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

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

Early spring sunrise - fear around
Early spring sunrise

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

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

Notice what you focus on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And spring is coming. New awakenings!


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How fear keeps you from the wellbeing you long for

Fear and being fearful, being absorbed with fear, is the great disconnect, keeping us from what we truly want, and keeping what we truly want from us. It is often said on these pages that love and fear are opposite sides of the same coin. From being absorbed in fear, you let it go, turn your attention, and you can have love instead. One obscures the other.

By love of course I also mean contentment, joy, enthusiasm, positive passion and any one of the different ways our heart-centred connection manifests itself, if we put aside that oft-felt discomfort at saying “love”. Interesting that it is often a discomfort. It can be embarrassing to say the word, so much is it associated with passions we can be uncomfortable with and stay separate from. Perhaps it is really a source of pain for us.

Fear can seem like the other polarity, also manifesting let’s say with anxiety, worry, a vague unease, or just not feeling quite right with the world. Some say fear lies behind anger and upset too, a bottom-line, deep-seated emotion that helps hold in place our ego’s survival behaviour and drives the flight-fight-freeze stress response. Fear lurks in the shadows of the seeker, plaguing our meditations and our sleep, and keeps us from the joy we long for.

The function of polarity is interesting, light and dark, black and white, positivity and negativity, faith and despair, wellbeing and illness, upliftment and depression. I could go on. As humans we flip between one polarity and another. In Gestalt we say there’s a lack of middle ground, which could in these examples be balance, equilibrium, equipoise, centredness. When you are centred, there is calm, peace, contentment, evenness of spirit. You aren’t “caught up” in the flings of emotion. Your mind doesn’t go off to places you don’t want to go. You aren’t stuck but have freedom. Things are easy. Anything is possible. Nothing “matters”. Life is, you are, I am.

A key outcome, many would say, of the cultivation of the mindful state is that centredness. When you let go of attachment to polarities, and being stuck in, say, a negative, fearful spiral, become mindful of it, the witness of it, and return to your alert awareness, you are no longer the victim to fluctuations of thoughts and feelings.

Letting go is of course a practice all of its own, and very vital. You can, for example learn to dissolve negative emotion and release yourself from your thought/feeling cycles. We teach this on our upcoming retreat, by the way. It is liberating when you find you are no longer the prisoner of your stuff in this way.

Then in the centred state you can make contact with a far more profound love, if you so choose, one not prone to “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” (Hamlet ,Shakespeare). It is always available, round every corner. But we ignore it and fly on to the next bout of negativity. That’s one reason why having a regular mindfulness practice is so important, to help you re-connect on a regular basis with who you really are.

If you struggle with gaining and retaining this equipoise, then that’s a very good reason for coming on our retreat and finding your inner state of balance, and then, when you authentically know that state, you can bring yourself back there again and again.

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Being in the public eye can be terrifying but it needn’t be so

Despite the jokes made about Michael Bay’s exit from his own presentation, some might be surprised and some amused but others more sympathetic about a very common fear that is likely to have driven Bay away, the fear of being “upfront”, being in the public eye, in front of other people, vulnerable and exposed, as when something wasn’t working in his presentation. I would add to it, for many of us, the fear of being upfront in itself.

We’re thankfully becoming more candid about such things, as witnessed by a well-known book, And Death Came Third, by Lopata and Roper, where the writers found that public speaking and walking into a room full of strangers were rated by very many as their first two fears. Apparently PM Tony Blair was scared witless before every Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions time in the UK Parliament. Even a very publicity-savvy person as he could find aspects of his role daunting.

In coaching executive clients, I have often met people who needed help with their presentation skills in high-profile situations, such as to stakeholders, Board colleagues, shareholders and other important occasions. They are not alone. It occurs for very many people where their work brings them to places where they need to stand in front of others and speak. Many give themselves a very hard time about this, often feeling ashamed that their otherwise great abilities seemingly desert them and they are left as if a gibbering wreck, inside at least. People speak of feeling dread, shaking, sweating, loss of voice, having diarrhea beforehand, catastrophising, rehearsing in their minds for hours beforehand, not being able to sleep, and so on. People dream of losing their notes, of the equipment not working, of not being sufficiently prepared, and of all sorts of things going wrong, not just before the occasion but for weeks and months afterwards.

This taps into a wider fear, of being upfront in general, of self-disclosure, vulnerability in front of others, the fear of how others may react, being shamed, feeling ashamed, embarrassed, ridiculed, and as we see it as not being liked or approved of. We live in an acutely publicity-conscious age, where you sink or swim according to your ability to “perform”, as it seems, in the spotlight. People sometimes describe it to me as the fear of “being the centre of attention”. Would the earth swallow them up if that occurs!

