Start letting go of insomnia being an issue

Have you lain awake at night, unable to sleep, worrying, tossing and turning, keeping your partner awake, getting more and more churned up? If so, join the merry throng of people who have difficulties with sleep, insomnia.

Actually it’s huge today. According to the UK’s ONS, as many as 16 million UK adults are suffering from sleepless nights as a third (31%) say they have insomnia. Two thirds (67%) of UK adults suffer from disrupted sleep and nearly a quarter (23%) manage no more than five hours a night

In fact a pattern can set in. The more you find you don’t sleep at night, the more it seems to set up an expectation that you won’t sleep. So, guess what, self-fulfilling prophecy, no sleep. I meet masses of people who think they “must” have their 8 hours sleep, come what may (can be tough if you or your partner has a baby, by the way!)

The one thing medics say not to do is to worry that you “can’t sleep”, because that’s more likely to keep you awake. Yet, as worriers know, that’s easier said than done, and you finding that as you lie awake your mind immediately goes to “I can’t sleep again” and off you go, stuck in being wide awake.

Well, there are things that can be done (see below), and they don’t necessarily involve sleeping tablets, which tend to get a bit addictive, like a “prop”, and leave you feeling drowsy the next day.

Letting go of insomnia

One thing that people don’t tell you is that this idea that you “should” be asleep is a bit of a myth. We probably learned it early on in life when our parents wanted us to get off to sleep so that they could have “their” time or because they thought we “should”, that it was “good for you”. Yet people often don’t have regular sleep rhythms and can be awake in the night quite naturally.

The point is to change your relationship with the issue, by not making it an issue. There is something in all this about acceptance of what is. There is probably something else you could do while awake. A friend of mind does the Times crossword at night, not my thing (too much thinking), but it works for him. The words “let go” and “surrender” come to mind, surrendering to it, rather than having it be a drama.

Also there is something important in all this about consciously managing your state, which is what can be learned from developing the art of mindfulness. The key is to learn to manage the mind and learn to let go of unhelpful mental activity and re-focus. The yogis learned this  thousands of years ago and mindfulness practitioners teach others to do it today. It is for example a very good time to meditate, when the world is silent and still. A good time to know more of your inner place of stillness. Quietening the mind is often a very helpful route to having better sleep.

Try the Sleepio programme

For insomnia sufferers, here is a very good online CBT (and mindfulness) based programme to help you let go of insomnia. It’s scientifically-based, and comes strongly recommended, such as by the UK’s NHS. Click here.

Being attuned to another person starts with being attuned to oneself

Being attuned to others, being on another’s wavelength, is a vital but much neglected skill. “You’re not hearing me”, is a frequently stated complaint by people who feel others aren’t understanding or appreciating their standpoint. Thus do conflicts occur. Empathy too, the ability to see a matter from another’s perspective is rightly emphasised in leadership development but it is very common to find this skill to be lacking in emerging leaders. It is often also missing in couples who don’t get along together. To have empathy, we first need to tune into another and have clear perception.

Attunement to another involves being attuned to ourselves. That’s where we learn it, as too from a parent who pays us attention, listens to us, and gets us. If we didn’t get that attunement from a parent, we can still learn it later ourselves. Here’s where mindfulness can give us the ability to learn to tune into ourselves, on a regular basis if you have a mindfulness practice. Simply by attending to the flow of the mind while keeping an open, non-judgemental perspective, you can notice, monitor and modify your own state, your feelings and your thoughts. You can get finely attuned to your different moods and to how your body feels, and how you react to different situations. You can get to know yourself very well this way. This sensitivity to yourself can then be extended to others.

Knowing ourselves from the inside

This is the process of interoception, the skill of perceiving inside ourselves and being able to sense what is going on. A mental body scan does this quite well, and with practice you can do it fairly quickly. We use the mind to scan, so to speak, through the body, tuning into sensations and feelings, pains and discomforts, unaccessed emotions, tension, energy, unmet need, longings, desires. Then you can use the practice of mindfulness to observe what comes up and, with practice, you can yet stay detached from it. Then you can learn also how to manage it differently through this state of being the non-judgemental accepting witness of what occurs rather than thinking that this is you. This then also applies to your attunement to others.

