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Do you feel depressed after Christmas?

Many of us feel depressed after Christmas. When the festivities are passed, we’ve welcomed in the New Year, or watched others do so, and the tinsel is put away, we’re left with ourselves and what is unfulfilled or not working in our lives.  It’s the post-Christmas let-down for some, while others may not really enter into the spirit of the occasion in the first place.

It can be a hard time. It’s like a massive bump back to earth, back to seeming reality. We get caught up in the pre-Christmas rush to buy presents, get in the food (“Get ready for Christmas”, people say), attend parties, maybe some of us sing carols, and generally get affected by this enormous rise in expectation. Then afterwards, when people have gone, or they seem to have had a good time and you haven’t, or you’ve spent time on your own, you’re left with your life and how it is. It’s like there can be a massive mismatch between hope and expectation on one side, and the seeming emptiness or futility or pointlessness or unfulfillment on the other side, and we flip from the first back to the second.

Traditionally Christians celebrate a new birth, the arrival of the Messiah, new hope and possibility. This lingers on in the Western psyche. then on the other side you’ve still got that life that in one area or another isn’t working as you’d want. It might be that we need to bring over the sense of spiritual wholeness from one side to infuse the other, but don’t know how we can bring hope and possibility and positivity into our lives to make it work for us, to find our own “heaven”. You don’t have to be a Christian to experience this dilemma. You just have it in the face with our culture and with the challenges you might face in life. It’s at this time that you get it in sharp relief.

I remember as a teenager crying buckets at this time, just after Christmas and having just finished a novel that had a sad ending, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway. In the novel both the hero’s girlfriend and her baby die in childbirth. “Was there nobody there for me?” was my question. It was very existential: life seemed meaningless and all I wanted to have love in my life. There seemed to be this gap between me and love. Love was “out there” and I wasn’t getting it.

There’s this gap between how the world seems “out there” and how we are feeling inside. People have just been having a great time (or so it seems – many aren’t really) and the ego has just been having a wonderful time indulging itself in desire, in wanting. So we’ve been feeding our ego tendency till we’re totally absorbed in it, either in enjoying it or being aware of the want of it, of its lack. So we experience a very sharp polarity.

There’s a clue in the word “love” and our desire for more of it. The challenge is to bring our awareness inside, so that we can go within and feel the love that is there. It’s not gone away, but we may need to find it and connect with it. And find new purpose, direction and meaning.

I give coaching to people who are depressed at this time and are looking to bring joy, contentment and fulfillment back into their lives, whether it be in their work, their career, their relationships or their life in general. Read more here and you can contact me here.

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You can make yourself feel happier if you choose

In contrast to the conventional wisdom, the World Happiness Database has found that having goals doesn’t make you happier. Given that very many in coaching start with questions around goals, this can seem a challenging proposition until we reflect on the relationship between having goals and happiness.

The point that is being made in this research is that intellectual concepts like goals, meaning and purpose aren’t in themselves things that create a sense of wellbeing, although they can help. Goals help us move towards something that is life-enhancing. As is argued, it is in the action and thus the experience that one’s state can be said to be happy. Thus leading an active life, leisure pursuits, exercise, and being involved are more powerful. This is very important since activity is a powerful shift-maker in changing mood and in creating a more positive outlook. It is when we let go and allow ourselves to be that we can experience something more uplifting. As positive psychology has also shown, factors that are conducive include being in the flow, engagement, positive emotion, relationship, and accomplishment, as well as having meaning (Flourish, Seligman, 2011). What the above-mentioned study also says is that we can make ourselves happier, that it is something we potentially have control over.

We tend to assume that it is changes in our material circumstances that will make things better for us and thus we’ll feel happier. Thus when material conditions aren’t so good we stay caught up in negativity. Yet what really makes the difference is how we deal with what we’ve got, our ability to be in the moment, to experience joy in the moment, which is available to us at any moment, not necessarily at some point in the future when things “outside” us change. While we wait for such things to change, we create a distance between the that and the now, and keep joy away from us. Thus do we suffer, attached to wanting, to the want of it, to desire.