Despite many years of teaching, training, facilitating, and speaking “upfront”, I can certainly resonate with this myself. At one level I find I enjoy the buzz of a good session, of stimulating discussion, of good interaction with the audience, of bright faces, alert attention, strong engagement and satisfied outcomes. At another I also find myself feeling nervous before an event. I’ve certainly got masses of techniques, “tricks” and methodologies to ensure all goes well, and certainly learned to flex and adapt when they don’t. The nervousness is a throw-back to my early teaching days  and the fear of not “being in control” or “losing control”. For many a teacher this occurs, and it also wonderful when the fear is replaced by the deep satisfaction gained from the strong engagement achieved, the great learning that people get and the wonderful relationships that are built.

However what is key is what one can learn about oneself. All most people have come for is to hear what we have to offer, which is of course our knowledge and expertise. It is for us ourselves to make it work or not, and that means moving through and letting go of fear. Fear is an illusion, F.E.A.R., False Evidence Appearing Real, and we can learn to manage it and in fact turn it to our advantage. The solution is just a breath away.

I coach people in developing their public confidence, and I also run a program that can greatly help too by helping people become more mindful.

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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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What keeps you going despite the odds

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away“.* What keeps you going? You might have all sorts of clever stuff, and make all sorts of efforts to look convincing to others, but what really lights you up and is your source of passion? What is your “rock of ages” that truly keeps you going and believing in yourself and putting your self out there or simply carrying on in your everyday world when the chips are down and nothing seems to be working out?

Those words from a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer went all over the internet a few years ago, and made a powerful and striking call for authenticity of being. We can put on a pretty show of being various things but what is the truth underlying that? When you are faced with adversity, that’s one time when you can really know it – or notice it’s missing.

It’s that resource within us that gently or urgently nudges or pushes us into our next step even when we are feeling down and feeling depressed and discouraged, dis-couraged. Some of us might have been down for a day or for an hour or two and we just get going again. For others the knocks go deeper and last longer and we can find it harder to pick ourselves up. So for some of us, our resources of resilience need to go a lot deeper.

I suspect many would say they don’t really know what it is that sustains them. Many would affirm some religious faith or a spiritual source. Others it’s pure survival. Some might say it’s their sense of purpose, like they have a goal. Some it might be their will and determination, despite the odds. No wonder so many of us watch films and read books about survival and how people turn their fortunes around. There’s been a fabulous program on TV about penguins and their breeding instinct and utter determination despite seemingly impossible odds: I thought they were excellent mirrors of humans! (Scroll down for the video). Many a parent will no doubt attest to their instinct for their protection and nourishment of their family. If you’re wondering about what sustains you, you might get something from watching this program if you can. I was tempted to wonder if love was truly something that stretches beyond simply humans and their nearest animal relatives.

However, there is something that will sustain us, but we each need to find it for ourselves. To write it in a blog won’t do justice to this enormously important question. However, there is something beyond pure instinct and for me it connects with trust and faith, which we learn from facing these experiences, really facing them, and seeing through the terrible illusion.

I have a program coming up that helps each participant explore their own source, beyond illusion. Click here.

I am also giving talks on the subject.

*From “The Invitation“, Oriah Mountain Dreamer (Toronto, 1995)

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Building self confidence can mean being more assertive

It’s common theme for those who are challenged by their self confidence that one aspect involves dealing with people more assertive than they are.

A lot of people who are working on building self confidence find that they need to be more assertive. It’s often for many the really hard part, because it can involve them in standing up for themselves with seemingly stronger, more dominant people, and can involve conflict or the fear of conflict.Thus confidence very often has an interpersonal dimension.

A part of this is how we think we are perceived by others. Will they be displeased, angry, or ridiculing? Will we be seen to be at fault in some way? People are very often influenced by their image in the eyes of others, particularly in large groups or in organisations. Another aspect is the fear of another in the sense that they worry they might come to harm. Past experiences can come into play. We might have been bullied or teased at school or in our neighbourhoods. It might be that our upbringing was subject to a very critical eye by a parent. We might have learned not to think well of ourselves, to hold back from certain situations and to avoid confrontations that might remind us of difficult times. We might have spent a large part of our time avoiding potentially dangerous situations. We might have learned to be the quiet one in class and at college.

Thus in adult life we still can play out these old stories, even if the same situations no longer happen. So, when we meet stronger, louder, more strident, more self opinionated, and extrovert people, we might hold back.

What we might need to learn is how to first of all strengthen our resolve so that we can meet the situations in adult life that we might otherwise avoid, and also to learn to communicate effectively, to state what want in clear, straight, direct open terms so that others respect what we want to respond constructively. Assertion is about challenging our own inner dialogue, where we negate our capabilities and possible actions, and choosing effective words and phases that communicate from a position of power, not power over but power with, not at your own expense nor at the expenses of others, where there is mutual respect. It involves building up your self belief so that, come what may, you know in your self that you are OK.

