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Use mindfulness to drop negative feelings

It might seem the holy grail to many of us, the ability to drop negative feelings at will. Believe it or not but it can be done, although for many of us too it can be after some effort, and not always healthily. Mindfulness offers a very healthy alternative and the benefit comes with knowledge and practice.

Do you find that negative feelings can hang around for ages, like you’re hooked on them? We can struggle to let go of anger, upset or sadness. They can pollute our life and interrupt our enjoyment. They can affect the choices we make and even the directions we take. They can get locked into patterns, becoming knee-jerk responses to things that occur.

If we do make an effort to deal with them, it can have the effect of suppression, and can still remain in our body and cause sickness and muscle tension. It can leak out sideways later, causing us and others surprise. It can get projected on to others, so that it seems like others have what we seek to deny. It can erupt later, causing far more collateral damage. One example I often see is where people start laughing for it to shift to crying, the tears being in the background or underground. We can of course totally deny our feelings and become disconnected from vital aspects of life, as many do.

With a mindfulness approach, there is still an effort of will needed, but it has a very healthy result. What we do is learn with knowledge and practice to be the witness of such experiences and to gently and non-judgementally feel the feeling while letting go of the thoughts. There are techniques one can use to heal negative feelings, and their associated thoughts. By being mindful we are not caught up in the cycle of thought and feeling, but the witness or observer of them. We learn to approach such “negativity”, and now I use inverted commas, with loving kindness, respect, compassion, gentleness, non-judgementally and with acceptance. Thus the very word “negative”, which can suggest a value judgement, becomes a phenomenon to observe, to be aware of, but not caught up in.

Thus we can learn to dissolve the feeling and experience peace.

The practice of mindfulness, used with knowledge and understanding, teaches us to step back from such phenomena and be aware of them. They are not who we are. Therein lies great freedom.

You can learn more about this transformative ability on our programs, starting with our one-day event on 8 March 2014 and developed in much more detail and taken further on our retreat in southern France on 21-28 June 2014.

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Feeling empathy needs not to cloud your judgement

In the emotional stakes it is good to see empathy now playing a big part and yet there are cautionary points to be made. Just because you empathise with someone doesn’t mean you do what they want, but it can play a powerful part in building bonds and connections and in influence.

In the last US Presidential election Obama was able to make great play of his opponent’s perceived lack of empathy. For example he was able to portray Romney as uncaring with regard to the alleged 47% of the population who he said was government-dependent. Thus whether you are empathic (“I feel your pain”) can make a difference in how you are perceived and impact how you deal with situations and people.

As this blog has pointed out in numerous articles, empathy is a key factor in emotional intelligence and thus in your ability to build relationships and influence people. However, it is not enough to simply empathise with another. You also need to act appropriately on the data received. As you can read on the above link, there’s plenty of evidence of people getting another’s perspective but then not responding as one might expect, for example compassion not being aroused and a different course of action being followed that might well not serve the interests of the one with whom you might experience empathy.

Thus alongside empathy needs also to go a set of values, principles for action, that guide one’s choices. One might have concern for the suffering of others but instead of a government bail-out one might advocate the dismantling of state aid as an action more likely to serve the interests of the sufferers. One group of people may hold different value sets to another. Then again, having empathy is not to be confused with sympathy. “I feel your pain” can mean being caught up in another’s stuff, whereas the effective use of empathy is to attempt to understand another’s perspective but not to be so caught up. In other words it needs not to cloud one’s judgement. This is an attribute observed in well-trained counsellors and psychotherapists. Having empathy can give you more choices and can potentially enable you to respond to others in ways that shows awareness of their perspective and that you have taken account of it. But it can still mean you can take tough decisions when you need to.

A powerful way this can be seen is when a person, for example, devotes time to hearing someone’s perspective, and showing they have genuinely heard, such that the speaker really feels “heard”. Even though the decision may not go the way the speaker might have hoped, the fact that they got to put their position and felt heard makes a difference. Yet along with that there is also the decision made and whether it was fair and reasonable. Hence, even with the display of empathy, other principles come into play.

Thus empathy can play a powerful part in the skill-set of the self aware, emotionally intelligent person, but they should not let it divert them from trusting their judgement and taking what they genuinely believe, according to their well-tested values, is the appropriate course of action.

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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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Being aware of limiting thoughts and feelings

If you study a lot of the material around the Law of Attraction, you’ll probably see lots of injunctions to monitor your thoughts and to remember to “think positive” since your thoughts, and the accompanying feelings, are likely to affect your results big time. You might find that you are encouraged to switch your thoughts out of negative ones and into positive ones. What perhaps isn’t always so clear perhaps is what you do if you are stuck in some familiar and very strong “negative” feeling cycle and shifting that isn’t so easy. Some no doubt will be compounding their “negative” results by worrying they are seemingly unable to “get off it”.