As we learn to be better attuned to ourselves and understand what that means, we are more alert and aware with others too. In fact through our attunement to ourselves we can learn to recognise senses and feelings that can also tell us about another and their needs, and to discriminate between what is our stuff and what might be another’s. This growing knowledge helps us with empathy towards others and our ability to support them. Then of course we need to recognise when we are perceiving others through our own coloured glasses of our stuff, and when we not, and when we can set our own glasses on one side and truly be there for another, what in Gestalt Therapy is called “the rule of époché”, or bracketing off our own stuff. To make this distinction is very important. Self awareness is key here.

People who work with others, like therapists or coaches, often need to do this work on themselves if they are to be more effective in helping others. This also applies to leaders, although relatively few take this journey to any serious degree. More’s the pity since the world would be a better place if they did.

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?

Having trust in a world of lies where things are not as they seem

In today’s digitally dominated and manipulated world it can often feel like there are things that are not as they seem and we are left asking ourselves, “Is that true?” and “Can I trust it?” There is a BBC TV drama currently running, The Capture, in which a man is arrested because he is seen on CCTV attacking a woman who subsequently disappears, when he believes that they kissed and she simply got on a bus. The man seems to be unjustly accused and yet the video evidence is plain. Gradually the investigating police officer realises that the video may have been doctored and what people believe happened was not true. The drama then unfolds around a series of such almost Kafkaesque deceptions. Where is truth, honesty and integrity in such a world of lies? It’s like a complex parable for our times.

Things are not as they seem

To me, this TV programme seemed like this was where we are at as a society at present. Things are not as they seem. What we are being presented with is not necessarily how it is. But what is true? Which version do we believe? Which version is just or unjust? We then are asked to accept the consequences, even as we feel morally outraged. Thus in the UK at present it seems like we are plunged into a culture war around two differing versions of reality.

We are living in a world of “fake news”, misleading statements, manipulation and propaganda, and we encounter alternative versions of reality depending on our perspective. Increasingly, it seems, we no longer can tolerate these different perspectives but think we must impose our own on the other person. Some remark on the rise of a certain sectarianism or fundamentalism, where one side or the other is “right”, where things are black and white and we can’t tolerate reasoned disagreement.

The classic contemporary manifestation is narcissism, the false self. Certain celebrities have become leading politicians on this basis. The narcissist is grandiose and shameless, self-focused, with inflated self-importance, often needing positive reinforcement and adulation from others, and usually being a false construct. Their world is often built around lies and exaggeration. Often they are not as they seem.

How do we live in a world of smoke and mirrors?

Here it is important to have the wisdom of discernment, carried by the owl in certain traditional Native American medicines, the ability to see through things, beyond the smoke and fury of contemporary discourse, the threatening posture of politicians and the battle of politics in many countries right now,

“To thine own self be true”, Polonius says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He goes on to say, “And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man”.

In a world seemingly full of falsehood, we are challenged to find our own truth for ourselves, which can involve our ability to explore within and trust in the inner truth and honesty that we find, and, from that space, share with others and ask questions of others that seek to find truth and understanding.

“Cnly connect”, wrote EM Forster, as the epigraph to his novel Howards End, a plea to see and connect with others, even those we disgree with and disapprove of. It’s a challenge of life to reach out to others whom we disagree with. The ability to maintain respect can get lost in these situations, and yet those that we may disagree with are human beings too, who are deserving of our respect even as we may not feel inclined to give it.

Yet the core of all this is trust, trusting our own inner awareness and finding ways to trust others despite what we may feel to be their transgressions. This can involve some exploration, with ourselves and with others, understanding, forgiving and letting go. Many may feel they are not there yet, caught up as they may be in their anger and blame, but at some point this journey will have to be made for healing to occur. There will need to be people to hold that space for others to make that journey.

