are up for sentencing for lying (pun not intended: price…Pryce?!), it’s another of those times to reflect on what we mean by integrity and how important it is to us.

The immediate case in mind is that an MP and his wife lied about a driving offence, the MP, a former government minister, claiming it was his wife who was driving, only to be shopped later when his estranged wife, who subsequently claimed marital coercion, told the press it was a lie. It seems a terrible thing when one’s dishonesty and lack of integrity is so publicly exposed and one’s reputation so utterly ruined.

We might all experience some level of sharing in the shame experienced, such can be the reminder for ourselves. How much have each of us met times when we’ve been in a compromising or potentially compromising situation, where our beliefs clash with a choice for action that might contradict those beliefs? There’s the temptation: we could go for what we want, but then our conscience kicks in, that vital element of self-control, and we pause and then choose not to act. We’d be being dishonest with ourselves if we don’t acknowledge to ourselves that we experience these times. And some of us, perhaps many, go further and take the compromising action.

Maybe we some of us or many of us aren’t so constrained by moral scruple. There are of course those who are so pure, as traditional teaching would have it, that they are always guided by ethical principle. Whole belief systems and religions have been built round such thinking. Not for nothing do we have concepts like sin, judgement and punishment. Many of us can be so influenced by a sense of guilt, that we beat ourselves up even when we haven’t done anything!

If you look up “integrity” in the dictionary, it talks about both uprightness, sincerity and honesty but also consistency of belief and practice. So there’s the reminder there in the term of practicing what you preach. And as many a spiritual seeker has done, there is the “soul-searching”, where we examine our own motives and actions and see whether we match up by our actions to who we say we are.

It’s an incredibly important area. There’s the aspect of how we manage our own conduct, and the choices we make. Than there’s also the views others take of us. In the first, how truthful are we, and how consistent are we? In the second, do others find dishonesty and lack of consistency, and judge accordingly. So powerful is the concept of integrity, that we can find huge adverse publicity attending on our failure to lives up to not only our own but also social standards of integrity.

So, we will see how Messrs Huhne and Pryce fare under public scrutiny for their lapse of integrity. And we could all use this time to reflect on the degrees to which we measure up to our own integrity.

What keeps you going despite the odds

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away“.* What keeps you going? You might have all sorts of clever stuff, and make all sorts of efforts to look convincing to others, but what really lights you up and is your source of passion? What is your “rock of ages” that truly keeps you going and believing in yourself and putting your self out there or simply carrying on in your everyday world when the chips are down and nothing seems to be working out?

Those words from a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer went all over the internet a few years ago, and made a powerful and striking call for authenticity of being. We can put on a pretty show of being various things but what is the truth underlying that? When you are faced with adversity, that’s one time when you can really know it – or notice it’s missing.

It’s that resource within us that gently or urgently nudges or pushes us into our next step even when we are feeling down and feeling depressed and discouraged, dis-couraged. Some of us might have been down for a day or for an hour or two and we just get going again. For others the knocks go deeper and last longer and we can find it harder to pick ourselves up. So for some of us, our resources of resilience need to go a lot deeper.

I suspect many would say they don’t really know what it is that sustains them. Many would affirm some religious faith or a spiritual source. Others it’s pure survival. Some might say it’s their sense of purpose, like they have a goal. Some it might be their will and determination, despite the odds. No wonder so many of us watch films and read books about survival and how people turn their fortunes around. There’s been a fabulous program on TV about penguins and their breeding instinct and utter determination despite seemingly impossible odds: I thought they were excellent mirrors of humans! (Scroll down for the video). Many a parent will no doubt attest to their instinct for their protection and nourishment of their family. If you’re wondering about what sustains you, you might get something from watching this program if you can. I was tempted to wonder if love was truly something that stretches beyond simply humans and their nearest animal relatives.

However, there is something that will sustain us, but we each need to find it for ourselves. To write it in a blog won’t do justice to this enormously important question. However, there is something beyond pure instinct and for me it connects with trust and faith, which we learn from facing these experiences, really facing them, and seeing through the terrible illusion.

I have a program coming up that helps each participant explore their own source, beyond illusion. Click here.

I am also giving talks on the subject.

*From “The Invitation“, Oriah Mountain Dreamer (Toronto, 1995)

Are our values at odds with those around us?

