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To choose or not to choose

Pardon the Shakespearian touch, but do you find you can get so “caught up” in something that’s going on in your life that you forget you have other options as to how you might respond and deal with it, that you can choose again?

I’m thinking of how we can be so impacted by something that happens that, despite what we’ve learned, we are quickly back in the midst of our “knee-jerk” reactions, succumbing to the familiar numbers we can run. Then, like Hamlet, we no longer “be”.

Let’s say you not long ago left a job you had decided no longer fulfilled you and who you are and you moved on to something else. Then a while later, after the honeymoon, back comes some of those old patterns. Maybe you find yourself again in situations where your buttons get pushed and you flip back into your old “stuff”. We could say the same about leaving one relationship and starting another only to find the same stuff re-appears. Or moving house. It goes on.

Another way might be where you think you’ve learned something and for a few days it seems to work, and then something occurs that catches you unawares and there you are, doing “it” again. It’s a bit like your shadow following you around!

We always have a choice

What can be hard to see is that we’ve always got a choice. I’ve been often struck how we might need to remind ourselves to take responsibility and exercise choice. It can seem like we forget this when our “stuff” happens. It’s a kind of selective amnesia or a fog that takes hold, and blots out our awareness.

It’s an everyday occurrence, being presented with choices about how we deal with this or that situation. Yet we may not necessarily see that we have a choice in a particular situation and instead operate compulsively, in a sense “at the effect” of what is occurring.

It can take an effort, a real effort, to do this, to take responsibility and to choose. To choose whether to carry on being at the effect of “it”, of to take control and manage “it” differently, let go, etc.

This is one example of where I have found meditation so helpful, and the practice of mindfulness that is involved. In the process of settling in to meditate, and to focus the mind and let go of mental activity (or however you see it), we notice our mind getting absorbed in something and we return our awareness to the breath, a mantra or whatever technique you use to help you settle and centre yourself and be present and more fully aware. And keep doing this when the mind wanders.

In doing this, I might for example come into meditation with some “it” that is going on. The process of settling in to meditation, and the sustained practice of it, helps me let go of whatever “it” is. It’s like life in general. We can develop mental “muscle” this way, so that we learn we have power over our “stuff”, rather than “it” having power over us. Then over time and with practice you (or I), develop a greater ability to manage the mind, to be aware of our mental patterns and to rise above them, let them go, etc. That doesn’t mean it won’t come back, but that you know there’s a powerful tool you have available to use.

This is a decision we make, a choice we exercise. We use our will, and thus build up the power of the will. That too needs practice. The ego is so skilled in the art of selective amnesia and so we need to find ways to combat it. Thus some regular practice to “re-mind” ourselves is very important.
So just pause a moment, take a deep breath, and do a mental scan. What’s going on in your mind at the moment? What is “foreground”, close up to you? And what is “background”, further away, or running quietly? What can you feel? Is there some sense of unease, worry, sadness, depression, anger or even something else? Sometimes it is not in our minds, as it seems, but in our bodies. So tune through your body, till you sense it.

This can be familiar “stuff”, what we keep doing, but push away in order to cope day by day.

Now go and meditate, notice this pattern you’ve identified, and breathe it away, bringing your awareness to your breath and to being present and more fully aware…

Of the majesty of Who you Are.

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What do you regret?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can book here: click here.

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Remember to see the choice in a situation

When we’re caught up in some drama or challenge, we might feel we are totally up against it and feel unable to take the bigger picture and recognise that we have choices. It’s as though the issue and the dilemma has obliterated choice, that instead we “have” to do or not do something. The choice, if there is one, can seem quite stark or it can be obscured. The polarity is very black-and-white; there’s a lack of middle ground.

This is often where it pays to talk the matter through with someone who is skilled in helping you review your possible actions, to identify your choices. It might be that you’re so caught up in it that you can’t see the choices that might be there. I’ve so often been struck how in groups someone has presented a problem as if there aren’t any solutions or there’s only one, which they don’t like of course. Yet when this is offered to the group, other choices materialise.

Often this is about stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. In the spiritual activity known as witnessing, which I think others call mindfulness, you can learn to witness yourself in action. It might seem like a part of you is aware of yourself. When you gain this seeming detachment, although it can feel like being part of a greater Whole, you can notice what you’re getting up to. Thus you’re more likely to see possible options available. In the witness state, you are no longer caught up in the drama. And even if you’re not orientated this way, having a greater detachment is powerful still.