I would suggest that this last point is the most powerful part of assertion, coming from a space of believing in yourself and knowing that you are OK. So much of the time we make ourselves not OK and give our power away to others. With learning assertion, we are changing that – forever.



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Fear and anxiety about the news hides our real fear

Fear and anxiety have been stalking the land again. We’ve had another few days when the news headlines have been forecasting economic Armageddon and global crisis if the result of the Greek election was not what the euro’s survival needed. We’ve had more and more indications of a further economic decline, seemingly well-matched by pouring rain and storms at home. Now it seems people are taking a much-needed gasp of air as the election result has been seen as OK – for the moment. So what about the rest of us, who carry on our lives in the midst of all this?

At one level life continues as before. We get up, go to work, do our jobs, come home, sleep. What can be very different if for most of us we’re unaffected? How many really follow the economics of all this? However, there’s still an impact. What’s happening at the macro-level rubs off on us. It’s the point often referred to as the butterfly effect, taken from chaos theory, small initial events such as the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings having a big, unpredictable impact across the world. So, the expression of fear by political leaders rubs off on individuals whose experience of fear can be much more local such as the way they react to things that occur in their lives based on prior conditioning and their personal make-up. You might be worried about the money coming in, paying the bills and getting that much-needed holiday, and won’t have time for the macro-drama going in Brussels, Athens, Berlin and elsewhere. Yet you’ll see newspaper headlines and there’s the TV news. Then someone mentions the euro and your family are talking about gettings euros for their holiday or should they cancel their Greek holiday. It’s going on around us. And it’s the energy in the air, the vibes that are going out. People say, “there’s a lot going on.” Maybe there is.

Yet, crisis or no crisis, we’re still humans who have a tendency to get caught up in our stuff. This is how the drama of life is going on at the moment. It might be something else at another time. Rather than try to fix the euro, which is perhaps better done by others, it could be more useful to pay attention to our own tendency to go off on fear-based drama. This is where it can help to breathe in deeply, let go, and then check what’s going on inside. Wisdom is within. Take your awareness with your in-breath to your heart centre, and ask what’s there. Ask what the fear is about. Is it just (!) the euro, or is it also something else?

Does your self enquiry take you to noticing that what’s happening is also triggering other things, lets say about whether you’ll have enough money, and don’t you often do that, or whether you’ll still have a job, and don’t you tend to get into anxiety about your job, or whether you’ll be able to replace the aging car or the broken-down dishwasher, and don’t you often worry about things breaking down or not working, and so on? What’s the old, familiar pattern that’s been triggered again, this time by events in far-away Greece?

Self enquiry and self awareness can take us to a more profound understanding than merely the superficial events of the moments. For example that your fear is really about your survival. And how about finding that beneath that fear, you live for ever. Life is guaranteed. Your body may not be. But you are. Fear is bout facing our survival issues and about the experience of separation from the One. It’s all about illusion. Our journey is to break through the illusion. To do that we need to see into things, for what’s really there.

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Self confidence can be elusive

Self confidence can be an elusive quality, one moment you’ve got it, the next you’ve lost it. I’ve often noticed how people can seem very uncertain about doing something and then suddenly the mists have cleared, they see clearly what they need to do and how to do it, feel strong inside themselves and away they go. By contrast someone who has for example a very successful career but then loses their job and find that in their efforts to get back into work have lost their self confidence. Another example is where a very successful woman takes a career break to have children but finds on return to work that she’s lost a lot of confidence.

What is happening here? While this will vary a lot from person to person, and there will be particular matters for one person that don’t apply to others, there are certain common ingredients. What is striking is that one moment we’re full of fear and uncertainty and the next we’ve got it. It’s as though inside us there’s a part of us that is confident and can do things and it is a matter of getting in touch with it. In fact, people will have self confidence in some areas of their lives but not others, so for many of us it is not as though it’s missing entirely.

Self confidence is about faith and belief in self. The root of the word is about faith: in the Middle Ages there was the word “confidere”, meaning to “have full trust or reliance”, and the Latin for faith is “fides”. So we’re talking about our inner faith and trust. It’s very basic, fundamental stuff. No wonder we talk of the stuffing being knocked out of us when we’re received a heavy personal blow.

The greatest barrier to self confidence is fear, which is existential too, about our existence. We overcome it by learning faith and trust. Fear is the core, bottom-line negative emotion opposite to love, and as the A Course in Miracles says it is an illusion. So what we are seeking to do is develop self confidence by faith and trust in who we are are and in our capabilities. Fear is an illusion and we have all we need anyway. It’s a matter of realising it, getting in touch with what is real.

