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

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

Early spring sunrise - fear around
Early spring sunrise

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

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

Notice what you focus on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And spring is coming. New awakenings!

 

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

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

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

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

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

When people go

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it cost to be present with it instead?

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How to be present when others are losing it

Do you struggle to know how to be present with someone when they are upset or angry, or when you are tired or going through it yourself? I’m very often struck by how people can lack the ability to “be with” people emotionally, especially those who work professionally with people in challenging situations. It’s like our buttons get pushed or we feel inadequate or lack the resources we need. Somehow, people say, they “aren’t qualified” to handle it.

It will be all right
It will be all right

When people kick off

I remember once on a Gestalt training course unpacking a whole load of grief around the impact of divorce on my contact with my younger son, and how I verbalised it to the group in a way that the facilitator later said she was “out of it” for the duration of my work. I recall she was a parent herself. So this can challenge even seasoned professionals. Luckily I had another who  worked with me.

Yet this doesn’t just apply to professionals. Anybody can face this at times. What about when your partner kicks off about some hurt or pain and it’s you that happens to be there – and they need you to be there? What do you do? Do you do what so many do, and shift about uncomfortably, tell people “not to mind” and “it will be OK”, and not get upset, etc? Who are you really helping here, the person kicking off, or actually you yourself? Are you really telling them to stop?

What we don’t like is being faced with powerful emotions that tap into our own stuff, especially if it touches our own doubts and inadequacies. Yet, there are resources available, if you choose to access them.

Being resourceful: self awareness and self management

One is self awareness and self management, in this case the ability to be aware of your own process and how your buttons can get triggered by other people’s stuff. It helps to know yourself enough to know what is your stuff in this situation, of course! This is often all about personal development – that doing your own journey bit, dare I say, that many of us are today afraid to do. It is also about how you self manage, in this case choose not to get caught up in your own stuff but put it on one side, the rule of epoché in Gestalt terms.

Presence

Another is the ability to be present, to be right there in the moment, thoughts and feelings on pause (I’ll say more about that in a moment), in the “here and now”, still in yourself, centred, at One as I keep writing on this blog, connected with some energy  centre or chakra within like your heart centre region or, in the case of powerful emotion, perhaps your power centre in the  solar plexus region. So that you are aligned with  Source as you are “with” another. “Being with” is all about being present with them. So you are truly “with” them, in support, with mind, body and soul, right there in the moment.

Empathy and respect

Your stance matters hugely too. So think about  it. Here is needed Carl Rogers’ empathy and unconditional positive regard. So you respect utterly the  other person right there where they are and what is going on for them. No judgement (this can be tough, but it really matters). No conditions attached. In fact  you  are unattached to everything, including how you feel. You have to let go of all that. And you empathise with them, which is to seek as far as humanly possible to see things from their perspective, although  you cannot “know how they feel”. Thus you can hear their story. And you hear it like you get it. So that they feel heard, which is what so many people need. They may not need to be fixed (which is what so many men try to do  with  women, by the way!). Here’s where you truly stop and be with them in their pain.

Then they will feel supported. You don’t have to take their side, or agree with them, or blame them. Just be there. In peace, bringing peace. Om shanti.

I coach people and give training in these core skills. To contact  me, click here

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Do you worry that your mind keeps you awake?

It’s a dilemma when you can’t sleep at night because your mind is busy, and then you start to worry that your mind is keeping you awake. Your mind might be churning things over and then you’re fearful that it is doing this and stopping you sleeping. Worrying that we can’t sleep is a major factor in insomnia, and having a busy mind is a major contributor to the problem. It’s a very good reason to learn to manage your mind and is where mindfulness can be so powerful.

You might for example lie down after a busy day in which you have been very mentally active and then find yourself staying awake, unable to sleep, or so it seems, your mind going over certain issues that are concerning you. Then, as time ticks by, and the thought that you need to be up early comes to you, there’s that stabbing feeling in your gut as you feel the anxiety that this thinking is keeping you awake, that you’ve got a sleepless night ahead and that you still have to get up early. It’s like that deadline gives you an imperative that you must sleep and you believe you need that sleep, and still you’re thinking things over, and you’re worried that you’re doing it!

Time to pause and get what’s going on! And let go!