And it’s not easy at all. Unless that is you’ve set yourself the task to unmask what the patterns and belief systems are that hold that state in place. It is important to train yourself to shift your state, to “pivot” as Esther and Jerry Hicks say in their book “Money and the Law of Attraction”. This in itself is invaluable practice. However, you may in addition need to build your awareness of the patterning of the limiting state you want to get out of.

For example you may have a “root thought” that there is never enough money, that you are always short of money, and whenever some financial issue crops up where you have to find the money for something, your heart will start beating faster and you will, say, break out in a sweat. While you’ll probably find the money, you might be aware that it’s hard work and you never seem to get out of the cycle of feeling like this. So, it can pay (pardon the pun!) to delve a little deeper and explore the roots of this poverty consciousness, one very many of us have. Let’s say that with further awareness work you find you were scolded by a parent for wasting money and that you were acutely your parents went without for lots of your young life. So when you looked around to get some money what you learned to feel was anxiety. The anxiety you might have learned from your parents.

I’m not saying you were like this or that you function like this. It’s just to be aware that we develop root thoughts at a very young age that condition out thinking, and particularly our feeling state. Despite your efforts to “think positive”, you might not get a handle on what’s going on that persists in keeping those feelings in place until you understand what lies behind those feelings. Such feelings are an invaluable alert to a need to shift state, but it would be helpful if you knew what you were shifting! Knowing what the root thought is and learning to let go of them can in time prove to be a blessed relief.

Such training in awareness of our subtle states is what we provide in our awareness work.

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Taking responsibility for how you think, feel and act

In an earlier posting this week I referred to the need to take ownership for our own part in things not working out. This can be a difficult shift to make but it is so often a crucial one. And we need to keep doing it.

The understanding of personal responsibility or accountability is frequently stated by many people, but it isn’t one that is easily practised. So often it goes against our experience, based on our current paradigm of perception. We think, based on past experience that things often happen “to us”, that they are the result of actions by others or circumstances that “occur”. However, according to the understanding of the function of empowered perception, what occurs is a result of our thoughts, how we perceive things and what we put out. An example is frequently noticing the difference in how you feel, what you think, how you act and how you see the world when you are having a good day and feeling good, as opposed to a bad one. There’s the saying, “You got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning”, to imply that you started off on the wrong foot that day and it continued thus.

Another aspect of responsibility is that we are in process, that how we feel and how we act is governed by our state of mind. We literally respond to our own process, what’s going on inside. Hence Fritz Perls used to use the word as “response-ability”, our ability to respond to our own process.

The point is that with any situation or event or behaviour that occurs that isn’t serving us or not what we want, it is well worth pausing and thinking about what we ourselves could take responsibility for and change or do something about. This is particularly powerful when it comes to challenging and changing how we feel, think and act, when challenging our own beliefs and being aware of and working to let go or change our state. In the quantum paradigm, when multiple options exist in the moment, we choose another approach and the feelings and thoughts that go with it, and the world gradually re-configures as we intend.

But we need to persevere, to practice it, since the universe will initially challenge us, test us, to see if we mean it. Also it takes a while, at least 30 days, to change old habits. So we generally need to work at it.

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Stepping through fear to know who you really are

When I was giving a talk recently, one person asked me about how one can be aware and let go, since whenever she tried that, what she got was a sense of panic. It seemed like it was therefore very hard for her to let go.

It is a stock answer to one who is caught up in their stuff, “Just let go.” And it can sound very simplistic, although simplicity is contained in the practice. There’s a massive amount of awareness, understanding and practice behind those simple-sounding words. It very much depends on the context.

Panic, anxiety and fear are very likely to come up if you try to let go of some pattern that has been around for you. The ego doesn’t like to let go. It is all about survival, about keeping you safe, and so it will hang on like crazy to the identity it has painstakingly built up. After all, if you let go, what might happen to you? Might the abyss open up and you plunge headlong into some uncontrolled vortex and go crazy? Very likely not, but it does help to have some support if you are dealing with things that are scary for you.

This is where self awareness is so important, becoming more and more aware of the thoughts, feelings and behaviours that make up the pattern, so that you understand more of your process. The more familiar you become with the techniques of awareness, the more you can learn to detach yourself from it and then more safely let it go.

However, it is possible that you might need to learn to face the fear and find that the fear is purely an energy and that, once you let go of the thoughts you can safely release the energy and it can dissolve. You step through the illusion, which is what it is. But it helps if you have skilled help with this, which would be my default recommendation until you’ve built up your awareness and the skill of letting go.

But it is not surprising to feel fear when letting go. Yet the result is to find beyond fear is love and peace, potentially profound peace as you step beyond the ego, and know at last Who you really Are.

