Meditation is allowing yourself to simply be

“Meditation is what happens when you sit with the intention to meditate”

What’s your image of meditation? What words does it conjure up for you? How might you feel? Many might imagine someone sitting on a rock with a background of a calm sea, with their legs crossed and arms extended and resting on their knees with each index finger and thumb touching. Or on a yoga course after a yoga work-out. Or do you get the idea that’s difficult and only for terribly spiritual or flaky people? You might have tried it and given up, with all those thoughts and no calm, peace and serenity.

Man meditating in lotus pose
Yoga meditation in lotus pose by man in silhouette.

People often have very high standards by which they judge meditation, and often they are standards by which they then consider themselves to have failed. Thus, those words quoted above were very liberating for us. This is what we were told when my wife and I attended a meditation course. It might not be what you expect. However a key part of meditation is letting go, and one thing to let go of is our judgements about meditation, as indeed judgements about just about anything. It’s here that we can get into a space of acceptance, including accepting all that can come up in meditation, including our judgements.

There are of course lots of schools of meditation, lots of prescriptions about what it should be acccording to those schools. I don’t want to get into all that, because they can fit with various people’s belief systems that they like and feel attached to. I’ll just focus on what a simple meditation can be like and how we can make it happen.

Sitting

First you will probably sit, although people do do other forms, like walking meditations. Personally I’d recommend sitting for at least 20 minutes, with practice, and ideally then extend that to whatever works for you, half an hour, 40 minutes or an hour. Busy people might not be able to given themselves much time, but then we live in a time-constrained world and there’s an argument for creating the time and then finding we have the time.

So you’ll be sitting a while, and so it pays to have a comfortable, but not too comfortable, seat which supports your back. You might get rather aware of discomfort and then that can be part of “what happens”. It can become something to let go of. In time you may well not notice it.

It’s good to have an upright posture, and hence a small cushion at your back can help. You might want something warm to put over you if it’s cold or you get cold. Shawls are useful.

Hands are often placed on the lap, resting lightly. Some people place their hands one on top of the other, each facing upwards. Or you can have your hands resting on your thighs, and you might even do the finger/thumb placing mentioned above, with your hands still resting on your thighs.

You could sit on the floor, cross-legged. You will probably want a cushion, with at least a mat beneath. I prefer a chair, but then I’m a Westerner and my hips don’t do crossed-legs postures.

Comfortable arm-chairs can be used. However, I’d caution against too much comfort. It might help send you off to sleep and you might not want that. Some meditations can feel like sleep, and a useful test is if you “come to” at the alloted time feeling reasonably awake, or very sleepy. The first might feel like a kind of meditation, the second like sleep.

So, part of what happens in your meditation can be just sitting there for a while. Nothing inherently “wrong” with that. You at least sat with the intention to meditate.

Or you can get all your thoughts, opinions and views about that, which may serve you, and they may not. From a meditation point of view, they are just thoughts.

Thoughts, breathing and a mantra

What very many people will say about meditation is that what they get is a whole lot of thoughts. You might spend yur whole allocated time thinking about some issue, and come away frustrated. “That wasn’t a meditation”, you might think. More thoughts.

Thoughts can be like that. We sometimes call this kind of meditation a “shopping list” meditation. You could run through your schedule for the day like this! They can happen a lot. The trick is to not be attached to them but learn to accept them when they happen and find a way to let them go or at least become unattached to them. Thus meditation teachers often say that one can learn to regard them as white clouds in the blue sky that float across your awareness and dissolve. What can happen here is that you can learn to be aware of thoughts, to observe them, but not be caught up in them. After a while they can go on in the background, but in a sense they aren’t “you”. You can discover that you are more than your thoughts.

A classic tool in meditation is to use the breath, to feel the sensations of the breath, breathing in and breathing out, and really noticing and observing your breath. When you get caught up in thoughts, you can return your awareness to your breath. And keep doing that.

You can use your breath for various things. One can be to breathe in to any tension or anxiety and then breathe out and release the tension or anxiety – or any other stuff you’d like to let go of. Including any judgments you might have about meditation. You are so much more than your judgements and and not-so-helpful feelings.

