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Building self confidence can mean starting with inner quiet

It can seem an odd place to start in building self confidence in yourself and in a project by first building inner quiet. Yet if you need to re-focus, re-build, get something new going in your life and work, you may need to calm self doubt and lack of self belief and develop stillness of mind so that you have a surer base from which to grow what you intend.

You may not be clear what it is that you intend and you may need to get your mind clear in order to allow creativity to do its work. In a still place, unhindered by the workings of the mind, intuition can lead you to your bright idea, your new awareness, your insight. You may also need to manage the sirens of doubt and one way to do that is by developing skill in managing the mind, using some practice to get more adept at interrupting the negative mental flow, which in any case is an illusion of the ego, stilling your thoughts, even challenging any negativity, and moving towards greater calm and equipoise.

Meditation is a powerful tool for this, although you can do this simply by having some quiet time, focusing on the breath, using the breath to calm your mind and become more relaxed. Those more used to the inner journey use this as a regular technique. It is very simple but needs regular practice, and sticking with it when we feel we don’t need it, to be building self confidence in our ability to still our minds, increase innner peace, and re-focus on our purpose.

With a calm state re-established, you are likely to be feeling better in yourself and better placed to focus on your project.

Those already embarked on their project may also find they hit problems and doubts and thus this same practice, giving time for inner quiet, is invaluable. We can get so rushed off our feet in all that is going on that we can somehow easily lose that sense of connection that is so vital to our wellbeing and what we are trying to achieve. When our minds get wobbly, it is much easier for the ego to reassert itself and we go back in an instant to our old knee-jerk responses.

Thus regular re-visiting of your own inner space is vital to helping yourself move forward.

Use this week to do this every day. Find a quiet time where you won’t be interrupted and spend a little while giving yourself inner quiet.

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To know the value of quiet

In trawling through a range of business articles online I came across a delight* which praised the value of quiet and affirmed the value of of introverts. As another “introvert”, I read with enthusiasm: how nice to see people being positive about introversion, and about being quiet! As the writer states, in a world seemingly dominated by extroversion and the valuing of extrovert behaviours, and the noise that ensues, the pressure is seemingly on the introvert to change. She is very clear that those of us who are quiet can also serve.

I wonder how you react when you see the word “quiet”: is it “ah,yes!” or might you be wondering about what is “wrong” about noise? Of course they are polarities, and sometimes we might be in one dimension and another time seeking out the other. However, your reaction might be a symptom of a deeper desire. What, after all, does “quiet” mean for you?

For me, and yes I’m an introvert (to the extent that, with hesitation, I accept labels for the purposes of communication), “quiet” means inner stillness as much as it might be quiet around me. It conjures up a sense of inner peace, and the beauty that might be found in the present. I visualise peaceful rural scenery, mountains, and trees. Nature can however be very far from “quiet”. What I’m referring to is the inner sense that is there, that process of going within to find inner stillness that seems to meet the soul’s longing, where the heart responds with a gentler, warmer, more loving, reverential beat, and all feels complete.

As the article above points out, the introvert “quiet” person has every bit as much to contribute to society, organisations, etc. In fact, once when I was doing a survey of senior managers in a high profile project team, they turned out, most of them, to be introverts! And there’s a certain group of them that do actually run organisations. So!

To savour the inner journey is not to be unusual, at odds with the generality. Rather it meets a deeply felt need that many of us have, even extroverts too. It needs to be taken care of. As the writer points out, it is here that we can reflect, take stock, assess, get insights and be creative. For many of us, I’d suggest, it is the very fact that we find our anchor within that we are how we are on the world’s stage.

In fact I’d suggest that to be disconnected from Source once consciously gained can in itself be a stressor. Once we’ve built a more deeply-sensed connection, then to try and “extrovert” too much, especially where what you do is in some way contrary to your values at Source then there’s a tension that is really only resolved when the connection is reasserted. What can be tricky is to be aware, to notice when a disconnection has occurred. Such is the way of the Ego, with it’s security knee-jerk behaviour for example, that we can otherwise cut off before we notice. In fact we can get lulled into a false sense of security (!) and think we can cope. But until our connection is very strong that’s not so easy.