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Releasing yourself from being stuck in negativity

We’re probably very used to seeing things in black and white terms. Some things are good and others bad. We think the good thoughts and feelings will lead us to good results and those that are bad won’t. While this is a generally useful approach, which experience of course shows us works, it can miss an important point. One very hard-to-get concept of awareness work is that everything is Consciousness, both our positive and our negative thoughts and feelings.

“Wherever the mind goes, whether turned inward or towards the outside world, everywhere there is the divine. Since the divine is everywhere, where can the mind go to avoid it?” (Vijnana Bhairava)

By denying the negative, by trying to push it away, we risk exacerbating it and making it figure more, or at least continue, in our lives. The point is to look at it, even to embrace the energy of it, but with the intention to let it dissolve back into consciousness.

That’s a scary path to follow, but when you are particularly dealing with powerful negative feelings like fear, can be very effective. The trick is to let go of the thoughts and instead focus on the feeling, with the intention of dissolving it. You keep your sense of awareness of the feeling, as though you are the witness of the feeling, but at the same time you feel it, until eventually it dissolves. This technique, facing the feelings and finding they have no power over us, is a powerful example of how our negative stuff is an illusion and has no absolute reality. They dissolve back into Consciousness.

The important thing is to approach this work with Awareness, knowing that you are serving a higher cause. The more you do it, the more you find that negativity is something you can let go of. You are more than your negativity. However, what is key is to let go of the thoughts that sustain them.

So perhaps this weekend practice dissolving negative emotions. Then make your focus what gives you joy and upliftment and let the sense of joy be present in your awareness. Each time a negative emotion arises, practice dissolving it. Then bring your awareness back to what uplifts you.

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Addiction to fear

How much do you somehow find sad stories or disaster scenarios uncomfortably absorbing? I was listening to a sad story of a woman finding her property was worthless in the property crash, owing a huge amount to the banks, and being burdened with debt and little prospect of repaying it. This is probably very familiar to many people at the moment. She told how she would wake up in the early hours of the morning and lie awake, unable to sleep, and consumed by fear. Her fear was of losing everything and becoming homeless, out in the cold, alone, a “bag lady”.

I also found myself absorbed by reading about the final moments before the crash of the Air France airliner with the loss of all passengers and crew. The playing of the “black box” recorder reveals the last moments before the end. Again I was, as a kind of witness of my experience, aware of fear spreading through my body.

Disaster scenarios can be particularly attractive, reminding us of potential on-going background fear, which gets triggered by these things that attract our attention. For many people at the moment it’s a potential or actual loss of a job and the accompanying anxiety of what might happen if they don’t find another one.

We can get caught up like this, fear being probably the most powerful “negative” emotion. It gnaws away inside, debilitating, sapping energy, diverting us from being as productive as we need to be, throwing up all sorts of thoughts that take us where we don’t want to go. As I have written before here, while we allow this to be present in our lives, while we focus on it, we draw more of what we fear to us. It’s perverse but it happens.

It’s a replaying of an old record (or CD/mp3) of course, one we’ve done a lot before, habitual, but no less deadly. What is really important is to challenge such thinking, once you’ve noticed it, and not let it get entrenched.

So, if you have a strong fear or anxiety, it can be very useful, although very probably a challenge that needs working on, to focus on the feeling and let go of the thoughts that drive it. Let the feeling wash over you, because it is only a feeling. Breathe into it and slowly breathe it away. Keep doing this. Whenever the thought comes back, notice it, don’t follow the thought but seek to let it go. Go back to the breathing and keep your focus on the breathing, breathing deeply if necessary. Gradually the feeling can subside, because feelings on their own just come and go. They just flow through us. It’s holding on to the thought that keeps it there. The more we resist it, the more we get it. So, we need to find a way to let it go. Because on their own, the thoughts are mere creations, meaning nothing unless we want them to, and we can create other, more positive thoughts instead. It’s a journey.

Because we are so much MORE than our fearful thoughts.

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In praise of self awareness

There’s an old expression that says that if you carry on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to get what you’ve always got. Another one is, if you don’t change direction you’ll end up where you’re headed! The message seems to be, get what’s going on and make a change. You take charge of the situation and make a shift. Fine, provided you get it.

The ability to change direction in some area of your life depends in large part on your ability to become aware of what is happening, and to see your part in it. This is a process of becoming aware and taking responsibility for how you are showing up. The first part in this process is self awareness.

If we lack self awareness, we fail to notice how we ourselves are contributing to situations that occur. It can seem as though it is other people, the context or the situation that “makes us” feel and think the way we do. This is in part due to our early life experiences that taught us that other people and circumstances seemed to control our lives. Our learnings as children were creative adjustments to these events and thus we built the superstructure of the Ego as a survival mechanism, our personality, who we identified with, to enable us to cope with what came up. This, we believed, was who we are.

