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Limiting beliefs can limit our outcomes

The mindset of pessimism and limiting beliefs can run deep. I was struck recently by a headline in the UK’s “Telegraph” that “We’ll never have it so good again“, with a report about the declining opportunities facing today’s middle class young. From the self-development perspective, it was the mindset and outlook on life of having disappointed expectations and also that the outcome was bound to be worse that grabbed my thinking. Whilst appreciating that young people are having a particularly difficult time in the current Great Recession and acknowledging that this is far from acceptable in public policy terms, it was however the assumptions behind the article that were to me striking. Why should it be never “so good again”?

A downward spiral of negativity is probably something many readers will be familiar with, where we can get locked into seeing only the negative and can struggle to reframe a situation in more positive terms. It can get addictive. In this context, having the underlying assumption that your life can’t be “so good again” sounds very much like a set-up for getting what you don’t want. It you take this course of thinking, then what happens won’t be so good, and you’ll get what you think about. Events will play out in consequence. Our creativity, according to this way of thinking, will be focused on the “not so good” outcomes.

This is of course a good example of the negative power of holding limiting beliefs. It doesn’t allow for the notion that the said young people might individually and collectively decide to buck the trend and start having “good” outcomes. We can change our thinking, we can “change our mind”, and different outcomes can follow. Such is the power of the mind.

Of course macro-economic trends can be powerful, as can the power of living within collective mind-sets, where if many think the same it will be a much stronger force. Then it’s about stepping outside the force of the collective and thinking for yourself, including challenging assumptions.

Expectations are very powerful, and can themselves be limiting too. It may not seem an obvious point but an expectation does not allow for change and can be inflexible. It is something about expecting things that might actually involve other people’s choices, and they might want something different, and also by holding on to expectations we might rigidify the process when we might be better served by stepping back and allowing things to be. So, expectations can also be a set-up for not getting what we want. When we instead set an intention and then let go, we allow the creative forces to work unhindered by the ego. We’re letting go of the ego investment in an outcome, for example a fear-based expectation. If, while attached to expectation, it doesn’t work out, then we’re disappointed, and thus we create more suffering for ourselves. This is why the ego characteristic of expectation is a powerful one to let go of. Then we’re no longer holding on to a given outcome through fear. We’re not invested in it.

Thus to step back and allow the possibility, through intention, that we will create a “good” outcome brings with it a letting go of expectation, having no attachment to whatever occurs. This gives freedom to the universe to flow in abundant ways and we can, as per the Law of Attraction draw to us what we really want. There is wisdom here too, because what we attract may be far more beneficial to us that what we were attached to in ego terms. Maybe the real “good” is far more valuable to us that what we had conceived of in ego terms. It’s an excellent example of how real freedom lies in letting go.

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Where desire, need and wanting can cost us unless we let go

If you watch a small child who hasn’t got what he or she wanted, it’s very likely their face will pucker up, there will be a pause, a deep gasp for air and then out will come a traumatised scream. It’s not the scream of one physically hurt. It’s more likely the rage of disappointed expectations. We got to experience and express it early on, and were well-practised at it, until we learned more subtle and skillful ways to get our own way.

Disappointed expectations can often be expressed as rage. The pain that underlies it, the depth of the upset, comes out as anger, and it takes more work to elicit the underlying hurt. These feelings get locked in the body, especially if not expressed. For many of us, we learned to suppress how we felt in a society not so tolerant of self-expression: “Behave yourself…button it…be quiet…”, etc. The anger may rumble on underneath, perhaps surfacing every now and again in some event that triggers the underlying hurt. We may feel the anger, and its related upset, in a body tension, and later on in life in illnesses such as those related to the heart.

So it is useful to pay attention to the sense that we have not got from life what we expected. This is as relevant to people feeling very driven in say their work and their careers as it is in relation to a relationship. Another example might be the drive to be successful, and continually feeling we’ve not got it, or not got it “enough”. There’s a lack of satisfaction in some way that we seek from life and don’t get it, feel frustrated, and keep coming back to the same issues. In Gestalt terms it is an incomplete Gestalt, unfinished business, in relation to past events being expressed in present-day circumstances.

Thus it is so valuable to find ways to let go of expectation, desire, wanting, needing, where it is driving us unhealthily, and do something to safely release the pent-up emotion in the body, and not at your own or others’ expense. If it has affected our health of course, it is wise to do that under some form of professional support from people who have experience and knowledge in this area. And lots of exercise too, since the stored-up emotion will very likely manifest in a body state that needs exercise in part to restore its healthy functioning. So, with great care.

