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Does change make you feel anxious or optimistic?

As things change, there can be a point of poignancy when there’s perhaps an awareness of regret for what is going and mixed feelings about what is to come. Autumn is one such time.

We’re in this time of autumn here in the UK where the trees are turning golden brown, almost red, and leaves are piling up on the ground, in gutters and on pavements. The air is damp with a chill in the air and the grass is wet with dew in the mornings. Depending on how you are feeling, walking among trees can be a bit sad or beautiful or both. There’s a growing a growing carpet of golden brown or bright yellow. As I write there’s a fog hanging around on the hills here in Wiltshire. Sunsets even seem to echo this trend, as with this one, which looked like the horizon was on fire.

Splendour in the west - October sunset
Sun setting in autumn

Now autumn is an annual event but it is a change none the less and it can serve as a reminder of what we’re like around change. It’s worth noticing what your reactions are to change. Do you find yourself feeling regret, almost instinctively, like it’s a knee-jerk response?

This can be how we tend to deal with change. Some changes we resist, others we welcome. I often find some people have these patterns of responding, whereby change feels uncomfortable, and people can tend to resist it. This can be an inheritance from past unwelcome changes, which stick in the unconscious memory.

It can be important to be aware of this, since change is arguably an inevitable part of us as humans. Nothing stays the same, all is in process at some level. What we need to learn is change flexibility, using awareness to notice our reactions and yet be able to hold on to our centred state which never changes.

This is the big challenge, getting to know that centred state that dwells within each of us and, once we’re anchored there, we’re not easily thrown by what life has to give to us. Because at our essence, all is permanent. Then we see change as an illusion. While we’re still anchored in the ego world, all is uncertain, full of flux, anxiety, unpredictability. Finding and knowing our centre of awareness enables us to step aside from all that and be as a Witness to it.

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When times are difficult at work people too often revert to type

Do you struggle to communicate bad news or difficult messages? And has all that inclusive stuff gone out of the window and what you get are orders?

When times are difficult at work, it is common for managers to operate in a more “command-and-control” manner, what is often called “tell”, rather than be inclusive and participative. This is well-known, but even though it is well-known people continue to do it, even though today many staff find it unacceptable. Perhaps they might think jobs are scarce and are therefore more willing to tolerate it. Yet, curiously the people who do leave are the talented, who are more able to get work elsewhere. I’ve so often found that difficulties put pressure on people’s weaker areas, particularly in communication.

So many of us would far rather communicate good than bad news, although I’ve met people who don’t do either much. If it is giving feedback on poor performance, if it is breaking bad news, if it is firing someone, these can all present difficulties. People may manage to do it, but it’s so often how it is done that is crucial. Is it for example done in a way that is supportive and encouraging, with praise where appropriate, or with something good to hold on to, or is it done in an indirect way or “between the eyes”? Or do you have to find out the truth from someone else, or the rumour machine, or by guess-work? I grew up in a family where nobody could tell me my mother was first ill with cancer and later terminally ill.

Even harder is the participative style of leadership in pressured circumstances. People tend to revert to type. It is said that in a crisis what we get is leadership that is coercive, “my way or the highway”, and apparently it is good at turning things around. But it drives downwards the organisational climate. People resent it, and feel undervalued and unappreciated. This is an inclusive age, or was until the recession kicked in. Yet people still want to be involved, consulted, have things discussed with them and above all feel included, like they have a part to play.

What is so important in all this is developing your own crisis-management skill-set, where you can stay open in your communication, even if others aren’t doing it, and include others in what you are doing. It means learning to communicate in ways that respect people, where you care for others as you do for yourself, and that you listen as much if not more than you speak. So many of us under pressure fall back on old survival skills, when the very strengths developed in good times are what can potentially carry them through the harder times to. A core aspect to all this is the ability to be present, to have self-awareness, to stay centred, to believe in ourselves and to respect others.

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People feeling more under pressure at work

On the surface no doubt, there’s a prevailing sentiment in organisations of “business as usual” – we just get on with the job in hand – and yet underneath that surface, no doubt too, there’s a sense of the Sword of Damocles hanging over many of us as we’re working longer hours, staying longer during the day and going the extra mile for their employer, fearful of losing their jobs. The pressure is great. Elsewhere, I heard a reference to the boot being on the other foot, whereby before it had been a job seekers’ market for high-level expertise, but now the “bosses” could call the tune over what was required of them. There was a lot of negativity towards “the bosses” and a prevailing distrust. Both groups indicated, by their subtle references rather than anything overt, that morale was low, sickness was higher and productivity had fallen.