So, in the middle of whatever is going on, and for many of us at the moment it’s a very great deal, everybody seems to say, it is all the more important to have your own practice of inner reflection and stillness. It can be so easy to let it drop and then there’s all the more effort needed to restore it. My guru calls it “sweet effort” but it can seem hard work at times! But we have to do it. Staying on purpose requires commitment and steadfastness. We need to keep treading the path. Yes, difficulties may come along, but continuing the path is key. Gradually, whatever has distracted us is healed away and back comes that sense of inner stillness and peace, that inner wholeness and completeness that reminds us, re-minds us, that this is truly Life.

Because It never really went away!

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A good time to practice meditation

Reaching the end of the last week in October, it is appropriately sunny and almost warm here, with the last very golden colours on the trees before the autumn winds wisk them away no doubt very soon. There’s perhaps a sense of a turning point in the earth’s seasonal cycle, before we descend more rapidly into winter and the animals who hiberate start burrowing underground or wherever for their sleep, our evenings are now very much darker and the clocks about to go back. To me it feels like we almost close within ourselves more.

I often recommend people do more meditating at this time. It’s good to go with the seasonal cycle and take the awareness within and rest there a while each day. In a way, nature seems to get quieter, storms notwithstanding, going within itself, and of course all that happens now is in preparation for the next spring. Us humans continue to rush around, but many say they feel more tired and sleep later if they can. So, meditating seems natural.

Very early in the morning, before the sun starts to rise is a good time. That’s when nature is at a still point before opening to the day. Some say the energy level of the earth is at its stillest. It is of course the coldest time.

So, have a room ready and a seat if you prefer that. Have a cushion to place in the small of your back as a support, if you prefer. Ensure nobody will interrupt you. Maybe light a candle, or have a low light in a corner. Maybe have a sacred object, an image or a beautiful scene. Honour this place, as your special place, and if you think that way, those that watch over you or inspire you. Or you can simply honour yourself, as a sacred being.

Taking a simple, upright posture, with your hands on your lap, or one on top of the other palms upward, or placed on your thighs. Take several deep breaths, breathing in deep and breathing out long. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in peace and calm, and as you breathe out let go of any tension and thoughts. And now simply sit there a while, noticing your breath coming in…and going out. If any thoughts come to mind, you can just notice them, not engage with thinking them through but bring your awareness back to your breathe…coming in…and going out.

Do this for perhaps 20 minutes, gradually enlongating it to 30 or 40 minutes if you like. It takes regular practice each day to build the habit, which is needed to really start to see the benefit.

You can read more here about the practice of meditation to help you develop skill in this invaluable practice.

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Are you caught up in a manic existence?

If the rest of your life is pretty manic, you might find meditation a challenge. So how do we integrate activities like meditation into the rest of our life?

Of course you might want to meditate to give yourself a break from the mania of existence. And meditating can help you cope with the rest of life better. As argued in the previous post, finding a calm, still space within, coming to know yourself more and more, being connected to inner peace, can provide a sense of Self that can be brought to bear on your experience of life generally.

The tricky challenge can be however where we’ve got so much going on in our lives that’s challenging us that firstly it invades the meditation experience and secondly we don’t change much about our lives even though we meditate. If this is what’s happening, we also need to take responsibility for what is going on and address it.

“I can’t”, I hear some people say. It can seem as though we’re so deep in the mire of what’s going on that we’ve not got the ability to do something about it. Interesting. One great value about meditation is that it has personal responsibility written all over it. In meditation, we are consciously letting go and centring ourselves, letting go of mind stuff, focusing on the breath or a mantra, relaxing our bodies and minds, finding our still space within, connecting with the Witness, or whatever is your experience. That is a process of “me” doing something with my sense of “I”. We’re developing and practising our ability to have mastery over our egos.

So, there’s something in there about us coming to know and managing our minds, and not be caught up in the machinations of the ego.

Bit like life in general really!