Some need to work on it, often by very practical activities. For others it is a shift of perception. In a moment they “pluck up the courage” and away they go. Then it works, and hey presto! Here’s their self confidence once more.

This is a shift very many of us need to make in all sorts of challenges we encounter in life. We can feel very self confident for a large part of our lives but something happens and it’s gone. Others have lacked it for ages in particular parts of their lives, for example in social situations. Yet the shift can be made. Fear is an illusion. We’re so much more than that.

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Light and dark both have something to teach us

A feature of the mind at the ego level is its tendency towards separation, seeing oneself as distinct and separate from others. One way this shows up is to think in terms of polarities, such as light and dark, good and evil, happiness and misery, wealth and poverty, fast and slow, positive and negative, and so on. One could say that this is a feature of how the mind operates, how we distinguish between things and make choices and preferences, except that we can get very invested in one polarity or another, make one OK and the other not, and not see how both polarities have something to teach us.

Let’s take the example referred to in the last two posts of being caught up in fear and despair as if that is all there is. We don’t see the other side, which might be that in an abundant universe what we need is coming to us and we just need to allow it in, or that the world is full of love and we too are loved. We might have a tendency in any given situation to flip far too quickly for our own good to the pessimistic interpretation of events and fear for the worst rather than see the possibilities in a situation and think about what might occur. The first shuts down on possibilities and we may make unhelpful decisions, while the second keeps us open to taking advantage of what is occurring.

The classic polarity is that of light and dark, the light representing all that is wholesome and good, while the dark is inhabited by fear and evil. Hence our language reflects this, talking as we do of “letting in the light”, “the sun shining on us”, “having seen the light”, looking on the “bright side”, etc. Alternatively we speak of “doom and gloom”, of “dark times”, or of feeling “dulled”.

To see that we can have both of these within us opens up interesting lines of enquiry. Reference has been elsewhere in this blog to the Shadow, our disowned side, as one such important feature. Another is to be aware of different sides to us, where one part can show one set of characteristics, while another might be in contrast. In Gestalt, it can be very useful to explore what each side has to tell us and what middle ground there might be between the polarities, or to seek some form of integration. If we ignore a particular part of us, it can have a way of sneaking out and disrupting our lives until we pay attention to it.

Thus, while we might speak disapprovingly of these “other sides”, we might do so at the risk of missing the lessons they offer. While we might struggle to escape from some “dark” period in our lives, we might not see why it occurred and what we need to take on board so that we emerge from the phase even stronger than before. For example we might learn to look fear in the eye and know that it has no hold over us, because we are so much more than that.

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To keep going could be to have blind faith

Keeping going despite the apparent odds – that’s what life can sometimes seem to be like. It’s a moot point whether to decide to abandon what you’re doing because it’s getting difficult, or whether to soldier on, as they say, in order to somehow accomplish your goal.

You might for example be really feeling up against it at the moment. You might be in a state of fear or panic and be really concerned that it’s all going to go belly up. People doing business start-ups, or people in a new product launch, would recognise this frequently at various stages in the process. So too would travellers way out on some journey and things are going wrong, or people out of work and the cash is running low. What about when you’re really running short of money? Should you abandon your venture, give up on your goal, your dream,  and accept second best? “Get a sensible job!” the sirens wail.

This situation can also apply to one who has come up against their own dark night of the soul, when lets say in the middle of the night you awaken from a very bad dream, in which your fears were somehow being acted out, or when some state of depression takes you off down some black hole. Our so-called ordinary (what’s ordinary?) life can bring us into face-to-face contact with our own despair, when we can’t see any hope, and all life offers seems to be going nowhere.

Wherever we are in our minds is wherever we are in our minds. It’s important to remember that. Faced with adversity, another person may view the same situation differently. The perception of lack of hope and faith is just that, although it doesn’t feel like that. It can feel utterly real, like that is reality, that is how things are. Somewhere inside we need to access our resources that tell us that this is a perception. It is not reality, since there is no one reality in the world of illusion, of maya. This is where the will is so important, and the will may need to be cultivated.

Developing one’s inner resources, the inner awareness of Self, of Oneness, of love, of the state of bliss, of inner peace and contentment, all that practice in awareness, brings us into contact with a Presence that shows that what can occur in extreme states of negativity is still not real. It is a state and we need skill in shifting our state, on re-focusing on that which uplifts us.

The great value of the dark nights of the soul is to point out to us that which we need to learn order to re-connect. Sometimes you might just need to be aware that this is a simple shift that’s needed, and sometimes a big effort is needed. And effort is part of the journey. Despair is ego, love isn’t. Despair and loss of hope and faith is being ensnared in maya. Love, bliss and joy isn’t. And it is something for all of us, while also being compassionate with our tough times. They are teaching us something really important.

No wonder faith is often called “blind faith”.