Having options also can occur once you let go of the drama, when you no longer feel caught up in it. Of course, as I write elsewhere in this blog, learning to let go is also a skill, which we need to practice again and again. But when someone does this, they can then see more broadly into a situation.

Also the situation itself can lose some of its negative attraction, this hold over us, and so we can then feel freer to work out what we might do. It’s like we relax and can talk about it like it’s no longer life-and-death, no longer one of sharp polarities, no longer such a threat.

So, when you feel up against it next time, try to remind yourself, re-mind your self, that there are always choices, breathe deeply and take yourself off somewhere, take time out, pause, let go, and see what’s possible.

I give coaching to help people work out their options and choices for their dilemmas in life and work. Click here to learn more.

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It’s crucial to be dealing with stress by exercising choice

As people come back off their summer holidays, back they can come to the same old issues and the same old pressures. Hopefully you’ve come back refreshed and with a new outlook, which can potentially help you respond differently. And in dealing with stress, how you respond is crucial, as is the extent to which you exercise choice over how you manage the situation, as a recent study has reinforced. Researchers have shown that where people have little or no control over the situation, there is a small but increased risk of a heart attack. The connection between stress and heart problems is well-known, but this study looks at the issue of control, which can lie behind a lot of the experience of stress.

For many people, stress is exaccerbated by the sense of a lack of control over their job and thus they can experience strain. A key negative shift occurs for people when they feel they “have” to do something rather than because they “want” to do it. Thus one becomes in a way a victim of a situation. It’s important to emphasise that this is how it seems to people, although the outsider might be able to see it differently. The experience of stress is all about perception.

To bring about change, the individual can benefit from shifting their perception. There may be the same obligation to deliver but one can start to make choices around how one manages the situation. Awareness is fundamental here, being aware of your sensations, feelings and thoughts. Thus it really pays to attend to the body and how it is feeling. This is where relaxation, better diet and exercise play a part: you can see if you read the article in the above link, very often health risks due to stress are heightened by the accompanying bad habits, such as poor diet, alcohol, lack of exerecise and so on. How attending to feelings and thoughts are also important. This is where feelings can alert us to unhelpful thoughts that contribute to the experience of stress. It’s what we do with our minds that’s so vital. We can, for example, make things more difficult by maintaining a negative inner dialogue about our situation, about our work, our boss, our home situation, what we really want, etc., and this can take us where we don’t really want to go.

Changing how we think about what is occuring starts with making choices, with choosing to change, to take up some exercise, to eat better, to take more time out, to relax, to let go, and to manage our minds differently. It’s all about taking responsibility. Very quickly people can start to feel better.

I coach people in how to manage stress and in making changes in their lives to really improve their quality of life and how they feel. Click here

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We can move on

It is curious, were it not also so painful, to see how absorbed we can get in our own misery. It gets a perverse fascination, such that we keep on and on at it, even though we know, in part, that it doesn’t do us any good.

I was reading a story about that great mythical Indian character, Sheikh Nasruddin. Stories about him are often told by gurus, to illustrate a point they are making. Here’s one from Swami Muktananda. Sheikh Nasruddin had noticed people buying chillies in a market and had seen that they were very popular. In fact they are only eaten in very small quantities but Nasruddin concluded that since so many people bought they must be very tasty. So he bought a whole stack and went away and sat under a tree to eat them. Very quickly his eyes were streaming and his mouth was hurting and his nose was running, and he was in agony. But he carried on, finishing one and starting another, thinking that surely at some point they would start tasting good. All the time he was suffering, but as he went on he thought, “Surely at some point it will get better”. After a while someone who had been watching him came over and pointed out that one only ate chillies in very small quantities, and usually in cooking. Hearing this, Nasruddin carried on eating. Asked why he was doing this, Nasruddin replied, “I bought these chillies and I have to finish them. I’m not eating chillies any longer. I am eating my money!”

It’s not doing us any good, but we carry on with it because we’ve made the investment. Perverse, isn’t it? We keep on, hoping that what we do will lead us to fun, enjoyment, satisfaction, contentment. But we get more hell. It reminds me of the old saying that since you’ve made your bed, you have to lie on it.

Well do we?

Yes, we can change direction. We can stop. We can let go. We can drop it. We don’t have to carry on what we’re doing. We can move on. But it’s when we want to, when we choose, when we really commit. Till then, as the Chinese saying goes, “If you don’t change direction, you’re likely to end up where you’re headed.”