It is often good to start your meditation with a little deep breathing, down into the diaphragm,  and breathing out long, and then settling into a pattern of regular breathing as suits you.

Many people also use a mantra, often from various spiritual traditions, both Western and Eastern. There are masses. They’re not obligatory. One can repeat the mantra on the in-breath and out-breath, or across both in- and out-breaths. Again it can both help to motivate you, as you might get inspiration from the mantra, and it can help manage thoughts. As with observing the breath, once you notice yourself engaged in thoughts, you can simply return your awareness to your breath and your mantra. Again, keep doing that.

Meditation at sunrise
Meditation at Sunrise

The intention to meditate

I’d suggest that one key is to sit with the intention to meditate, allowing what happens but with the intention to continue the kind of procedure I’ve outlined here.

I’ve avoided trying to define meditation. More head stuff, when the idea is to let go of all this intellectualising. However, this guy on this link has a good approach, although personally I think he talks too much! I like the space created by silence. But you might like it – a lot of people do.

Intention is a powerful tool. It is the focused direction of the mind on a purpose, employing the will. It is creative. When we intend, we harness the forces of the universe behind our intention, to bring it into reality, but not being attached to it. Instead we allow it to happen, trusting in the creative process. We might take action according to the intention, but we’re not engaged in fear or anxiety about it, but trusting that it will happen. This too is a thought, but it’s a powerful one.

So, one sits with the intention. Lots may get in the way, like life. Interruptions, noise, cats, children, the phone, someone at the door. Do we allow ourselves to get caught up in that, or let it go. It’s good to make arrangements so that these things don’t interrupt you in practical terms. Then all you have are your thoughts about them, and your feelings. Like guilt, worry, anger, and the rest. A bit like life.

You can get your whole life going on as you meditate. And then you can just notice it – and return to your practice. It’s superb way to learn to be more calm, unattached, accepting, and aware.

Practice it

I think it is important to practice it. Every day, on a regular basis. Keep doing it. Yes, really, every day, even when lots seem to get in the way. That too can be part of the mediation, and what needs to be let go of. That’s when people start to get the benefit. Regular, sustained practice.

It changed my life.

Awareness gives us hope of another possibility

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

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

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

There is another possibility

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

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

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

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

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

You might need to repeat that.

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

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

Being fully aware

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

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

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

Stay strong, everybody, and take great care.

Beyond the suffering mind lies love

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

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

Using awareness of suffering

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

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

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

Understanding the mind

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

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

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

Use mindfulness to manage the mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How illness holds within it an opportunity for awakening

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

Powerfully existential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear and anxiety are a wake-up call

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

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

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

Breathe!

In this practice, we use the breath.

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

Breathe!

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

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

(Very slight pause)

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

Be present with with the understanding that you are good.

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunity

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

Need, expectation and jealousy are the three love destroyers

The three love-killers need, expectation and jealousy are a powerful trio which both singlely and all together can wreck relationships with others. Sometimes they are obvious, at other times subtle and insiduous, and we may not consciously know that we have shifted into one or more of these states. The challenge in self awareness is to recognise when they are present and “get off it” and let them go.

It can be sometimes very difficult to disentangle need, expectation and jealousy from love but they can cut across the clear, simple, unconditional caring for another and poison it entirely.

Need and neediness

Need can include wanting from another as if one’s happiness and even survival depends on it. “I must have this in order to feel OK”. So it brings in things like deficit need, an unsatisfied emotional need that festers inside and won’t go away despite what others might do. In fact whatever they might do is “not enough” and there is this sense of there “not being enough”. Need can get very clingy, or others might feel they are being sucked dry emotionally. People might want to push a needy person away. Need might show itself as “What I want” in a forceful or underhand way rather than a clear self-expression without attachment. Another way is to be very focused on getting one’s own needs met, often without much regard for others except as to manipulate to get the desired result.