The inner search for truth

Of course “truth” is likely to be your truth, what you believe to be true. There are often many versions of “truth”. Unless of course you prefer the world of the absolute, like say some given belief others hold, but then you might not find that serves you. Thus people join religious groups and sign up to their belief systems, but after a while decide it is not for them. Something has told them that it does not work for them. We maybe choose to rely instead on our own discernment.

Those who work with others professionally often find that the real truth, one’s own truth, only emerges after some work has had to be done, and people have had to work through layers of their stuff to find and release the inner pain so that the real, underlying truth can be expressed. That’s when people find their authenticity, who they really are, when the layers of the onion are peeled away.

Coming from an authentic space, we can at last be truthful, honest and in integrity. Then what happens is that others believe us, understand us and know where we’re coming from. They can then trust us and work with us. We can then heal together.

Trust is hard won and easily lost. Trust is love-based; lost trust is fear based. Which would you prefer?

 

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!

Time to light a light for ourselves and for the world

When there’s conflict around us, or we’re caught up in it, and we feel like there’s no light around us, it can seem like all that there is is this stuff going on. We might lose hope and feel like that’s our reality and that’s all there is. Then it’s hard to trust that there is more than this, that there is somewhere that is peaceful, harmonious and contented. What can we do about this? How do we move on?

Right now, in the UK, our politicians are caught up, it seems, in a mega-conflict, and the signs are that much of the population is too. So, the question could be, for the self-aware who also feels caught up in all this, what can we do to move on from this?

How do we move on?

As I’ve written on these pages before, the self-aware person is still human. They can get caught up in stuff too. We might of course be very exceptional and live in constant bliss. But for very many of us, that may not be so, or at least not seem so! We might be so completely caught up in the drama that we’re not aware we are. Self-awareness may have taken a holiday, so to speak! Some holiday! Or, we might be aware we’re stuck in the drama, and carry on with the drama.

It can be like a dream we perversely don’t want to awaken from. The dream has its own pathway and we’re absorbed in it. We know it doesn’t serve us, but carry on we do.

We might feel so strongly about the issue that we won’t let go of it, like a dog with a bone. We’re really determined to see it through. We might feel very self-righteous about it, like we’re the ones who are right and it’s the others that are wrong and they are the ones who are causing problems for us. If they changed, or we forced them to, them everything would be OK.

Or would it? Is this really the path to healing?

What to do?

What is so hard to see in the midst of conflict is that both parties (I’m assuming two here, but there might be more!) need to let go of something in order to come to an agreement. We could work on trying to facilitate that and that can be worthwhile for us. Peacemakers are needed!

However, there’s another space entirely that can get overlooked.

That space is where we let go of it in ourselves, irrespective of the choices others might be making.

This is an internal process, within ourselves, that I am referring to.

This is where we unconditionally let go of things that are keeping us stuck in the drama: like to let go of the attachment to being absorbed in the drama; or let go of the outcome we want; or let go of our ideas about how things are; or let go of being right and others being wrong; or let go of the whole thing itself.

Just give it up. Surrender.

This is not surrender as in giving in to others. It is surrender as in letting go of things, stuff, drama, attachments, emotions, thoughts, attitudes. The whole bang shoot.

Take in a deep breath…and then another…breathe in deep… and as you breathe out…let it go…breathe in again…and as you breathe out…let go of all that stuff…yes, the whole lot of it.

Practice That

And now, instead, choose a positive intention for yourself.

Sit for a while in meditation. You could this today. Light a candle, like this one, a candle in the dark, to bring light to the dark.

Candle flame - light in the dark
Candle flame – light in the dark

The dark is not bad, it’s just not light. The dark can be threatening, or it can be warm and comfortable, infinitely comfortable. It depends how we have it. The light can shine in the dark, and bring light to the dark.

Sit with this light. You can do this while it seems there’s stuff going on “out there”, but for for you now, it isn’t. There’s just you, and the light shining.

Then, close your eyes, taking that light within you, into your inner awareness, to your heart centre, knowing that that light always shines within you as your inner candle flame. Take some deeper breaths, and let go as I have described. Now focus on your light.

Sit for a while in meditation, holding that space.

Then, when you are ready, recall your intention. Then, take a deep breath and send that light and that thought out into the world.