So it’s not for nothing that a great way of dealing with feeling down and depressed is to take action, to go out and for example get exercise and do something positive that shifts our state. Here we take control and affirm our ability to make a difference in our lives, to change our perception of what is, and allow more joy into our lives. It is a choice we have, at any moment.

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Enjoyment of your holiday is to let joy be present

It might seem a strange question, but how often do we really, actually have enjoyment in our holidays, do we en-joy them, and let joy be present? Holidays aren’t always the pleasure for people that you might think they “should” be.

August can be a strange month. For most of us, it is holiday time, but not all  go away this month, and some aren’t having holidays at all. The locality where one lives can be very quiet, almost unreal. In Paris apparently about 50% go away, and those that are left are more relaxed and strangely friendly with one another. The stress goes out of the interaction, less of the busyness that can so separate us. For those that are still working, if you’re not in an industry that is holiday-related, it can be a quieter time, with less activity and more time for catching up.

August for me was at one stage one long holiday, since as I was then a teacher we had a much-needed long break and traditionally I would go to France or Greece and become almost another person, very chilled and with a re-discovered sense of humour. As a child, it was the annual pilgrimage to Cornwall, to a warm, friendly farmhouse near Fowey, treks across the meadows to the beach down some cliff path, endless hours amidst the rock pools or sandcastles, and evening cricket with the other residents and the farm children in what seemed like also endless hot, sunny summers. I guess lots of children have a similar memory of their summers. So, for me holidays are good.

Holidays are very important. There is the aspect of memory, but there’s also the present-day need to take time out. I very often in my work come across people who don’t take holidays, don’t use their annual leave and seemingly keep going with the work, and it poses the question of how much we really give time for ourselves. There are those who don’t like to “get away”, don’t like the time “doing nothing”, as though they might be bored or have to face their inner voices, or spend time with their family, or feel lonely.

There are those who endure their relationships, or at least don’t spend leisure time together and to give a couple of weeks to each other could be terrifying. Again, one might have to face some truths. It’s quite common for couples to split up after a holiday, with that “enforced time” together, and when they realise the relationship isn’t working. So the holiday can become very stressful.

Yet, it can and perhaps should be time for relaxation, pleasure, enjoyment and keeping the company of others if that’s possible for us. In Positive Psychology, there are five key criteria for well-being, positive emotion, engagement, relationship, accomplishment and meaning. It’s worth tesing yourself as to whether you get all five boxes ticked for yourself when you have your holiday, and if in past not, think of they can be this time.

The word “holiday” comes from “holy day”, which was when people could celebrate, and they are historically hallowed times. See how you can make your break this year “hallowed time”, and allow the presence of peace and contentment to be there for you, and let en-joy-ment into your life. Joy is after all who we really are.

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How generosity in others reminds us of what is missing in us

Reflecting further on generosity, I’ve often noticed how it seems to be the people who have least who are the most generous and helpful towards their fellow humans. I was talking with a coachee who had been on a charity fund-raising drive across Asia and how he had driven through very remote regions and hit all sorts of problems along the way. However, what most struck him was how invariably friendly people were, hospitable and willing to help them fix their problems with their car. He told me it was particularly so amongst those who appeared to have not a bean to their name. They just gave of their hearts, with a smile.

I’ve also watched these TV programs where western women have gone to stay with tribes in remote corners of the world and how generally these people are happy and contented. Again, by western standards they are desperately poor, but that isn’t a concept they hold. What they have in particular is joy, in abundance, laughter, fun, humour, light-heartedness. I remember one program in particular where the western woman, after a while of living with them I think it was on the edge of the desert in Kenya, began to cry. The kindness and joy of these people contrasted so strongly with her own experience of life. The people she was staying with were aghast: “Why is she crying? What can be the matter? What is wrong for her?” Such an unhappy state was alien for them. All they knew was being happy. That was how people should be and were.

What has our so-called civilisation lost that we live in the midst of such unhappiness and unkindness here in the west? It’s like we’ve lost touch with ourselves at a fundamental level. Joy and generosity are part of who we are, but for so many of us, that’s not our experience of so-called “reality”.

This is one reason why it is so important, and so urgent, that we start looking within, at our real Source of happiness.

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Focus on what gives you contentment

Perhaps you have been enjoying the spring weather. Perhaps you have been anticipating a break coming up over the Easter period and may even be enjoying one now.