People are I think a lot in survival mode.

In survival mode, we are focused more on getting by, on getting our immediate needs met, very self-absorbed potentially but in a way that seeks to hold everything together. We are likely to tune out our awareness of other’s needs and be less empathic. We focus on the material and financial and the higher things of life get put on hold. But underneath, thought, feeling and action are fear-based. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we slide further down the scale towards survival needs.

When we are at work in these circumstances, we are potentially very exposed to the power of the group and the group mentality, more so than perhaps people realise. If the climate is negative, it subtly pulls at us, if not overtly at least in our energy levels and in how we feel. We are more likely to get negative ourselves. It can seriously drain our own energy.

This is where it is so important to have your own practice, which I wrote about last week, and to have quiet time, such as meditation. Also it helps to get plenty of exercise, and have positive things to do outside work, which can require an effort, rather than resort to addictive activities, keep good company, and eat and sleep well. And develop and work on maintaining your own sense of a higher purpose.

There is a download for those threatened with redundancy, about motivating yourself.

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Being very present in your awareness

Delivering presentations, talks and seminars, people often struggle about how to open their events, often waffling on before getting to the point and thus losing their audience’s potential for engagement. The key is to have a point of interest right up front that gets attention.

I’ve recently been giving a series of talks across the South-West of England on The Power of Awareness. I had a perfect opportunity to do an intro on my theme on Saturday when I needed to get going in at a specific time and yet not everybody had come in from a previous meeting. So I started by telling a real-life story about how a facilitator had started a workshop I was attending, in a situation where the group weren’t settled. As a group we had arrived and sat down and, since we knew each other, were busy talking amongst ourselves waiting for the session to start. The facilitator, who was already there, simply sat at the front and looked at us. For a little we while we carried on chatting, when quite quickly we all became quiet. It was as though we became aware that she was waiting, that the workshop hadn’t started and that we were talking on regardless. It’s a nice example of awareness, at a group level.

The facilitator had simply sat there, being very present, unflustered but clearly expectant that we would become quiet and she could start – and very likely had a much greater level of attention as a result than otherwise. I can’t speak for her state of mind, but for me in such situations, being centred and aware myself, unattached to what’s happening, with an intention to start when everybody is ready, is very powerful. Of course it goes against many people’s preconceptions about being strong and in control, whereby people are supposed to assert their authority and make big energetic noises to grab attention. Yet, a quiet, centred presence can achieve the same thing in certain situations.

In terms of the awareness cycle, if one attends to it, there were the field conditions that included a noisy talkative group, the expectation of a workshop about to start, the assumption that one would lead it, the potential for interest and excitement to tap into, and a knowledge of the event’s likely content at least in simple outline. We were probably also expecting that at some point the leader would kick things off, and when that hadn’t happened we probably sensed that something was likely to occur and individually and collectively became aware. The power of being in a group probably magnified the awareness, another indicator of the power of groups for working with awareness. The sensing preceded awareness, as happens in the awareness cycle.

Yet, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the group leader was in a sense part of the group. Her presence, being very aware, and holding the space for something to happen, was very likely a key driver for the awareness to magnify. The ability to hold space is a very powerful facilitator skill, one I think very many facilitators, who don’t see the potential in awareness, can neglect. There’s something about tuning in, feeling the sense of a group, feeling into what’s happening, while being very present oneself and unattached, one’s own stuff, one’s ego, being “on one side”, or “pocketed” in Gestalt terms, and as leader being very centred in oneself.

It makes for an excellent example of the power of awareness, when explored further than at the mundane level, and when one uses it at a far deeper level.

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When it doesn’t seem to be working

Part of the challenge of dealing with things that don’t seem to be working out in our lives is being aware of our part in it. When we feel helpless, at the victim of events, such as with the current economic and political impasse that seems to be going on that I referred to in the last posting, it seems like we are at the effect of “it”. Part of the clue lies in the words, “It isn’t working”.