Send out your thought, your light, in a great, big, powerful beam of love.

Send out healing to the world.

It needs it right now.

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.

Do you feel like you’re going nowhere?

If someone asked you where are you heading, what would your reply be? Might it be going nowhere?

That’s not intended as a frivolous question, though many right now might feel tempted to reply with variations around “get lost!”. It could be something around, “don’t ask me questions I can’t answer”. Because such is the state of the world right now that there don’t seem to be answers and many people feel incredibly uncertain and anxious about the future, and even focusing on the immediate can be really hard work and tiring.

What’s your state of the world?

In the UK, there is a decision pending about Brexit, but there’s no sense that things will get better and if anything could get a whole lot worse. In other countries, there’s a lot of unrest, even in places a sense of near-revolt, or continued concern about President Trump or whoever, or a general dissatisfaction with one’s lot, or a wondering if you will get by. Then we hear of the dire state of the climate and how humanity’s future could be in doubt if we don’t change course. We read of stock market crashes, the rising price of fuel, the risks of a trade war, or disasters of one kind of another. The mind, once aroused around fear, will quickly focus on more things and we start to catastrophise, like something dreadful might happen, or going through “what if” scenarios. Just to check, ask yourself: have you over the last week been predominantly optimistic or pessimistic?

One way such uncertainty can show up is in how we feel, like feeling tired, exhausted, low energy, low morale, or struggling to get motivated. It’s like pushing water uphill and not having a sense of achieving anything, going nowhere again. Some report waking up at night feeling very anxious, but with no particular reason.

Disempowerment: not being in control

People don’t feel like they can get on with their lives. It can manifest as a sense of disempowerment, or, to borrow a phrase much used at present, “not being in control”. Anger can spill out every now and again, like the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. People need to express it somehow because otherwise the powerlessness gets channelled internally.

I used to work with this state a lot in organisations going through major restructuring which could seriously impact people’s jobs, especially when awaiting announcements. It was the “not knowing” that really did it for them. They’d feel like they were going nowhere. It was hard if not impossible to plan ahead, to get a sense of direction. People would experience a loss of purpose, even of competence and self-esteem. They didn’t feel valued.

I used to call it a “limbo” state, being in limbo.

It also happens when people are awaiting a health diagnosis. They know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is or, crucially, what is to be done about it. Will it be serious – or not? Will they be OK – or not?

It’s the not knowing, the state in between, a void, which we try unsuccessfully to avoid. Going nowhere

Afterwards, it’s different. Once people know, they can plan, prepare and get on with their life. Now they at least know where they stand. It might not be that pleasant, but at least they can get on with things.

What can you do?

So it’s important to remember that this is a passing phase. It does not last. Life goes on. Remember the famous John Lennon quote,Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Or the Buddhist understanding that all is impermanent, all in process, and that nothing stays the same. So too, we move on. If we allow it.

So, if you are faced with uncertainty in some form, while it isn’t necessarily nice, you can do something. After all you are a responsible being, if you so choose. So, you can act as one.

One is to look after yourself. This is crucial, since stress levels can rocket. So breathe and meditate, take exercise, eat healthily, every day. Remember your values and what and who you love, including crucially yourself! Love endures despite all things.

Two, have options. There is always a choice, even when we feel disempowered. Find things to make choices over, things you can control. Be prepared, at least to cover possible scenarios. Once you’ve thought it through, put it away somewhere and don’t mull over it.

Three, manage your mind, deliberately, intentionally. After all, we are what we think, and life turns up accordingly. So, by managing our minds, we can keep or regain the focus we want. We can manage and let go of anxiety. This is true taking control. This means, as this blog explains a lot, pausing, stepping back from your stream of thoughts, becoming fully aware, in the present moment, letting thoughts go, being in the Now. And stay there a bit, letting anxiety shift from thinking to feeling to dissolving, so that all you are aware of is Now.

Such present moment awareness allows you to shift from going nowhere  to being now here.