Or maybe this spring is passing you by. Sometimes we can be so absorbed with what’s going on for us that we can miss what is right in front of us, including that which can give us pleasure.

Do you miss what could give you real pleasure in life?

We might have pressing matters that we need to attend to. Very many of us are seemingly constantly busy, with too much to do and not enough time. Or we have money worries. Or family pressures. Whatever it is, the point here is that we can get caught up in an absorption with what seems important and thus not allow ourselves to focus on what might give us contentment. It’s almost perverse. Some say that they find themselves putting off to some indefinable time in the future the enjoyment of the fruits of being alive. Tough one, if you happened to die in the meantime!

Others might get cynical about the good life, “sceptical” as many put it. I’ve alluded before to that way of distancing ourselves from what might be good and wholesome and of value, even to mock it. Or we might actually attempt to put our faith in something that we think will lead in a positive direction, only to find our hopes dashed. We call that the “hope-disillusionment cycle”, putting out hope for something, only to be disappointed. So, we might guard ourselves against disappointment by not allowing ourselves to go there in the first place.

It’s worth looking at where you disconnect, or not allow yourself to connect in the first place. In Gestalt terms, we might deflect from awareness, for example, pushing the experience away. Or we might be desensitised, in other words disconnected, and so not allowing ourselves to make contact with the experience. Both might be for fear of the consequences at some level. For example, you might dare not let yourself connect with what you truly want for fear of what might come up for you.

However, one might ask, what do you regard as the good life anyway. Would it be more material things, or an enhanced material situation? Or might you now be thinking of something more enduring? Those of you who have been reading this blog for some time will know that we suggest that ultimately people won’t have an enduring good life unless they learn to connect with who they really are.

It’s like there’s a part of us deep inside that is calling to us. When will we attend to it?

Yet, every now and again we get reminders. For a moment, the veils part and we get a glimpse.

I was at a gathering of yogis recently doing various yogic things, and at the end of the day there was a chant. The chant reached its climax and then there was silence. I and others looked around, and it was like we all felt it, a deep sense of connection, palpable, vibrant, powerful. Everywhere eyes were shining bright. What we saw externally resonated with what we felt internally.

When you develop your awareness, you can learn to find inside great inner treasures. People who do this work say that they learn in various ways to know that there is a part inside that feels great love, knows an inner joy, feels very peaceful, and can understand what real contentment might mean. The art of course is to know that place more and more, and to be able to go there – and stay there – more and more. Some then report feeling blissful, ananda, even waves and waves of it!

We speak about knowing our centre, this place I am writing of, and of feeling centred, calm, peaceful, steady, balanced, confident, knowing, warm, at One. It’s beyond words really.

But that would be to discount the power of the ego, which is about survival and keeping us safe, as it perceives it. We’ve grown up in this ego mode and it is like an old friend, one that is past its sell-by date but we’re reluctant to break the tie. Such a step can seem very scary, which is of course the ego doing its thing. “Don’t let go of me. You need me. Just see what happens if you are so silly as to let go”. And old habits die hard. They take quite a bit to shift. And the ego is very skilled at roping us back in when things seem to get difficult, which is tough because when it’s getting difficult is where the real breakthrough can occur.

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Why do people cry at weddings?

I attended a wedding last weekend in the august surroundings of the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral in London,  at which someone my wife had known a long time was getting married. It was a traditional Anglican wedding, during which we were treated to a sermon by the priestess. Her subject was “Why do people cry at weddings?” I was initially absorbed by her range of psychological explanations, until she settled on a religious explanation as the real reason.

Well, if you are a devotee of that tradition, or others for that matter, I can imagine that her explanation that it was the celebration of the union of two people solemnised by the priest(ess) in Christ’s name that did it, would be a very likely one. However, I found myself asking the question more generally, since, as per the last post, I’d doubt that most attending would see it quite like that. Most probably wouldn’t know why. They’d just do it, and generally I’m not aware of people having a problem with it. Rather the reverse. Such tears are often accompanied by smiles.