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Tied to how to look good

I noticed a certain conflict of loyalties in me on reading this article about the wearing of ties. As one male who hated “having” to wear a tie, and over the moon when finally large numbers of men in work decided to abandon the wretched attire, I usually find myself having strong personal views (to myself) about this aspect of the male dress code in more formal situations. So, I notice, do certain women.

I used to be aware of the potential irony in the word “tie” with implications of being tied to how to look good as conventionally perceived. But there’s more than one side to this matter.

As a coach, if I’m helping some man to enhance his impact in for example a business environment, then I’d be encouraging him to consider a tie. Particularly if someone is a manager and they need to raise their profile, then very often they need to attend to how they look as part of the impact-making. This often includes thinking about their style of clothes, the quality, the appearance, haircut, shoes and the overall, total look. Men can get a bit uncomfortable about this, certainly in the UK, especially when we get to colour-coding, because it sounds “feminine” to some. Yet anybody who has done this work on themselves will say, the result can make a major positive difference to how they are perceived, let alone the statement to oneself that one matters.

Yet, it’s interesting that the blessed tie comes up. As I said, I hate them, but then that’s my stuff, a product of being in an English boarding school and “having” to struggle to tie a tie using separate, heavily starched collars that were so stiff they made my young “unhardened” neck very sore in the icy, unheated conditions of the spartan environment in which we lived – to “make men” of us. I guess it went with all that stuff about “character-building”, which for some people was a powerful euphemism for being thoroughly emotionally deprived. So, despite years of conformity in the world of work, I secretly harboured a desire to burn every tie I had, rather as women at one point were symbolically burning bras. When some time later I got into personal development, then a tie became an instrument of English class-based suppression of my emotional life force, that middle class, buttoned up and tied down thing! Of course this was really my under-expressed rebel side coming out, but that was the rationale. So, once male liberation finally arrived in the form of the open-necked shirt and suit or more casual gear, I was right there.

I also, as an aside, remember on one workshop an old school friend turning up with his boater (a certain kind of straw hat), which he invited me to stamp on, which I did with much glee, as bemused fellow-participants looked on, not at all getting the symbolism. This is a distinctly tribal issue, by the way!

However, as I said, it is interesting how style and body language work. My wife, bless her, takes a totally different view and repeatdly tells me I look very good in a good, quality suit and tie, tall, slim, elegant, etc, etc. And in the world out there, there are situations where wearing said tie has an impact, as stated above. For example senior managers in the civil service wear them as standard, and when seeing a minister it would be compulsory. There are organisations I can go into where all the top management wear them, and it is one thing that distinguishes them. People in customer-facing situations in banks will do likewise. If you are somewhere where you need to influence another positively, especially in power situations, the tie helps. The power of body language extends to the clothes you wear and the total effect. If you want people to sit up and take notice of you, consider the tie.

So, as the article referred to at the start points out, if you’re a politician seeking to get out amongst “the people”, then an element of “dressing down” is an option. It’s more democratic and “relaxed”. But in power, you wear a tie. After all, you need to be taken seriously. It’s such a powerful statement.

It reminds me that there are times where discretion is the better part of valour and that one’s own stuff about one’s appearance can be put on one side in the service of the greater good. Which of course also goes therefore with the advice one gives, which in the end in this case is a question of being of service to another for its and their own sake.

So, guys, hang on to that tie.

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Having courage to follow your passion

A guest blog by Robin Wyatt, humanitarian, environment and travel photographer

I often write in this blog about the courage it takes in personal development, especially when you choose to follow your passion. So I thought it might be useful to read this.

What follows was posted by Robin Wyatt, first for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP)

I recently wrote a guest blog post for an organisation I’m a proud member of, the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP). Its title was ‘Reflections on following one’s passion: My first 15 months in humanitarian photography’. You can either read it in full on their site here, and then explore further to understand what this organisation is all about, or carry on reading below.

Robin Wyatt is a humanitarian, environment and travel photographer with a background in social research for international development and a PhD in Indian Law and Sociology to boot. Now that he’s left the academic world behind to follow his passion, he seeks to communicate the beauty he sees in the Earth and humanity to inspire hope and empower agents of change.

humanitarian photographer following passion kenya sunday school 15309 Guest blog for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP)

After eight months in Africa, touching on this vast continent’s North (Egypt), East (Kenya) and West (Senegal), I’ve headed back to where it all began: India. When I tell people “I lived in India for six years”, the phrase almost always meets with wonderment. In that sense, it’s a bit like the phrase, “I’m a humanitarian and travel photographer”. Few people respond to either of these ideas with blank looks, and that’s not just a product of moving in circles of like-minded people. I often don’t. Their reaction to living in – not just visiting – India seems to be like, “is that even possible?” and “wow, what all you must have seen!” As for my occupation, they quickly conclude that I’m living the dream.