So, instead of feeling helpless in the face of “life”, as if it is separate from us, there’s something here about finding ways to introduce what we learn with meditation into the rest of our lives. Maybe it might help to think of a small start, a particular bit of that everyday stuff, and deal with that. So perhaps it might be a good idea to think of some small bit to work on – as practice of course!

If you are interested in learning more about how to be more focused on who you really are and what inspires and uplifts you, if your mind is too focused on what isn’t serving you and you want to change that, take part in one of my programs.

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War and peace

We’re now at a time of year when in the UK and in a number of other countries affected by the First World War people remember their war dead. Traditionally people have often stood in silence for two minutes at 11.00am on 11th November, the time when the Armistice agreed that the guns would fall silent in 1918.

It might seem like a patriotic occasion until one recalls that when these ceremonies first started there were many who thought this had been the “War to end all wars”, that with the setting up of the League of Nations and a new international spirit, and with the huge loss of life, this would never happen again. However, it did, 21 years later.

So, one might acknowledge this occasion for a variety of reasons, perhaps loyalty to fallen comrades, or at least forebears, to those who have died in recent conflicts, as a national ritual, or as a thought about the ultimate futility of all conflict.

After all, much conflict has unintended consequences and the victor, if there is any, rarely sees a long-term benefit.

Thus there are those who see this occasion as a time to think about peace.

Thus, to stand (or sit) in silence can also be a time to focus on the state of peace as experienced in silence, not just as an intellectual understanding, or as a wish, but as a direct experience. Thus, those who aspire to see true peace in the world, can embody that desire by being it. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Inner peace, world peace.

After all, the conflict that goes on “out there” is at some level a projection of what goes on “in here” inside each of us, our own war and peace. Where we see conflict out there, it is worth attending to any owned or disowned conflict within oneself. Where we see one being aggressive with another, where is there a disowned aggression inside us? That too needs healing.

Silence can have all sorts of connotations for people. There can be good silence and there can be less good silence. Thus intention is important. It would be good to reflect on one’s intention behind the testimony of silence. One could do it for a variety of reasons. Mine would be to connect with inner peace, the “Peace that passes all understanding,” deep peace, profound peace, as much as I am able to in the moment, as an experience for its own sake, as one way to be with the Ultimate.

Will you stand (or sit) in silence? What will you intention be? What would you wish for?

PS. If you want to read more in-depth articles on personal development, you could subscribe to my newsletter, which contains much longer articles and is sent free to you each month or so. Click here to sign up.

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Going inside

This is a time when one gets really aware of the changing seasons here in the Northern hemisphere, as autumn deepens, the leaves turn gold and start to fall, it gets colder and the nights draw in.

Sometimes to me it can feel a sad time. I think that is an association with the return to school after the summer holidays, especially when I went to a boarding school and thus was away from home. But I think there’s also a sadness with the summer ending more generally, things coming to an end. After all, the fruit is ripening, food is stored, and we prepare for the coming winter. The seemingly relaxed time of being out in the open, here in the UK is replaced by being inside, wrapped up against the cold outside.

More recently, I’ve come to welcome the approach of autumn and winter as a time of drawing inside in the spiritual sense. As the nights are longer, so the house is darker and it feels more like it is a very good time to draw the senses inward. So, rather than a defensive shutting down, I like to think of attending to the deeper recesses of the mind, the stillness that dwells inside. Just as nature encloses itself and hibernates.

It’s a very good time to meditate. So, as it gets dark at the end of the working day, or before the working day starts as it gets light, here is a great place to be still. At the end of the day, the energy is dropping downward, or before sunrise it’s about to get going. These are still points. Meditation is particularly good to do just at the end of the night, in the last hour before dawn, as the energetic cycle has reached a still point. So it’s more practicable now!

Try it. Get up early (“My God, must I do that!!!?”), when it is dark. Maybe have some water or tea, stretch, do some yoga poses if you do yoga, or some tai chi. Now, wide awake, you can light a candle in your meditation space if you have one. Settle down and, as you take some deeper breaths to start your meditation, really become attentive of the darkness and the stillness of the last part of the night, knowing it is about to start getting light. Feel the stillness of nature. Get very much into the present moment with the stillness. Hear the stillness, letting go of attachment to sounds. See the blackness around the light of your candle. And take that stillness inside with your in-breath. Become aware of your inner stillness. Now feel, hear or imagine your inner stillness. And rest your awareness there, as you meditate.