Expectation

Expectation can be similar, as all three of these are variations on egoic desire. So, to expect things of others is to place conditions or standards on their behaviour, another person’s standards rather than their own. It’s rife in business of course, but we’re looking at emotional expectation here. There’s an expectation that people will show up in a particular way, and meet another’s needs. Again there’s a dependence on another’s behaviour for one to feel OK. If you are at the receiving end, you might feel you are always dancing to another’s tune, and your needs aren’t getting much of a look in.

Jealousy

Jealousy can be more of an angry emotion, if emotion is the right word. For example they might have what you want. There’s perhaps the sense you don’t match up to them and you resent it. You might think they are “better” than you, or have more than you, or have higher status, or are more successful, or are more beautiful, or have the “better” partner, or are richer, etc. It is aimed at the other person and can get very nasty. Love jealousy of course is a particularly strong example, when someone you fancy fancies another, or you think they do. The classic story of love jealousy is Shakespeare’s Othello, where the successful general Othello is poisoned by his so-called faithful servant Iago into believing that his innocent and beloved Desdemona is unfaithful: “Beware the green-eyed monster, that doth mock the meat it feeds on”, Iago cynically warned.

Love is absent, though we may not know it

With all three, need, expectation and jealousy, love has got distorted, even to the extent that love might be entirely missing. One might think it is about love, but these feelings are quite different. They can of course destroy relationships.

It can be usefull to reflect on what we can take responsibility for, what we are creating, and what we can potentially choose to let go, so as to connect once again with the pure simplicity of love for its own sake. And to remember, you and another are One.

Being attuned to others

Talking with people in organisations, beneath the surface of the everyday activities that go on, I frequently hear how tough today’s work environment is for them. In the public sector it is the cutbacks and the consequences for people’s jobs, in the private sector it is the consumer slow-down in spending and the faltering world economy. Personally people are feeling financially very under pressure and squeezed. Optimism is less common. One businessman said to me on Friday that he felt people have become very self-centred and survival-oriented, a kind of emphasised “me-first” attitude.

In this environment, it is tempting to discount others and to treat others with less than they deserve. Yet it is those others who are maybe struggling a bit and need help. If we’re closed off to others, help is less likely to occur.

This is where being emotionally available and empathic is so important, although lacking in very many at work, often dismissed as being “touchy-feely”. Daniel Goleman speaks of “social radar”, that crucial aspect of emotional intelligence where we are attuned to others, can sense the undercurrents, can pick up on what might be going on, and can thus respond appropriately and potentially more aligned to another’s perspective.

The ability to get what might be going on for somebody

To have empathy is to be able to metaphorically sit alongside someone and see as much as we can what it is like from another person’s perspective. We can’t “know how they feel”, as we aren’t them, although people often mistakenly think they can, but we can attempt as far as humanly possible to find out their perspective. It involves listening non-judgementally, pure listening, and not going through the motions but really hearing another. It involves being observant and noticing what’s going on. Also we need to notice the subtleties, like changes in the atmosphere, in facial expression, body language, skin colour and so on. It also involves noticing how we ourselves are feeling, and our ability to be sensitive to ourselves. How we are feeling can be clues to another’s, as people often resonate with one another.

This skill, if that is the right word, can be developed if one chooses to develop it. For many of us though, we’re closed off to others through our life experience, the codes of work behaviour, our own social fears and discomforts, and in other ways. We become desensitised and disconnected, both from our own life force and being attuned to others. This is where developing self awareness can be so useful. When we’re more self aware we are more able to pick up on the clues inside us to what might be going on for others. When we’re better attuned to ourselves, we are more likely to know what’s really going on for us and what therefore might be going on for others. We can then be more attuned to others and get what it might be like for them, to be more empathetic.

Arguably, this skill or attribute of empathy is now sorely needed, where people are self-focused, narcissistic, suspicious if not hostile to others, especially those different from themslves, separate and divided. “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, Lincoln said. We need to reach out and empathise with others’ pain.

Being the watcher of your self

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being the watcher of your mind, as the witness

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

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

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

You just allow yourself to be the witness.

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

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!

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.