Actually, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Back in March 2011, I wrote a journal entry entitled “So I decided to become a photographer”. I was still just setting about it, and it was a useful exercise in taking time to appreciate the magnitude but also the richly rewarding nature of this decision for myself. At the beginning, I could not be sure how this apparently huge gamble would pay off. All I knew was that I was thoroughly dissatisfied with what I’d been doing before and that the time had come to do something radical. I was not willing to go further down the wrong road, no matter how many years and how much energy I had invested in getting to where I was. Life is too short for feeling unfulfilled, and I was determined not to let my qualifications and experience hem me in any longer.

humanitarian photographer on retreat kerala 20348 Guest blog for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP)

As a new year begins, I’m taking the opportunity for some more navel gazing. I admit that I have not made a fortune this year. While my income level is something I intend to improve as I move forward, one thing I know for certain is that the decision to follow my passion has been the best one I’ve ever taken. The night before I flew out of Africa, I was at a gathering of social change-makers in Dakar. I could only stay for one drink as I had to get up very early the next morning. As I prepared to leave, I was told in cheerful tones by the woman to my left that I should not go without telling everybody what my passion was. I was struck by how easily the answer rolled off my tongue. It felt so empowering, not only to know that I recognized my passion, but that I was also following it with every ounce of energy I could muster.

Photography! Humanitarian and environmental causes! Travel! People! Ok, that sounds like a lot of passions, not just one. But in my career, I’m clearly combining all of the above. Yes, I really am living the dream. And I’m increasingly taking moments out to recognize this, and be thankful for how lucky I am that I’m able to do this. Making a living from it is another matter, but I retain the intention that following my passion(s) in areas in which I have natural talent is bound to pay me rewards beyond mere fulfillment. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

humanitarian photographer senegal laamb wrestling making beautiful uplifting images 17354 Guest blog for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP)

I’m struck by how many people I meet these days that are so clearly amazed by what I’m doing with my life now. I used to be more than a little upset at the age of 30 that although my CV suggested I had great clarity, I was actually wandering around in the wilderness with no clear sense of what I was doing in the world. I seemed to be meandering from post to post, with no idea of where this was taking me. It was ok when I was in my early 20s, but in my early 30s I looked around myself and saw most of my peers on career ladders, living in homes they’d arranged mortgages for, in (or on their way to) marriages and starting to have children. I have never wanted to get stuck in the nine-to-five rut, with 2.4 children (probably a dated statistic now), constantly battling to pay off loans and taking just two weeks holiday abroad each year, mostly spent recharging utterly spent batteries. Yet, while I was in the wilderness, it seemed that all these people at least knew what they wanted and were living their chosen lives. It’s only now that I’ve finally stepped onto my own ideal path that I see so clearly how utterly unfulfilled so many (most?) of these people actually are. It took a major personal crisis to set me straight. I’d like to think that it need not come so painfully.

So what’s new, a year (and a quarter, really) into this new career of mine? Is everything rosy now? Well, it’s very clearly a work in progress. When I started out, I wrote to many of the photographers I admired in my line of work for advice on treading this path. Perhaps I hoped there was a ready-made formula out there for me to follow. I was struck by how many took the time to write back, and by their encouraging words. I was warned that these people would see me as their competitor, and that they wouldn’t want to help me. Wrong. I felt welcomed into their community with open arms. To those of you who are reading this, a very warm thank you!

I did not always get the same advice from my brethren, especially on the matter of how to actually make a living from this ostensibly wonderful career. I was initially disheartened at the idea touted by several that owing to the changing nature of photography and its galloping competitiveness, I would surely have no choice but to earn most of my pennies shooting weddings, fashion, products, etc. Ugh. I’m not one of those photographers who derives great pleasure shooting just anything, as long as I have my hands on my gear. I need to feel the subject matter. Given that I don’t relate to the institution of marriage, I can’t say I really feel weddings. Given that I mostly live on the same constantly recycled set of five T-shirts that I squeeze into the rucksack I call ‘home’, I can’t really say I feel fashion. And given that I earnestly hope every Christmas and birthday that I’ll receive absolutely no presents (mostly because I’ll have to carry them in said home on my back!), I can’t claim to feel products.

humanitarian photographer egypt save the children tahrir square 2163 6960 Guest blog for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP)

Each of these areas commands daily rates of, I don’t know, three or four times what I quote as a humanitarian photographer. Yet I’ve avoided each of them like the plague. People continue to tell me that I should box my passion into a limited number of hours each week and concentrate more on actually earning a meaningful salary. Yet I continue to resist, putting more and more hours into developing my vision and my craft and reaching out to potential (albeit less well-endowed) clients in my field to request a few minutes of my time to show them how what I’m lovingly cultivating can genuinely help them in their efforts to make a difference.