Good seeking, that which takes us to the discovery of who we really are, to a place of inner acceptance and a love of oneself and of one another unconditionally, has a healing all of its own. When we let go and connect with our inner positivity, we release masses of positive chemicals, and of course feel a whole lot better about ourselves and about life. So, instead of potential heart disease, imagine the benefits of meditating on your heart centre and releasing the love that dwells within!

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When other people don’t show up as you want

One might think that a child gets used to disappointments, that as he or she does not get what they wanted they learn some way of moderating their expectations and learn not to feel such angst when it doesn’t happen.Yet, perhaps many a young person will say that nothing compares to being disappointed in love. Have you been so utterly in love with someone and thought him or her a total angel only to have all those expectations of joy to be crushed when you got dumped or it didn’t turn out some other way what you had expected?

Some learn from these early experiences and don’t let their emotions get the better of them. In emotional intelligence terms we could say we learn a form of self-control, “keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check,” (Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence at Work). For others disappointment and disiilusionment is something we don’t get used to, and we keep repeating the pattern. One classic pattern is to go through a cycle of hope and expectation followed by crashing disappointment, only to repeat the cycle again. Others live in a state of pessimistic hope, where they hope for a good outcome but actually believe it won’t happen, a sort of set-up for it not happening. It can almost seem as if there’s a fatal flaw in the whole setup, whereby we know inside it won’t work out,and so it deosn’t. Some can have a perpetual sense of resignation in their energy and body or a look of disappointment, as if they’re constantly disappointed with life and other people. Very sad.

It might be partly about the whole question of expectation, having expectations about life and other people. Another emotional intelligence “behaviour” in the “Self-Management” cluster that Goleman refers to above is adaptability or flexibility in handling change.  Then too it is about recognising and accepting that others are different and can change too and have their own desires, which don’t necessarily chime with yours. We can learn a softness and acceptance about life, a recognition that nothing is permanent at the human level and the need to change ourselves and be self-responsible. After all, there may be another way forward that appears when we let go, one even better!

However, for those attached to expectation, it isn’t like that. Here, people might hang on to what they want and place an emotional investment in things being a certain way. They may for example have experienced such loss early on that they hang on emotionally to others and seek to get them to fit their own expectations for fear of having to face the uncertainty and risk of it being different from that.

It then can be hard to see that when we truly let go of all expectation, totally and unconditionally, it then works out as we had wanted. But we have to have let go of it. A paradox – like Life!

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Need expectation and jealousy as the three love destroyers

In his book “Friendship with God”, Neale Donald Walsch gives three love-killers as need, expectation and jealousy. It’s a powerful ego trio and good material for our ego watch today, given the approach of Christmas.

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 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 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, other people’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 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.

With all three, 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.

The approach of Christmas, when families gather and we appreciate one another, is a good time to be reflecting on what we can take responsibility for, that we are creating, that 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.

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Reflections on receiving unconditionally

The other side of giving at Christmas is receiving. Some say that in order to receive well, you need to develop the art of giving. Others put it the other way round. If giving unconditionally, without ego, is a powerful practice, what about the ability to receive?

Receiving is riddled with stuff too. A child might be thinking, “What am I going to get?” and might have all sorts of concerns about whether he or she gets this or that toy or bit of technology or whatever. There’s lots of mixed messages around giving and therefore receiving. We can translate love and being loved into present-giving, and the gift can be used as a substitute, not a very convincing one. So a child underneath might for example be fobbed off with masses of presents instead of the love they need and can so desperately seek. And there might be other stuff, for example feelings of guilt in not being there for the child. So the recipient gets all this as love-substitutes and has their own feelings around perhaps deficit need.

And this stuff continues into adulthood. We might then become very expert at deflecting the emotional bit, and go through the motions of receiving, maybe even feigning pleasure, or feel uncomfortable as being the target of this attention, embarrassed even.

Yet to receive can be to feel the pleasure of being given something. We could let go all that childhood stuff, which could be mixed up with our own perceptions and not what actually occurred. We could be with another differently. Christmas is a good time to do that, associated as it is with new beginnings. Someone is giving us something. It might well be with love. In receiving, we let it in. Energetically, we allow ourselves to feel the pleasure. And we express gratitude, from the heart, and feel that too. It’s fully expressed, with the feelings evident in our body language, our tone of voice and in what we say. You could really get into it. And there’s the acknowledgement of the other person too in considering you for the present, and maybe also in the thought and effort that was put into buying the present. In receiving, the heart opens, as it does in giving, and the transmission of love between one person and the other takes place.

And again it’s even perhaps unconditional. You receive without any expectation that something is expected of you or that you expect of another. Receiving is an allowing in, letting in the gift and letting it touch you in the heart.