Not so easy until you’ve done some work on all this and can see the pattern, what you’re doing to yourself, and can interrupt that pattern and work to manage your thoughts and let go. It takes, in a sense, training and practice.

The idea that we can manage our thoughts can be a challenging one to people who feel they are prisoners to their thoughts. Yet this is precisely what we need to do. Very often it is about becoming aware that your mind is busy, catching yourself doing it, challenging the pattern and stopping it in some way. It is something that can be consciously done, but as I said, it needs awareness – and coaching.

Mindfulness practice plays a big part, learning to be aware of your thoughts but not caught up in them. With mindfulness you can become the aware witness of your thoughts, but unattached to them, so that they can pass you by. This too takes practice, and meditation is a very valuable tool to help you learn to do it effectively.

Then you know you have inside you a calm, steady, centred place that you can go to. You can learn to let go of thinking and be still and in the moment. You can let go of thinking and of anxiety too, and be present. You can be unattached to deadlines, and to how things “ought” to be, and just let things be, just as they are.

As you calm yourself and let go of thoughts, you can then let your natural sleepiness to come to you, of its own accord.

Just as we can have bliss be present too, our natural joy and contentment.

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

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Are we losing our ability to have empathy and to connect?

We must have all done it, a family gathering at Christmas and at a quiet moment you come into the room and everybody is on their phones or tablets, with snippets of conversation in between. Perfectly normal, you might think: everybody is wishing friends a Happy Christmas. Except that that is what occurs a lot right through the year where people are together or alone. This world is now getting brilliantly connected. Yet do we notice any disconnect with others we’re with?

Being a big user myself but also a coach of relationship and interpersonal dynamics, I’m frequently observing what occurs in the use of the gadget in one’s hand. As the law now recognises, people can’t effectively concentrate on driving and use a mobile phone. The focus gets drawn into the latter and people miss crucial and sudden events on the road, with sometimes fatal results. When we focus on our gadget, our attention is drawn away from what is occurring around us.Thus we are at best only partially present to those around us. To another, it can feel, if they are so bothered, that “the lights are on but nobody is at home”.

The “inner world” of the phone or tablet is very absorbing. It is also very addictive. It’s now reckoned that people up to the age of 18 now spend over 7 hours a day so connected. However, more concerning is the potential cost to interpersonal relationships. It has been found from social-scientific studies by Sarah Konrath that there are now 40% lower levels of empathy for the age group under 30, that is roughly the so-called Generation Y, than earlier age groups had. It is also being suggested that people are losing the ability to cope with “doing nothing” and where we don’t have a distraction.

Empathy is arguably the crucial area of development for people interpersonally, and a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence. As we grow and mature, we realise more and more the need to understand and relate to others and take their needs into account. Empathy is the ability to tune into another and get a sense of where they are coming from, to gain some awareness of their perspective. Without “social awareness”, people can struggle to connect at a meaningful level and others may sense they do not really have a relationship with them in a way that fulfills.

Being connected with others is not a digital occurrence although that is one way we can communicate. What is crucial is the ability to be present and aware of another, right now, in the moment, person to person, in the room, with all our senses engaged, and with our thinking, feeling and behaviour. We hear, see, feel, smell and taste another. Psychologically we are “there” for another, available, conscious, valuing, caring. We notice what happens for another. We respond appropriately. We become attuned and resonate, and become as one.

You don’t get all that from a screen.

The challenge is that there are many who don’t have good levels of empathy. It’s a major weakness for those in business, for example. Leaders who lack empathy are poor leaders at the people level. If you are in a job where people skills matter, it can be costly. In personal relationships it is what makes for a good relationship: how often do you hear people complain that their partners are not “there” for them when they need them?

The danger is that people don’t know what they are not aware of. Thus building self awareness is an important starting point, and getting feedback from others.

I give coaching to help people develop their emotional intelligence and their relationships with others, personally and in work. To contact me, click here.

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How hard do you find it to step back to see whats going on for you?

We can be so caught up in the drama of what’s happening in our lives that we can find it difficult to step back to see whats going on, and yet this is a crucial step to take in regaining control for ourselves. This is an invaluable skill of mindfulness, metacognition, to see what you are thinking, feeling and sensing as it happens. To do that we need to be able to step back from the content of our minds. Yet, for many of us that can seem impossible: “I can’t”, people often say.