The other thing that many photographers suggested I do to ensure the coffers do not remain empty is teach. “I cannot teach” was something I would tell people time and again when they suggested that career path for me when I was stuck in my wilderness years. That’s what most people with PhDs do, right? I couldn’t think of anything worse. As a photographer now, I tend to ‘feel’ my way to good photographs; it’s not something I apply lots of rules and theories to. Seeing some of the preeminent travel, culture and ‘world’ photographers, as well as humanitarian photographers, leading photography workshops in some of the most beautiful and far-flung corners of the world, I felt somewhat envious of their (assumed) ability to teach and command the multi-thousand dollar fees that these courses entail. I continued to assume it was not for me.

Yet during the last few months, I have come to realize that I do in fact have something to offer to image-makers, and because it’s something I feel passionate about I’m sure I can impart it to others very effectively. I will therefore soon be starting to mentor on developing one’s vision in photography and using this to become a more effective visual communicator.

The first humanitarian photographer I met right after the Vipassana course in which I had the revelation that this was the career for me kept telling me, over and over, that “no matter what, never lose sight of your vision”. He didn’t really expand on what this meant, he just kept repeating it, earnestly. I knew I wanted to be a photographer, yet at that stage I didn’t even know what ‘vision’ meant!

It’s something I see time and again as youngsters write to me, full of admiration for what I do, accompanied by requests for tips on how to get started in this career. One such guy recently sent me a batch of his images, and I told him how much I admired certain specific ones. “Why do you think I like this one so much, but find that one rather less inspiring?”, I asked him. He was at a loss for how to reply, and offered me something on how he’d applied the Rule of Thirds in one but not the other. He was an engineer by training, a profession that is defined by rules, or rather ‘laws’, so I was not surprised. I quickly realised I had something to offer this young man. I could help him develop, nurture and own a vision that’s uniquely his. He is in Assam in India and I’ve been in Africa since we started exchanging e-mails, but thanks to the wonders of modern means of communication, I’ve been able to set him small projects, critique his work and help him progress in his passion from afar.

humanitarian photographer vision storytelling abinash mazumdar Guest blog for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP)

He and one other (in Nepal) are currently my guinea pigs. Soon, I will open this service up to other individuals and organisations for a reasonable fee. I never thought it possible that I might one day teach. Yet in this, I have found a niche. Moreover, it’s a niche that I believe is important to exploit because the Global South needs more home-grown visual communicators. This is a part of capacity building, which has become an integral part of the international development agenda.

humanitarian photographer happiness joy children dancing senegal beach 18160 Guest blog for the International Guild of Visual Peacemakers (IGVP)

So that’s where I’m at, 15 months in. My desire for some time out to consider where I’m at once again and to chart an approximate way forward has brought me to Southern Kerala, where I am now ‘on retreat’. I’m taking time away from everything to just ‘be’. Space is so essential for me in mentally decongesting; the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and the breeze that rustles through the palm trees put me in a wonderful zone of peace that allows clarity and ideas to flow so freely. Very quickly, I’ve found myself filling my purple book (the successor to the blue book of Goa) with resolutions, action plans, further unique ideas for income-generation, revised vision and mission statements, etc. It’s just wonderful! I’ve even got a plan now for transitioning from living out of my rucksack to having (affording!) a proper ‘home’. I’m very sure that 2012 will not be the year of disaster predicted by so many doomsayers. It’s going to be my best year yet. Cheers to following one’s passion!

To follow Robin and learn more about his work go to

(Robin is my older son)

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Applying the utility test to your choices

People often ask me whether something they are doing or thinking of doing in life is “right”. I often reply with another question, “Does it serve you?”, or “Is it useful to you?” Reference is made numerous times in this blog to the phrase “what serves you” in assessing whether something is suitable as a strategy in life. I call it the utility test, whether it is useful or not. It brings thinking round to the outcome desired and whether the action, thought, feeling or behaviour will produce the desired result. And is that result serving you, being of use? Is there actually a higher purpose behind all this, like what your heart or your soul really wants, or your higher Self. Will what I’m thinking of, for example, help me, be of use, in my life path? Will in all this will I finally get to feel whole, complete, At One, who I really am, what I fundamentally believe in, what I’m truly about, my integrity, my real values, etc., etc?