Here is a beautiful way to experience love between people and thus of what underlies all human experiencing, if we allow it. What a good opportunity Christmas offers for us.

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Doing things for others unconditionally, for the love of it

I’ve been writing this week about praising others, appreciation, and about giving and receiving. More than once I referred to doing this unconditionally. What is the importance of unconditionality in giving and receiving?

People can place an expectation on giving and receiving, a condition. For example, if I praise you, I might expect that you like me in return or be nicer to me in future. So I might expect to get something back in return, either overtly or covertly. “If I do this for you, I expect something back.” This can make relationships very transactional. And quite deadly.

I remember having what I thought was a great philosophical debate with a fellow student at uni, about Existentialism. He disagreed and in the end produced a book which he urged me to read. It was by C. S. Lewis, whom I remember best for The Chronicles of Narnia and not what he gave me. My colleague was, it turned out, a Christian, and he had a concern for my soul. I gave him a book on the subject I was arguing for. After some months he asked me in the dining hall, in front of others, if I had read the book yet. I said not, at which he got very angry and said “I expect something back for my investment”. Several long-haired fellow diners (this was the late ‘60’s) then semi-choked on their food. He never said whether he read my book. Needless to say, no progress was made.

Being unconditional is to do something for another without any expectation. Thus unconditional love is particularly powerful. I love you but I don’t expect anything back. I just love you. The freedom in this is immense. You can do things for other people without anything back, just for the pure sake of it, for love. Action for others comes from the space of love. I do this for you because I care. I do it for the sake of love. At some level, love is what connects us, even if you or I, or both of us, aren’t aware of it. Awareness brings it more into view, but we not all yet notice it. However, at this level, love is an awareness of being. It just is. It is unconditional, an experience, part of Being, a re-cognition of the Whole.

So, perhaps this weekend, as our world and our society agonises over the perceived economic crisis facing us, we could re-member what unites us, love.

Perhaps we could learn to do more for others without condition, without expectation, because that is who we are.

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Not being attached to what you want

At work, desire is rampant. You want to please your boss, to get a promotion, to get a rise, to impress colleagues, to be well-regarded, to win that contract, to make more money, etc. Desire is something of a paradox to seekers of inner peace as we also have needs to satisfy in order to live. And at work, there we are busy earning money in order to do that. So it sounds reasonable.

I guess one way of looking at this whole matter is to separate out everyday functioning to support ourselves and others. As Zen monks were told, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood carry water.” Life carries on. Just because you are feeling blissed out doesn’t mean you stop the daily round of work, chores, care and all those other things that support our material existence, unless that is you are so able to get by without these things. Most of us are faced with needing to return to everyday life at some point! The question could be, how do you manage your mind and deal with the ego when you are doing that? How far are you keeping your focus on what uplifts you as opposed to what drags you down into the mire of unmet desire?

So, there’s something in there about detachment, or non-attachment, being able to maintain your centredness and not get caught up in the thoughts and feeling around desire. You can still do whatever needs to be done, but you would need, with this approach, to be aware of how you do it and what goes on in your mind.

At work, this gets very difficult. The workplace is full of wants, yours and others, your boss, your team, customers, suppliers, and a whole army of different characters in our drama of life. A classic example is “expectation”. They’ve even invented a term for dealing with this, “managing expectations,” what others expect of you, or what you expect of others, ie what is wanted, and how you influence that.

But nothing is different at essence. Wherever you go, you get desire, while you are attached to it. If you are focused on it as something that causes you difficulty, if it is a problem for you, if it isn’t serving you, you’ll likely be attached to it. It’ll keep figuring in your life.

When you become the witness of the experience, with the understanding that it is “not you”, when you are no longer driven by it, when you can just notice it and not go anywhere with it, you’ll very likely be making progress. After all, you are so much more than the petty desire of the ego.

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Are you attached to your own expectations?

I wonder what news you’ll be waking up to today. I wonder what will have been happening in another part of the globe as you slept? And, if you’re going to work, what will the situation be like when you get there. Is what’s happening concerning you? You might have wondered what happened to your weekend, as whatever positive vibes that might have been around have probably evaporated.

Whatever plans you might have had at the end of last week might well be out of the window as things might have considerably changed. Coming back to surprises isn’t something many people like. It goes against our expectations. In fact we can get rigidly attached to our expectations. We want things to be what we had been led to believe they were – or should be if we had our way.

It’s worth checking whether what you are presented with as you start your week is contrary to what you expected or wanted. And how much are you a prisoner of expectations, yours or others?

What is key here is to have flexibility, to be able to let go of what we were expecting, or at least have some level of open-minded to different possibilities, thereby enabling us to be more creative in how we respond to a situation.