It is first important to develop awareness of the way this occurs for us, being “caught up” as I call it. What I mean by this is how we might feel very involved in some issue and yet it has got hold of us somehow, such that we are emotionally involved, attached to it some would say, in ways that aren’t perhaps so good or useful for us.

A classic way many of us would know is where we get “wound up” with an issue, lets say angry or irritated, and we keep on with something, even when a part of us knows it isn’t working, and we persist in making others wrong, having an air of complaint or grievance, feeling injured, holding on to a sense of self-righteousness despite the existence of evidence to the contrary, and general dissatisfaction. This can feel almost compulsive, like we’re driven to do it.

There are others ways too that we can get attached to our dramas in life, familiar patterns that we slot into, old habits that we’ve learned and which we do without having awareness of them.

This is where mindfulness training, and crucially its practice, is so important. The more you can develop awareness of what you do, the more you can find ways to release yourself. So the very fact of describing a process to another, in say coaching, is doing just that, providing a means by which the mind can be aware of itself. Then you can use mindfulness to gradually become aware of other less useful patterns too.

With mindfulness we seek to develop the ability, which we can often have already, to become aware of our process. Once we’ve got greater awareness we can then begin to see  how we’ve put it there, how we do it in a sense, and we can learn to control what we pay attention to. You can for example learn to notice yourself going off on your number, and re-focus your attention.

This needs training and coaching to be able to do, and to see how it operates for us as individuals since we are all unique, so that we can then practice it, since we need to use the techniques over time to unhook from old habits and learn new ones, with support from your coach, so that you can learn to free yourself and know more of who you really are.

You can talk to me about how you might set up some coaching for yourself to help you make this happen. Click here.

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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.

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Be present and aware and start enjoying your life

You must just pause a moment and check where your mind has been focused over the last hour or half-hour. How much do you let yourself really be present and aware with what’s happening right now? For example, if you’re travelling to or from work, how much do you notice what’s around you, who you are with, what’s going on? Or is your mind preoccupied, such as with what’s been happening, or what might happen? Are you off ruminating about things? Is your mind doing what is habitually does?

So, take a deep breath or two, become really aware, let go of those thoughts and give yourself a moment to really be present and aware of this moment….and this moment…and this one too.

When people are dying they often express regret that they didn’t do the simple things in life, like being with their loved ones, enjoying a sunset, spending time in their favourite place, just taking pleasure in being alive.

We’re so often away with our thoughts about the workplace, what’s going on, worrying about might happen, catastrophising, being irritated with what someone did or didn’t do, and the million and one other thoughts we have that fill our mind and can give us grief. Just check again with the suggestion I made at the start of this post, and recall what you have been thinking about recently and see whether it fits a pattern. It can be useful to spot these patterns and interrupt them.

Mindfulness involves becoming present and aware, in the moment. It’s a superb tool for getting ourselves out of our preoccupations and ruminations, and getting off all those thoughts that don’t serve us. You may even already know this. But do you practice it, or does it just sit there as another idea, another “nice to do”, something I’ll “get round to sometime” (but not now)? Yet it is said that now is all you’ve got. This moment and the next. All else is our thoughts.

So spend some time right now being in the moment. Be aware of your breathing. And each time you find your mind has wandered, simply bring it back to the moment and being aware of your breathing.

And allow yourself to really enjoy this moment, and enjoy being alive, present and aware, as who you are. En-joy, breathe in the joy of this moment, and let your soul shine, as it is meant to do.

If you sign up for the free ecourse to the top left of this post, you can receive more help with developing this vital skill – and become alive once again.

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Being mindful when all about you seem to be losing it

Can coming back to work after a period away, say on holiday, be a bit of a shock or unsettling in some way for you? You might be feeling all peaceful and calm and then suddenly all about you it’s frenetically busy and chaotic. What happens to all that peace and calm?