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What sustains you?

What has kept you going this week? When things are challenging, when times are difficult, or mundane, or tedious, or just plain ordinary, or just not quite right, what keeps you on track?

As you reach the end of another week, you might be headed home to the Friday night pick-me-up, addictive or not, the comfort of your own home or that of friends – or maybe none of these – perhaps you could reflect a moment too….pause….stop the flow of thoughts from one thing to the next…the continuing pump of adrenaline…or the collapse into exhaustion…

And just give yourself a moment….your Self a moment.

Simply stop, tune in, breathe in deeply, and allow your awareness to go within. And check with your inner Self a moment.

Has your week been worthwhile? Maybe think of the good moments, those you do value. Put your week into context. What’s been good about it for you?

And what do you regret about the week. What’s not been OK? What would you like to change?

If you balance those two sets of thoughts, which tends to be uppermost, the worthwhile….or those that are less so?

And if it is the latter, is that OK?

And as you are doing this Self-check, when things aren’t so good, how do you sustain yourself? What keeps you going? What is your inner rock of value and certainty amidst the flux of mundane life?

Or do you tend to get overcome by those challenges and lose your centredness, your inner sense of lasting value, whatever that means to you?

Many people use external media to recover their equilibrium. Alcohol, smoking, drugs, TV, company of others, certain forms of sex, the internet, sport, walking the dog, reading, talking to your partner, etc., etc. Something outside of us. That might be OK, but it is worth exploring whether it is a cover-up for an inner gap, some inner gaping hole even. Am I avoiding something in me, something that might get exposed by the vicissitudes of life?

What can be most important in challenging times is to have some means to bring yourself back to a place of inner centredness, of balance, of equipoise, some inner knowing, your Self with a capital “S”. Many who do not have this may lurch from one issue to the next without the means to manage their thoughts and feelings, to notice where things might be going, and bring them back to an inner calm.

And when the going gets really tough, those who have that inner certainty have within them a immensely powerful resource, one that whatever happens enables them to feel inside them their authentic life-force of truth, of Beingness in the face of adversity: “I know who I am. I love my Self. I value and respect my Self. I know I am at essence OK, and at essence I will be OK. ”

So, as you start this weekend, I would suggest you reflect on what is real, permanent and of value in you that sustains you and restores your equipoise, and brings you back to your centredness.

And if you don’t have this, or “can’t”, but would like to have it, is it perhaps time to figure out how you can get it?

But, before you leave this reflection, just go back within a moment, taking a few more deeper breaths to relax, letting go the strains and efforts of the day, breathing in calm and peace, and breathing out tension and anxiety….and with each in-breath breathe in the words “I love you” and with each out-breath breathe out any sense of not being at ease with life. Breathe out and let go of what’s not working. Put it in a bubble and blow it very gently away with your out-breath. And as you breathe in “I love you”, let go of any doubting thoughts about That, and instead simply allow your Self to dwell on “I love you”, with the sense that you are giving your love to your Self. Because at essence your Self is love any way. You just don’t notice it. Allow any good feelings to just be there and meditate on That. And if not, it’s OK: just trust that at some unconscious level you are getting It anyway.

Take good care.

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Where is your sanctuary?

Do you have a place of sanctuary to which you can periodically retreat? What for you is a place of sanctuary?

For many I guess it’s a religious place and many may think of a monastery, say. In the Middle Ages, sanctuary was also where one went for safe keeping against the vengeance of some one, say in a Cathedral or other religious institution. Or it might be a special place in your house or garden, or a place you go to to get away from it all. For me, it’s a quiet place suitable for reflection and contemplation, for going within, to read, to meditate or, like now, to write. But it’s a time for inner stillness and, because of the place I’m in, to connect with nature which right now is lush with the ripeness of mid-summer.