For some, the tears might be one of regret. Dad might possibly be mourning the loss of a cherished daughter, as might mum (and ditto sons, let’s not forget). Then they might just be very pleased for her. Given that about half of couples get wed today, and often after a period of cohabitation, people might not be so bothered. Except that weddings fascinate. At the wedding I was at, when it got to the point when the couple were exchanging their vows, the children, especially the girls, stood in the aisle watching intently. Now, that might be plain simple curiosity, and children will stare, except that there was an intensification of emotion at that point, since I’d suggest everybody was firmly plugged in. Children are very sensitive to such things.

There is something hugely poignant about this moment in the service, when the emotional level goes right up and people start gently mopping their eyes. Is it sadness? Are there those grieving, about people lost or who can’t be there or whatever, or about what might have been or had been but isn’t now? Well, it can be mixed and we can cry for mixed reasons, and when the emotional channels are open we connect with deeper stuff than perhaps is usual. However, I’d suggest rather that these are mainly tears of joy, in the happiness of a couple with whom we all share a moment. Because there’s a part of us there too. We want that joy for ourselves, and somewhere inside we know that joy, and we appreciate it in others and we share in their joy. We feel it as if one, and here’s the key point. It is a Transpersonal moment, when we are as One. We are all re-minded of the essence of love within each of us, being played out in front of us, as in a mirror.

So, next time you get invited to a wedding, explore this. It’s another way to connect.

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Become aware of your deep inner resource that is always there for you

Deep inside us we all have a great potential resource, our inner Awareness. It is a bit like an inner secret but not necessarily one that we would fear others finding out but that we just don’t need others to know about unless we’re feeling like talking about it. It just is. It’s there for us for whenever we need it.

You can access this inner Awareness at any time. You could even be aware of it all the time. However, to access it, all you have to do is to consciously take a deep breath, let go on the out-breath of any thoughts, feelings, tension, upset or anxiety, and allow your awareness to follow your in-breath, taking you within. And there it is.

With practice, and probably with self-development work of some kind, you can get to know this place or this state within. For many it is in the heart centre, the energy centre or chakra in the centre of the chest about four or five fingers up from the parting of the rib cage. For others it might be say in their head or around their third eye, the chakra just above the centre of the eye brows, or in their power centre, the solar plexus region. It might just be sensed in various places and maybe right around the body. With practice it can extend outwards, all around you and even to people around you, or the room or beyond.

Many see it as a state of contentment, or of joy, or love or bliss, ananda. When you first find it, it can seem like you’ve come home, that this is Who you really Are, and it can feel very true and real.

Your contact with this state might initially be very powerful, and then it might come and go, and sometimes not seem to be there, often because we’re distracted by the ego. But the great value of working to develop your awareness of your inner Awareness, for example by meditation, is that more and more it can be there for you, and it can get stronger. It’s an inner resource, for example to help you return to a state of balance or equipoise, to restore your sense of calm, to just feel good once again, to re-connect with Who you Are, to help you manage all the various challenges that come up in our daily life and indeed our inner challenges too.

Our training is designed to help people acquire and develop this inner resource.

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The quality of your life

You might give your mind a mental scan and check out how it’s doing as regards happiness and contentment right now. Where is it on a scale of 1 to 10?

What might your mind be preoccupied with right now? What has been absorbing your attention recently? If you didn’t have the computer to distract you, where would you go in your mind?

This is a useful check. It’s to get at what is in the background of your awareness. Sometimes we aren’t thinking about it, as our minds might superficially be on something else. But we might know it by how we’re feeling, the predominant state we’re in, such as feeling irritable, or a vague sense of discomfort or being ill at ease, or a background melancholy. Some of us don’t even know that and are cut off from their sensing, disconnected entirely, as if cut off from parts of themselves.

Not surprisingly, we find all sorts of things to distract us, generally material ones, activities or addictions, or the company of others.

It’s that underlying general malaise. And we don’t dare face it because we fear the consequences. Not actually very useful, though such avoidance may seem so. We have an expression, “Let the cracks appear; they are your way out”. It is actually by facing our demons that we can learn what they are about, what we do that keeps them in place, and how we can let them go. Because they aren’t who we are.

Buddhism teaches that human kind is destined to suffer, until it addresses the causes of its suffering and learns to connect with its inherent loving kindness. Other belief systems have similar themes.