This is where mindfulness and being mindful equips you with the skills to be able to stay peaceful and calm when others are losing it

What can be invaluable is to have some form of mindfulness practice, which for me includes meditation. Many studies refer to this kind of practice as a “brain fitness practice”, which keeps our minds healthy and resilient. What we’re doing is consciously creating an intentionally established state of mindful awareness. With intention we sit, observe the breath and also the flow of our minds. We are open to what is, noticing feelings and thoughts come and go and yet keeping our mind’s eye on our state of awareness. Studies show that through such regular activity the brain responds by strengthening the neural connections activated at the time and we develop mindfulness as a trait. This includes regulating our bodies, attuning to others, having emotional balance, calming fear, pausing before acting, having insight and empathy, being moral or ethical in our thinking and our actions, and having more access to intuition. You develop too a capacity to monitor and modify your internal world.

Such practice fosters an aware presence, and gives us a powerful connection to our inner core of awareness that promotes resilience and inner strength in testing times.

Thus, to take time out in this way, we are creating and developing our capacity for centred awareness which enables to go about our day without being buffeted about by the stormy winds of our over-busy world.

What is your practice that consolidates your inner strength? And is it working?

There is more to this. We also need to ensure that in our everyday activities we are honouring what we practice, and that we come back regularly to our practice. Otherwise this can seem hollow and inconsistent. Mindful awareness enables us to be centred as we go about our day. For me, one brilliant thing about such practices is that I can take them with me and practice them when I choose.

Recently I was taking part in an organisational development process, and I was helping to observe and measure people’s “behaviours”. I won’t go into detail, yet will just note that being with masses of detail and in working at speed can create chaos and confusion for some, and one or two seemed to be losing it a bit. I found that to pause and breathe in mindful awareness, just an instant, was a great support. It is something I’m often teaching to people in coaching as it works over and over again in various challenging situations. It does however require regular practice, since it taps into something that is an ongoing activity, and it tends also to need coaching to find just where it works for individuals. There’s also a whole process of exploration and discovery one to get into, such as developing awareness of one’s inner “core” that I was referring to above, such that you “know” your inner resources and you “know” your inner strength in these situations.

And, despite what people believe and say, most can do this.

Learn to practice and apply the art of being mindfully aware for yourself.

To read more and to book, click here

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Do you find mindfulness difficult to practice?

The benefits of mindfulness practice can often seem outweighed by their pitfalls in the eyes of many who “try” it and give up, seemingly deterred by for example their very busy minds and by all the things that come up once one pauses and attends to the moment. “It’s very difficult” is a comment I hear a lot, an odd one, you might think, when all you’re being asked to do, is do nothing at all, attend to your breath and let go.

Yet it’s when we do this, be still and become aware, that we get what’s really going on. Many report that what they get is a chaos of thoughts, and an urge to get up and do something, or intense guilt at “doing nothing” like we should be “doing something useful”, or a fidgeting like we think we “can’t” keep still. After several sessions they might give up believing they aren’t getting what they started the practice to get, such as calmness of mind, or relaxation, or less stress.

What is important to realise is that mindfulness, and meditation if you are also wanting to meditate, is about sitting still, going within, attending to the breath (and/or a mantra), and being aware. What happens is part of the practice (well, it is for many teachers anyway!) and you are seeking to become the observer of your thoughts rather than “being the thinker”. What you are doing here is letting go of “doership”, thinking you are the thinker and that you “do” your thoughts. Instead, you let go of this belief and allow yourself to observe your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. You can think (!) something like, “Isn’t this interesting!”, notice yourself being engaged in thinking, and then take a deeper breath, breathe out (in a sense) the thoughts, and return your awareness to your breath. And repeat this every time you catch yourself thinking. Gradually the thoughts diminish. Yet you might still have “busy” meditations, and a lesson can be to accept these too.

Thus, with mindfulness practice, you are being aware of breathing, noticing any thoughts that arise, and returning to being aware of your breath. It is a practice and the benefits accrue over months and years. It’s not instant. We live in a “have it now” society and so it isn’t easy to make the shift and to accept that it will take time. Yet patience, acceptance and letting go are all part of what is involved and what it teaches us. Treat your practice as a time to pause, regain your equilibrium, re-balance yourself, and re-connect with your essence. Over time you will learn more and more to centre yourself, which you can live out in your life in general, and to sense inside who you really are. We live such hectic, stressful, busy lives and we get so caught up in all sorts of dramas that we lose touch with our essence. Thus we need this quiet time, this reminder, re-mind-er, to get back in touch with who we are and our real purpose and intention in life. It’s a treasure.

I run a two-day programme that teaches these skills: to learn more, click here.