I am currently having a short break at our French home in the department of Lot et Garonne. We are situated in a small bastide village on a hill top overlooking the lower Lot in South-West France. From our house and terrace we look out across the valley to the hills opposite.

It is a spectacular location, obviously well chosen for fortification by one of the competing interests in the Hundred Years’ War, with a vantage point looking down the valley towards the valley of the Garonne and up the valley too. A lot of English have purchased property in villages like this and I sometimes speculate that we have atonement to do for past lives of rape and pillage inflicted on the French population by marauding English armies under the likes of the Duke of Bedford.

Today it is a very peaceful environment, full of fruit orchards on a large scale and famous for its pruneaux d’Agen. If you want to get an idea of the landscape, you can click on this link (you might need video software like QuickTimePlayer – then click on the map at the point for Lot & Garonne, then click on the list of places – Castlemoron sur Lot – then pick left image in the box at the right hand corner. The sounds are authentic).

In another sense, the place of sanctuary is also within me. I find this is a great place to notice my still point within me, where I feel at one, peaceful and contented. Feeling joy at experiencing this environment is another gateway to access my inner joy. There are many gateways. It might be the delight in a small child’s face, as I experienced last night when my wife and I were out dining to celebrate her birthday and the child tottered past our table with a beam all over her face. It might be music, it might be poetry, it might be laughter, it might be memory, it might be inspiring words, it might be an intimate moment with a lover, it might be prayer or meditation. There are many moments when we can pause, take time out, breathe deeply and allow ourselves to connect with ourselves, with our inner vibration, with the vibration around us, with our own bliss-full inner essence, with the vibration of others – and remember who we are.

What is so important is to do it, to connect. It can need an effort, and maybe to take ourselves out of our ego state we may feel reluctant to come away from our absorption with the temporal, but by so doing we open ourselves up to be able to harvest the fruits of what is so easy and effortlessly available – another of life’s paradoxes.

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Calming the mind

Those of you living in the Northern Hemisphere will by now be really noticing the evenings drawing in, daylight hours getting shorter, the temperature falling, night-time frosts, morning mists, the leaves turning golden brown and falling too. This is a time when nature starts to draw within and close down while it regenerates itself. It’s very good time to meditate. But we humans tear around in a great hurry, being very busy. So let’s give some time to quietening the mind and going within.

At one time this blog had “meditations” in the title and you might have wondered what meditation actually had to do with it since much of it seems to be about thinking. Yet for me one beauty of meditation is that it is a time when I can notice my mental activity as a witness and not be attached to it, as I allow myself to centre myself in a state of inner calmness. While I have a clear spiritual objective in my meditations, I am very aware that I am also managing my mind. And I do have a very busy mind – bit like all those busy people. Meditation is a way of reminding me that there is more to me and my life that all this busy activity.

For me, my process is to settle into meditation, to breathe deeply initially, to relax and tune through my body releasing tensions and noticing what’s there for me – what my body is telling me – how I’m feeling. Then, as I become stiller I notice my mental activity. Sometimes I’m slow to do that, being absorbed in whatever in life is currently absorbing me. At some point I become aware of my mind. Thus I become detached from it, noticing it as a witness to my mind. “I am not just my mind, I am more than just my mind”. I might at this point repeat my mantra, although I think a lot of meditators focus on their breathing. I let go of my thinking, and although it may carry on with its meanderings, it’s more in the background, I’m not absorbed in it, caught up in it.

Now, for me this is great training in the use of the mind in everyday living. Another of the beauties of meditation is that what one learns in meditation, one applies in life. It takes time and regular meditation to discover that but I think it is true. Here, detaching myself from my mental activity, letting go, is a crucial skill. It is this way that I have learned to drop what is going on for me that isn’t serving me. Yes, literally drop it. I might be caught up in some pointless internal dialogue and I become aware of it and choose to let go, to drop it. Similarly it is possible to do that with some feeling or some internal drama, although more about that next time.

It’s very simple. Going within, stilling the mind, letting go, re-focusing on what is worthwhile, following the vision, getting back on track with what life is really about. Try it. It’s a practice, so you’ll need to persevere. Let me know how you get on, maybe by posting a comment.