If we lack self awareness, we are caught up in the vicissitudes of life, reactive to what happens, impacting others, events and situations in ways we do not fully understand. In fact, I would go further and say that we are unable to see how we create what happens to us and therefore neglect the real creative potential that we possess.

To develop self awareness is to initiate a revolution that enables us to truly take control of our life. It is said that within us lies the answers to everything, if we only cared to take a look.

The art of being self aware starts with developing your sensitivity to yourself. It involves being able to read what your body is telling you, being aware of how you feel, noticing the subtle sensations within you. This is when it helps to do some body work so as to open up this sensitivity. Feelings are the language of the soul, telling us what in our essence we truly need. These messages contain clues to what is going on for us. Then we apply self-enquiry, asking ourselves what the message is, pausing and checking within. For example, you can stop and simply go within and ask yourself what it is that you need to be aware of right now, and then wait for the answer to come – as it will with practice. Focusing is a useful skill here.

Beyond that, you can develop self awareness by getting familiar with what your familiar patterns of feeling and thinking are, where you typically go when certain things happen, how you tend to react, what you tend to feel and think when you get “on it” about something. You can, through self-enquiry, learn what the triggers of these reactions are and what buttons in you set them off. You can learn where, in turn, those come from and why. Often we have made early decisions in life about who we are, about life and other people on which, outside of awareness, we then act. These decisions were made before we were old enough to think for ourselves and rationalise. When, later, we do rationalise it is then based on false premises. Now’s the time to let this go, simply because it probably no longer serves us, or at least exercise more choice.

Doing this inner work clears out the rubbish of the ego. Then we can see who we are authentically and come to like and love that in us. It’s like we’re OK after all. We can discover a whole new joy and enthusiasm about ourselves, about life and about what’s possible. Then we are able to use our true creativity to build far better things for ourselves. This doesn’t mean that stuff no longer comes up. It still does, but it no longer has a hold over us and, with the ability to be aware and to discriminate, we can learn to hold to our centre of Being and let that grow in our lives. Then our creativity will be based on purer foundations, in an awareness of who we truly are. Then we have true power.

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Positive thinking and positive emotions

In all the stuff out there about having a positive approach to life, the focus seems to be on what one thinks, as for example in positive thinking. Now positive thinking has great value. However, I don’t seem to hear quite so much about what one feels. Seen another way, one’s feelings are a window into the soul.

“Think positive”, people seem to say, which has an echo for me of what my parents used to say to me: “now pull yourself together!” As a child, I learned to suppress my feelings and to put on a big smile, especially when I went to boarding school and was feeling homesick. “Big boys don’t cry”. So now I start a bit when I hear injunctions to change your thinking. It can seem like “make an effort, put those feelings on one side, and change your thinking”. Do you find that a bit difficult?

One of the most powerful aspects of my Gestalt training was the emphasis on attending to sensation, the first part of the awareness cycle. At this point, a less effective adjustment to living might be where we might become desensitised, disconnected from feeling. Yet feelings are our warning system, designed to alert us to what we need to pay attention to. The next phase in the cycle is awareness. By noticing feeling, I become aware of something.

So, if I’m feeling bad and trying to do “positive thinking”, I’ll be cancelling myself out, so to speak. I need to attend to the feeling, perhaps by tuning into my body and asking myself what’s there. Our bodies have great wisdom for us. Put another way, it’s our souls speaking to us about what we need. So if I’m feeling bad, my inner self is saying that what’s going on, maybe what’s going on sub-consciously, is not what I want. I need to deal with it, which mean becoming aware of some negative thinking and associated feeling. I may need to challenge and change those underlying thoughts and release the negative associated feelings.

But, what if I’m feeling good? Now this is really important: really, really important. How often do you notice when you’re feeling good? If I’m feeling good and I tune in to that, I may have alerted myself to an underlying joyous feeling. Now, say I focus on that, in an allowing sort of way, that sensation can grow. If you start developing positive thoughts from that basis, you are tapping into you true nature, your inner self which is naturally joyous, fun, spontaneous, alive, full of laughter, enthusiastic….It all gets very expansive, which is crucial. The world opens up, all things become possible, our perspective on life and our view of our capability changes, the negatives in life diminish, seem less important or disappear altogether.

This means letting go of any negative thoughts that may jump up, all results of our conditioning. That’s the ego looking for a problem. Attending to positive feeling accesses our creativity, our ability to make powerful differences for ourselves, others and the world.

So, give yourself some time today to think of positive things that are going on, or times which were good, people you like, things you like doing, etc. Choose to keep the focus away from the negative. Notice the positive feelings that come up, focus your awareness on them and really tune into them. Enjoy! It makes great healing.

By the way, you can read here about what’s been changing in the UK around feelings. As a traditionally buttoned up, “stiff upper lip” lot, we don’t seem to be doing too badly now (but notice the edge of discomfort of the journalist – and some of the comments!)