So thinking about what serves you invites you to reflect on your underlying purpose in making your choices, rather than the more superficial criteria we might apply. “Right” by contrast involves a value judgement according to some belief system often received from others or the social consensus. People use the word “right” as if there’s an absolute, when too often it’s a relative, based frequently on received perception. One example often given is how one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Syria would be a good case in point at present. The West considers the “protesters” to be advocates of democracy, whereas others support the Assad regime as they fear “armed gangs” or oppose “regime change”. Who is “right”?

Another question that is often raised takes the form of “Should I (think, feel, say, do) this or that?” “Should” is a use of an internal or external belief system presented as a moral choice. It is similar in effect to the use of “right”. So too with “good”, “bad”, and so on.

In personal development it can be “useful” to mull on the choices and the thinking behind the choices. We might ask ourselves what’s really going on here? What’s this about? What’s the belief behind it?

Clarifying choices is an essential ingredient of much effective personal development, in seminars and in coaching.

We help people raise their awareness of their choices in The Point of Awareness.

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Where are we all going?

When we’re stuck and “down in the dumps” it’s an important question, what’s the point of all this, where are we going? Apart from the stock, usually religious, “answers” which are other people’s ideas anyway but which you get invited to believe in and which you’re perhaps struggling with, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking…and (huge, deep breath!), what’s your idea of where you are going?

That’s more pertinent, since it draws it in to you, and away from the abstract and other people’s perceptions and closer to home and your goals, plans, intentions, dreams and purpose.

Crises of faith test our resolve, and can expose our gaps and our lack of thought to what we’re creating individually and where we’re going. Upheavals and change have this effect, to lead us to question what it’s all about, and to create new meaning. Existentialists would say that that is what we do with life. It has, they say, no purpose or meaning except that which we choose for it. So it’s down to us.

That still might not deal with the crisis of faith. As St John of the Cross found, we can go through Dark Nights of the Soul, which can severely test us but have a healing benefit, since we can purge our ego and resolve long-standing obstacles to our growth. The point is to be able to see beyond the immediate to the bigger picture. Hence it helps to know where you’re going.

It also tests us to manage the mind and to teach us to “get off” the thinking pattern which is pulling us down. Which means you need to know what that is all about. Hence the vital importance of practicing awareness and witnessing, and finding these things out.

Our program, The Point of Awareness, is specially designed for this task.

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When you’re totally and utterly stuck

Psychological growth can occur after periods of feeling stuck. When we’re stuck it’s as though we can’t see a way forward or a way out. We’ve still got the problem and it continues to get to us and be getting in the way of our life. In Gestalt terms, we have some awareness and but are immobilised at the point where we’re seeking options and choices as to what to do. Stuck phases can seem enormously frustrating, if not depressing.

Physically it can feel like we’re rooted to the spot, weighed down, lacking fluidity and ease of movement. There can be a tendency to go round in circles, going over and over the problem or challenge as if that’s all there is. It’s very hard to see the bigger picture. We’re down in some hole.

I once had great help from a friend over being stuck, when he helped me visualise being stuck in one such hole. In working on it, I imagined going all around this hole till I knew it backwards, so to speak. He helped me think of what the sides were like and I realised the sides weren’t as high as I had imagined and that there were sticking out bits and roots that I could cling to so that I might be able to climb out. I then had to learn to believe I could climb out. We didn’t talk of him giving me a rope and pulling me up. This was about me getting out myself.

Taking responsibility and realising we have power over our situation, and then actively doing something about it that changes it are vital components. Yet it helps to reframe the perception of the situation and then to find options to use. Vitally though, we very often need to go back to our awareness and find what else we might become aware of but haven’t yet. Then once we’ve done that, there’s a much more powerful energy at our disposal. Then effort is needed, tapping into the energy, to make the changes that are needed, even dealing with the part of us that is reluctant, and resisting becoming aware and making the change. Often the resistant bit is about a part of us we’re not willing to recognise, embrace and change. The resistance and the clinging on to the old understandings helps keep the stuckness in place. It’s us ourselves that need to do something about this.