In the end is a beginning

There’s a poignancy to autumn at this time, damp, wet, a chill in the air, sun shining low through golden leaves that cling forlornly to thinning trees. The summer is replaced by autumn and winter beckons. All is decaying – but then all is also preparing for the next spring. The end of October is, it is said, a time when the veils between the two worlds are thinner, at the time of the feast of Samhain. No wonder many often choose to leave. This time of ending, of closure, is a sad time, but it can also contain the seeds of new birth. How often can a person’s leaving this world also be when a new one is born, and in what form? It’s to see the beginning in the ending.

Court of the Lions, Alhambra
Court of the Lions, Alhambra, Granada

We have just had a nice break in Andalucia and went on a long-promised pilgrimage to the Alhambra in Granada. I don’t know if it happens for you but when we stepped through the doorway of the Nasrid Palaces we felt a powerful energy charge, like moving to another zone. It’s an awesome place, literally! Then, we also soaked up Andalucia, and spending time on the coast was wonderfully restful and warm.

Then on the last night we learned that a neighbour and friend had died and Akasha had to spring into action to lead a funeral ceremony. The next week was frenetic since in France funerals come quickly and there was masses to do and people to support. Now it’s over and we are relaxing back into “normal” life. Except that it isn’t. A lot has happened. And we feel sad, tired and listless, a bit devoid of direction, a bit disorientated. So what’s all this?

It can be useful to be aware of what happens, if this is something that has happened for you, in some way. According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross there are five stages to grief. Put in my layman’s terms based on masses of work with people who experienced loss, there’s very roughly a series of phases, very much depending on the individual. There’s shock; then a temporary phase of denial or minimising of what’s happened; then a period when the tough emotions kick in, like sadness and anger, and their variants like blame, resentment, hurt, pain, and so on; then bargaining, where we might avoid the truth of a situation; depression, what I often called the pits, when it really hits home over time and we have to find a way to process and move on; and then acceptance, where we start to heal, come to terms with what’s happened and find meaning and new purpose. It’s in the last-mentioned that the real potential lies, but let’s be brutally clear: you can’t avoid or rush the others, though, believe me, I’ve seen masses of attempts!!

I’d hazard a guess to say we’ll all of us have this experience in one form or another with major life events, and accidents, being robbed, moving house and many other stress events too. Death and dying though are truly existential: we’ll all have it. So we need to find ways to cope, to see what’s there to learn from it, and, dare I say it, to gain the real meaning we are meant to derive from it. I wonder what yours is?

Which brings me back to our friend and neighbour. As friends we may not be so emotionally involved, but we are impacted nonetheless. There’s a person we knew and spent time with who’s gone, is there no more. Of course it stirs up our own stuff around death, dying and loss. Then there’s the sense of things coming to an end, an end of an era, people leaving, things changing, the familiar replaced by the unfamiliar, an emptiness, nothing where there was someone, a vacuum. No longer the craic (he was Irish), the jokes, the long conversations, the plentiful supply of liquor, the warmth and friendliness, the hospitality. When it’s gone, you notice it.

Then we hear of other changes in train. Somehow other events seem to be happening. They aren’t caused by the loss, but somehow we notice it more. As a Brit in France, we are impacted by Brexit. Then there’s news of other friends leaving, people moving on. So what now for us?

With such endings, we are left with our own meanings to make. What now for our own future? What needs our attention? What have these events taught us that we need to attend to? What does it all mean? Or, as I would say, what meanings do I choose to make of what’s been happening? Where is there a beginning in the ending?

The poet TS Eliot has wonderful words about ending and beginning at the end of his masterpiece, The Four Quartets. To quote selectively:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The End is where we start from…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

We progress on life’s path, often unknowingly or unaware, and yet it has purpose, even if we don’t consciously know it. Each ending offers us the chance, once again, to bring what is unaware into conscious awareness, to know and feel that which is our truth, that which our soul is calling us to.

During the funeral service, Akasha asked us to reflect while one piece of music chosen by our friend was played. What happened for me was a palpable sense of love, glowing in my heart centre, and with it a contented sense of peace. Maybe that was where our friend was. Certainly that was important for me. That is what I will take from these turbulent last months of his life, a blessing on him, and on all of us.

That’s something to go for!