I mean here not a precise bit of machinery and how it works, but more broadly what is occurring in our life. The clue is in the word “it”. What we do is disconnect ourselves from “it” and instead put “it” out there as separate from us ourselves. We disown “it” as “not me”. Objectively that may be the case, if you live in the Newtonian paradigm of cause and effect. However, if you think for a moment about multiple possibilities inherent in every moment of Now, there is probably a multitude of things that can be done. But the key shift is to take ownership of the “it” as part of me, which I can influence, on the basis that we are all connected, all One.

What is so interesting is that if we alter how we think about what seems to be happening, the perspective shifts too. If for example you start to feel good about you and about what you can do, rather than fearful, you might find what seems possible to you has changed too, and you can see all sorts of ways forward that are under your control. Suddenly the horizon is much broader, and the landscape filled with all sorts of different ideas and people that can help you and work with you. It is you that changed, not “it”.

In the process you would need to shift your feeling state, let go of for example the fear, and enter your centred state of mind, pure calm, pure peace. From That space, you can then open up these new horizons. It’s about being accountable for your state, and shifting it.

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Do Mondays really get to you?

I don’t know if you find it difficult to re-focus at the start of each week, but people often talk about the Monday morning syndrome, the challenge of re-adjusting to the weekday routine after the relaxation and distractions of the weekend. So Monday is often a day when things seem to get off to a bad start, particularly if you aren’t really getting the best out of your job, or a problem crops up and it really hits you when you come back off your weekend, or things seem to go wrong on Mondays, or you are not in the best of moods.

Continuing our theme of the pace of life seeming to distract us from who we really are, Monday can serve as a useful example of how, despite our best intentions, when we get back into the so-called “real world” all our best efforts to be connected, centred, in touch with our inner state of peace and calm, all that seems to go “out of the window” in the face of the challenges and upsets and sheer drivenness of today’s living.

Another can be coming back from holiday. I’ve just got back from my month-long sojourn in France and there’s already a big pile of correspondence, meetings coming up, arrangements to make, courses to sort out and the various needs of my life back home that have been on hold. People often come back from holiday to find all sorts of changes at work, new things happening, things to catch up with, that they often say they almost don’t feel they’ve been away.

A common experience connected to my work is how people can come on a powerful personal development program and yet feel a big wrench when they go back home and to work. I call it the “re-entry experience” because the adjustment can be a big one.

Yet what is key here is that this life is what there is, whether we’re blissed out in some retreat or busy at work. There’s no more a “real world” here than there, only that which we perceive through our particular coloured glasses, through our filter system of our egos. It’s how we deal with what occurs, both what happens in us and how we respond to what happens “out there” around us and in relationship with others. As stuff goes on, in each moment we get another challenge to connect, to reinvent ourselves, to be present and aware, to see into things rather than replay the old “record” (CD/mp3) of our programming. Developing your ability to connect, and not be thrown by what happens, to be more and more who you really are moment by moment, is today’s challenge.

And it’s possible. We do not have to be the victim’s of what life seemingly throws at us, but what is of our own creation but we haven’t got it yet. In every moment, including a very busy day, on the train, in the airport lounge, in the midst of a lot of noise, when there are multiple demands on your attention, you can be connected to who you are.

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Making being present a part of your everyday life

Have you found that when on holiday something to do with your work or your home has somehow intruded and you’ve found it hard to shift out of the “holiday mood” to focus on that other matter? It’s almost as though we can go into an altered state of awareness when on holiday.

Well, for some of us no doubt that’s the real life, that it’s life, and that other world, the so-called “real world” is an inconvenience sent to try you. For two weeks let’s say, you get let out to play and there’s nothing that’s going to spoil it for you. And why not? You’ve earned it.

I’d suggest that this holiday experience is a very important one, and has something to teach us about the “real world” too. It depends how you use it.

A lot of the time we’re very caught up in the everyday demands of life, but once in a while we get to slow things down, to press the “pause” button, to allow ourselves time. Time perhaps to do things that give us pleasure, and then maybe also to be more present with ourselves. Time to just notice the moment, with no thought running through your mind, a deadline to meet, a meeting to go to, a piece of work to finish. Just being aware of what your eye lands upon: the colour of the water, the sky, the leaves, the stone wall beside your seat, the cat licking itself on the wall. No thought. Just stillness and awareness of Being. Time expands in the moment. The sense of Awareness enlarges itself, a “portal to the unmanifest” (Eckhart Tolle) is opened, a silent moment of eternity. It is through allowing that we can make contact with our own essence of Being.