Expectations can be a form of pre-determinant that prevents us seeing the real, positive opportunity in a situation or in what we are being offered. Also we can be such a prisoner of expectations that we deny ourselves the possibility of learning and growing. It can create a rigidity of thinking, an inability to bend with the wind and find a better way to what we really want. It sets up barriers to getting the collaboration of others. And we don’t feel good either: we might be feeling angry or resentful. We can stay suck in the past, limited in which way we can go by a line of action we have already decided upon and are reluctant to let go of. And which we probably think is “right”.

The crucial ability here is the ability to let go, let go of our presuppositions. Then we can allow the new to enter, which could end up being to our benefit.

This is a world of very rapid change, when many of our expectations and presuppositions are going up in smoke. Thus change flexibility and the willingness to let go is very important. “Let go and let God”.

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Not having what I want now

A by-product of recessionary times might prove to be a shift in cultural attitudes towards the “now” thinking current over the last few decades. Such is the scale of the hardship now being visited on sections of the community that we’re having to postpone our projects, to wait till circumstances are right for us. This can require qualities often seen as unfashionable but useful, like patience and persistence, trust and durability, sticking with it even when things don’t seem to be going your way.

“Now” thinking would be that I have what I want “now”. Immediacy is what matters. I don’t need to wait till I’m able to afford it. Get out of my way. Hurry up. Do it before I lose interest. Speed is important and OK. The shift could be that I have instead to put in the groundwork, to wait till it is possible, to save the money, to stay the course, to consider others to ensure buy-in, to trust that things will come to me, to allow the process to unfold.

“Allowing” is a very unfashionable approach. We think we have to force the pace, to “make things happen”, especially if we “have no time” and must get on and do it. Such is the drivenness under which so many of us live.

To “allow” is to get our egos out of the way, to let things happen, to allow the process to do its thing, to be unattached to how or when it unfolds. It means being patient but it also means being persistent and staying the course and not be egoically invested in things happening when we want them to.

This is perhaps why many avoid “allowing” because it challenges them too much. They think they’ve got to “do” something. They have difficulty with the idea that’s it all going to happen anyway because it’s their intention and also their destiny.

In meditation, we set our thoughts on one side, and stay with the process. We wait for our minds to settle. And we “be” with what is. Then alchemy happens. Acceptance and non-attachment are part of the state of being. Letting go is essential. This is another way in which meditation is therefore so useful, as it helps us let go and “be”. Meditation is a very patient activity. There’s no point getting impatient with the mind, or you really get in a twist! We just have to let go and be the witness.

So, if we really want for example abundance in our lives, we have to learn to be patient, let go and allow the process to unfold. Resisting that perpetuates the barrier to things happening. It’s almost paradoxical.

And we need to persist with it. Spiritual practice requires consistency and determination, and staying the course. So too with life. Very unfashionable. Letting go and trusting that all is perfect, that all will happen just as it is meant to.

So, when you’re next impatient and wanting it “now”, practice patience and staying with the process, but also letting go and trusting. Take a big deep breath, let go and trust.

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When people don’t show up

Someone whom I was looking forward to meeting today just called and cancelled. What I thought would be a good afternoon just went up in smoke. Disappointed expectations.

What happens for you when people don’t do what you wanted or expected? Do you feel let down, angry, disappointed – or cynical?

Think about all those times when people didn’t do what you hoped or expected or show up in the way you thought they would. A girlfriend or boyfriend dumped you. A work-colleague let you down badly over some support you were expecting. A friend persistently fails to show up in the way you would like. A parent didn’t come to read you your bed-time story even though he or she had promised to.

Would you even have a long-term memory of a let-down? Such memories affect us even now. I can remember a “game” me and my friends played as children. It was called “chucking you out.” Every now and again one of us would get chucked out of the house we were playing together in. How horrible children can be to one another!

How horrible can adults be to one another too!

So, have you got the feeling of it yet?

From a personal development perspective, this is all about disappointed expectations. Having expectations about another’s behaviour and judging them accordingly. At times the pain of it can be great, which is why it is hard to let go of. To use self-awareness is to learn to spot when this is occurring. Who knows what was going on for that person that they didn’t show up? Maybe my friend had something else urgent that came up (this is true in this case). What we are left with is our feelings. Again, from a personal development perspective, it is to take responsibility for the feelings and not let them run us, and then let go of the upset. And let go of blame and resentment.

Learning how to become aware in this way, to spot what’s happening and to take responsibility for the reaction (it’s a “re-action” – a repeat of an old reaction) takes us time and practice. But you need the awareness in the first place.