It can often seem as though our own values are out of step with those around us. This could include a feeling that in the place where we work the senior managers don’t seem to think the same way, or the culture there isn’t what we ourselves might value. Then the community in which we live might not live quite according to our own ways. Or that the overall culture in which we live is somehow out of step with our own. I read in the news today for example of how a Muslim family felt compelled to move out of what seemed like a “nice” village due to racist attacks, and that the government are forcing through benefit changes that are going to bring about local tax increases for the poorest people of around 10%.

Is this what our society is becoming? However not is all as it seems.

I was fascinated to read recently that the UK has a “values dysfunction” that is higher than other countries in a study made of certain countries’ values. Very many people value things like meaningful relationships and integrity, holding values like “caring, family, honesty, humour and fun, friendship, fairness and compassion, as well as independence, respect and trust”. Yet they do not see their leaders as embodying those values, and national values are seen as being bureaucratic, corrupt, blame-oriented, conflict-prone, etc. It seems that the political elite is out of step with the population it seeks to govern, and that there’s a gap in accountability. Not new, you might think. And I wondered how much readers in other countries might actually think similar things of their own leadership today!

Richard Barrett, who is the driving force behind the study referred to above, says: “Our leaders need to show us the way. They need to become role models of values-driven leadership and they need to show us that they exercise care and compassion for the needs of the elderly and disadvantaged.”

So, when there appears to be a growing gap between different people in society as this recession continues, all is not as it seems. Rather, it might be argued, these values endure and that what we have at present is a crisis of fear. This is what can drive people apart and make knee-jerk responses that can be harmful for others and yet not actually reflect their underlying values. It is that mismatch that can be worth reflecting on, how much do we let our values be sidelined under pressure and allow out our inner demons instead.


To mean what you say and say what you mean

Honesty, sincerity and integrity are things many of us say we espouse, but how much do we do it in practice? It’s a useful test: do you mean what you say and say what you mean? So, you might ask yourself, “Do I show up? Am I who I say I am? Do I do what I say I will do?” No doubt many of us can think of people and situations where statements aren’t matched by actions.

Most often people immediately mention politicians or bosses past and present, and can readily itemise various betrayals. Think of the rousing meetings where your leaders and managers have told of all sorts of exciting things that are going to happen and how we will live according to inspiring values, and then the next day what you’re doing is closed down and you are wheeled in to be made redundant.These things leave a sour taste in the mouth. Then you think back to the boy or girlfriend with whom you were much in love and how you had that really romantic weekend togther, and then they announce they are seeing someone else and you’re dumped. Or when your wonderful father (or mother) walked out on the family and shattered a childhood illusion.

It’s not so comfortable when it gets closer to home and we think of our own inconsistencies. When do I find myself not standing by what I believe? Many of us have probably found ourselves backing down when faced by the realities or when compromising. Where it gets less easy is when we behave in ways that impact others adversely and that contradict what we said before. You might think for example of where a friend was having some trouble and you didn’t speak up for them or come to their aid or be a support. Or where someone has asked you for help and you’ve remained silent, not answered calls or emails and just been invisible. Or when you’ve been indirect and not spoken up and been truthful and said how things really are. Soaps’ plot lines are full of this. It’s worth thinking of all those people who aren’t open and honest and are devious. We know what it’s like to be on the receiving end, but it’s not so easy when it’s us who need to act, but don’t or who are indirect.

The difficulty with moralising like this is that as humans we find it difficult to match principle with practice, and the actualities of life somehow push aside what we have previously asserted so enthusiastically. We might of course just get cynical and say that as humans we’re flawed anyway, more of this “orgininal sin” stuff perhaps in another form, except that somehow that doesn’t do it either because we’re not really happy with that inside either. Somehow we want these positive principles to work and we, many of us find ourselves once again trying to realise it, maybe at least tempered by experience and more cautious about what we insist upon.

Yet one big principle of personal development in all this is the really basic question of whether our behaviour is really serving us. In the end, do we feel at one with ourself and the world and at peace? Because where we aren’t honest and truthful and true with others, we’re probably also not being true with ourselves. There’s a moral contradiction within us. Thus people who choose to work on this then decide to “clean up their act” and go and own to their inconsistencies, apologise to those they’ve wronged, admit to where they don’t show up, and choose in the future to live according to the values they honestly believe in. Then integrity really means what it says, and we feel complete and truthful in ourselves and  more really aligned with Who we really Are.

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