You can breathe in the air and breathe in with it your sense of the moment and take the very presence of Being to your heart centre, the centre of your chest, and allow your Awareness to rest there and very gently allow the feelings you notice to expand within you. Being in that state is then a very good state to meditate.

What you do with this Awareness is one that you can also perfectly well do with practice in your everyday life. What’s stopping you?

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Has fear got hold of you?

Anybody watching the collapse in share prices across the world over the last few days may well be feeling more than a touch of fear. It is after all panic that drives these massive sell-offs. Previously what was regarded as quite “safe” investments suddenly looks very unsafe. People pull the plug and cash drains away.

Fear can be all-consuming. It gets us in the grip, paralysing us and driving us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Or it can sit in the background, as an underlying anxiety. It tends to lead to exaggeration in the level of the perceived threat. When in its grip, our rational selves cease to be effective.

So, in case the crisis has been getting to you (“Is this Lehman Brothers Round 2?” “Are we in for a double-dip recession?” What about my job, mortgage, house, family, ability to pay my debts and feed ourselves, how will I/we survive?), it is worth remembering that fear isn’t real. It is False Evidence Appearing Real. It is a major ego behaviour. In Law of Attraction terms, it is the most powerful negatively attracting emotion, drawing to us more of what we don’t want. But it is an illusion.

The more absorbed in fear we get, the more real it becomes. Because we get more of what we’re thinking about.

This is therefore just the time to practice a fear-management strategy, like:

  • Becoming aware that you are in fear’s grip – this is always the first key awareness step
  • Summoning your will
  • Allow yourself to shift your awareness from the thoughts which are fuelling the fear to the feeling. Keep focused on the feeling – and let the thoughts go. Keep doing this if you go back to thinking. Be in the moment. Now, as you’re feeling the feeling of fear (and we fear doing this, which keeps all this in place!)….
  • Breathe deeply, down towards your diaphragm, and repeat this several times – and, as you breathe out, let go of fear, or have the intention that you are letting it go at some level
  • Imagine yourself breathing down towards your fear, which might be in your heart area or solar plexus or your stomach. Imagine the breath reaching down into the fear and relaxing and releasing it. And as you breathe out, imagine yourself letting the fear go

This is an invaluable practice. What you may find as you get used to it, is that the fear gets released, or it gradually lessens, and you discover much more positive awarenesses behind it.

Shifting from the thoughts to the feelings allows us to start to master the negative emotion, by being able to work to release it. Also it allows us to get off the thoughts which are what are really driving all this. These thoughts need to be replaced by much more powerful and positively creating ones, of course. But it’s hard to do that when you’re caught up in fear.

You might need to keep practising this over time to start seeing the results. I did this over a period of many months when I would wake in the middle of the night consumed with fear, at a time when we were financially very challenged. It proved a powerful weapon. But you will need to stick with it.

With practice, you can build a sense of centredness and calm. This can be very useful in meditation. However, you can then take this new state out into your every-day engagement with others and be calm and centered and provide leadership in a positive way when it is needed.

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When you start to see the fruits of your efforts

What do meditation and business have in common? When you’ve got over your surprise, here’s one: hanging on in there with your investment till you start seeing the results and beyond, even while it doesn’t immediately seem to be bringing in the much-needed returns!

With meditation, you may very well find you are doing it and yet your mind is all over the place and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere. One key is to keeping doing it, and have suitable technique to support you so that you are managing your mind and bring it back to its centre of focus.

I was very interested to hear from a reader today that the brain chemistry has been found to be altered in those that meditate or engage in related activities like prayer or contemplation for long periods. According to this report, a study of Buddhist monks and Christian Carmelite nuns, this is one manifestation of the fruits of sustained attention to managing the mind so that they can focus their awareness on the contemplation of the object of their meditation. The brain re-wires itself, so to speak:

“As science begins to study religious experience more closely, it has found some fascinating things. A recent MRI study of the brains of men and women who had dedicated their lives as nuns and monks to years of meditation and prayer showed that their brains were actually different from ours. The practice of meditation had slowly altered their brain chemistry so that they were happier, calmer, more at peace with the world than the rest of us, rushing around in our cities and our towns. More interesting, the monks were Buddhists and the nuns were Carmelites. The holier they were, the more theology fell away. The experience of being with the divine seemed to defuse the long human battle over who has the best path to the divine. And we can now see the difference in the chemical structure of the brain.” (From article by Andrew Sullivan)

One key thing is that such practice, and I do strongly suggest practice, teaches us is that we can reach an experience of who we are that provides a ground-rock for life and living. What that inner space means is likely to be subject to various belief systems, although deep and long-lasting practitioners from many traditions seem to have remarkably similar understandings about their experience of unity or Oneness, often it seems when they shift from understandings centred on belief to those based on their own knowing.