It’s this belief that we’re somehow flawed, and stuck with it. Those who journey within to find who they are report discovering inner peace, joy, love and contentment. And it’s not something that comes and goes, but is permanently there. The idea of being flawed is then contradicted by one’s own experience.

So it is a vital question to ask oneself, what is my quality of life like right now? How do I really feel?

And do something about it that lasts, that addresses the underlying malaise and connects you with the joy, peace and love that is you.

I have a very useful e-course on this that you can sign up for, for free, here..

To learn more about developing your own inner awareness of who you really are and how to manage your mind, read here about The Point of Awareness.

Or sign up to my Newsletter to receive more inspiring articles.

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When joy goes down the pan

So we’ve been having good weather. Perhaps you have been focusing on that and feeling good. Then you might have been enjoying the weekend. Or you might have been practicing focusing on your own inner joy.

But then along comes rain, or you’re back at work. Perhaps the same old issues re-emerge. And your good feelings disappear, to be replaced by other more negative ones.

Is that a familiar pattern? Do you find that you might be enjoying yourself when some negative thought creeps in and the whole edifice dissolves? Some people might even say that when they feel good they immediately scan mentally for anything that could get in the way, and quickly find something negative to focus on. Worriers can do this. Some don’t even allow themselves to get into any good feelings for the fear that something less good will come along to spoil it. It’s almost like hoping for the best while expecting the worst! Looking both ways at once! It can even seem like we’ve taken out an insurance policy on hope – better insure yourself against disappointment. Hey, maybe there’s someone who even offers such a policy!

Remember what you focus on: as per the Law of Attraction, what you focus on grows. You get more of what you think about. So, think again. Or not think!

This is a case of where it is so important to develop mental muscle, to manage the mind, to learn to stop yourself going where you don’t want to go, to learn to keep your focus on what uplifts you. It is to stop the mind from going down these old familiar paths, and to bring it back to positivity.

It would be so good to be able to do this at will. And it is possible.

The important first step, the crucial first step, is to develop your awareness in the first place, so that you can both know those paths that don’t serve you, those habits and patterns of thinking and feeling that you get into and what they are about, so that you can more effectively interrupt them. And how you can learn to take responsibility for them and learn to let them go. And second, that you can learn techniques to bring your awareness back to what serves you, to regain your inner centre, and to know more and more that place of deep inner bliss, peace and joy which is Who you really are.

I have a very useful e-course on this that you can sign up for, for free, here.

To learn more about developing your own inner awareness of who you really are and how to manage your mind, read here about The Point of Awareness.

Or sign up to my Newsletter to receive more inspiring articles.

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When did you last have a really good laugh?

When did you last have a really good laugh? Like really let go and had a belly laugh? It can be a sobering question. One senior manager in a company where we were running a laughter workshop shared that he hadn’t laughed like that for 10 years. He could remember the last time clearly.

You might ask yourself: how serious do you tend to be most of the time. How much do you laugh?

It can be a useful indicator of the level of joy in our lives. How much do we feel pleasure, do we smile naturally (as opposed to the false smiles that pass for much human interaction), do we feel uplifted, do we feel affirmative or enthusiastic, or all those other feelings that go with a generally well-disposed outlook on life. If the predominant mood is of gloom, sadness, despondency, negativity, grumpiness, pessimism, depression, then there’s perhaps a reason to question whether this serves you.

Laughter has great health-giving benefits, the release of endorphins on laughing stimulates the healing potential of the body. People now even watch comedy videos as a means of tackling cancer. It’s a relaxant, a stress-buster and an aerobic work-out, 2 minutes of laughter being the equivalent of 10 minutes on a rowing machine! Plus it’s a great way of shifting your state of mind.

One aspect that we teach is the inner chuckle, the spontaneous vibration of the throat and upper chest as we chuckle inside, and that welling up of joy, warmth and pleasure as a laugh starts to take hold. It’s something we have within us, and not dependent as most “humour” is on laughing at other people or things that occurs outside us, external to us.

We hold within us the natural joy of the Self and laughter is one expression of That. People who’ve worked on letting go their egos, who manage the mind, who can connect at will with Who they really Are, can access that natural joy of the Self.

This is one aspect of what we teach on The Point of Awareness.