At a very simple level, if you practice meditation for a while, and learn to navigate your way through the various pitfalls that the ego mind will throw in the way, you can start to find a space within where there is an inner steadiness and what I call “centredness”. You might describe it in all sorts of ways depending on your experience, but the words I would use would revolve around having an inner calm and peace of mind. One becomes anchored in this awareness. So for me, it sits somewhere in my experience of me and is always there, sometimes more in the background and sometimes very foreground. With it comes a sense of contentment, love, joy and happiness. I might be more aware of That at times, and less at others, especially if I’m caught up with ego-related mental activity. The power of awareness is to notice that and come back to my Self, with a deliberate capital “S”. You can practice that in meditation and you can live it in life.

One helps with the other. You need both. Calming the mind in life in general (are they really separate?!), enables me to go into meditation with a greater steadiness at the start. You can meditate in a turbulent state and let go as much as you can and connect at some level with your inner centre, re-mind yourself and then bring That into the rest of your life.

The regular practice of this then provides a discipline, so unfashionable and yet so valuable. The more you do it, the more it seems to help, and so becomes self-reinforcing. Of course you may get the upsets and distractions that seem to drag you away from your practice. The practice is then to come back to it. This is similar to the process in meditation itself, where the ego will distract us and we need to unhook from this part of us and come back to meditation’s focus, whatever approach you are using. The management of the mind thus provides greater skill and confidence in handling whatever can come up in life.

Of course, we also need other techniques and approaches to work alongside this practice. But the point here is to remember how strong regular meditation can be, and therefore the sustained practice of managing the mind, in helping us ride the vicissitudes of life helps us find that there is far, far more to Being than the superficialities of everyday life might suggest.

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Being who you are in the midst of all that’s going on

After days of scenes of riots on the streets of Europe and news of upcoming industrial unrest here in the UK, it made a great change recently to see a meditation flashmob recently in London’s Trafalgar Square. In case you missed it, here it is again.

The news this week was full of impending doom in the Eurozone and the dangers for the international financial system yet again, at least for those who’ve been following it. This is a great challenge for those of us interested in consciousness-raising, our own and no doubt mankind as a whole. How do we manage our lives and stay centred as all this is going on?

We can get caught up in anxiety about what might happen, even as many of us are already finding it difficult to make ends meet. The news today was also of UK households increasing their borrowing as wages fail to rise in line with inflation. People are feeling under a lot of pressure. So more difficult news compounds anxiety. It is of the nature of such feeling to feed on itself. It goes round and round, one thought on top of another. We can rapidly go down into a pit and stay stuck there.

Which is why meditation is such a brilliant antidote. Meditation is all about calming the mind down and stilling thoughts, or at least learning to detach ourselves from thought and be an observer of thoughts, not engaged in them. This is where awareness is so powerful. In meditation, you use the breath, breathing in deeply and breathing out long, before settling into a gentle rhythm. You breathe “into” your anxiety and release it as you breathe out. Thus you “let go” of what you’ve been hanging on to. If the mind is plagued by anxious thoughts, you allow yourself to be the witness of your thoughts, to notice them but not be caught up in them. All the time you are aware, you are aware of your thoughts – but you are not your thoughts. You can drill down deep, and notice whatever is going on for you, whatever you are feeling, whatever is bugging you, whatever the problem is, and however it feels. But in meditation, you don’t continue to think about it, you pause and notice and observe. You practice non-attachment to whatever is going on. Thus your awareness shifts to your more centred self, who you are.

So too in life. You can notice what’s happening – and you can make your choices and decisions about them – but you are not attached to them, caught up in them. You remained centred in being who you are.

Maybe it would be good to watch that video again, and meditate too!