Tag Archives | presence

Every day we have moments of magic

Mid-summer early mornings can be times of magic. I was just woken at dawn on a hot summer’s morning by the first song of a blackbird in the cherry tree right by our bedroom window. Light was faintly appearing and its song wafted in like some welcoming celebration of another day, pure and clear. I then thought, “We live our lives experiencing suffering, when really we live in paradise. We just don’t see it.” It felt like I was being sung that as a song. A true wake-up call!

I guess I could then ask, how much do you or I notice and attend to our wake-up calls?

A sceptic might say, “Hey, that bird was just doing its thing marking out its territory!” Then, I could turn aside from my moment of magic, and my mind could get to work around what a birdsong is about and about what we make things mean. So, I’d go along some path of thinking. Thinking is useful, when it serves us, but as many say, “overthinking”, excessive mental activity, can disconnect us from the spiritual component of our experience. So we can lose touch of what we needed to hear, see or feel that connects us, you and me, with our inner self, soul, God, or whatever for you is meaningful around the real essence of your life.

We can get these moments of magic at all times. We might directly sense them. We might hear them from the words of another, read them on some billboard, see them on an advert, on TV, hear a song, remember an event, have a dream, or reflect on the words of a loved one.

Yet we need to notice them. Do you or I pay attention? Or are we too absorbed in the daily busyness of our lives and mind? Are we too disconnected, cut off from our real inner flow of Life? Is there a part of us that disconnects habitually, shuts off from our feelings and sensing,  desensitised or deflecting from what we may fear is too uncomfortable and threatening, and thus unable or unwilling to reach out, take risks, and experience our true inner Self. Habitual busyness, that ingrained mental activity, and outer activity, often stressed, very often “caught up” in the ego, keeps us stuck. We may even know it, but carry on anyway. “Some time I’ll start meditating”, we say, and then carry on as before.

Then, we also need to attend to what our bit of magic is. Notice it, tune into it, feel it, get its resonances, enter into what it has to tell us. Step back and be the witness. Yes, and really get it. Attending, being with it, letting go of ego, and being present with our experience. Focusing. It involves an effort of will for many of us. A choice.

A woman recently said to me that, despite her many years of journeying she was “still unenlightened”, like she still hadn’t got “there” yet. I commented that hadn’t her guru told her that she was “already enlightened”? She got it.

It’s here, right now, in our moments of magic, paradise right here, right now. So what does it take to get it?

Do you worry about when you can practice mindfulness?

People often ask, when is a good time to practice mindfulness, or to meditate. It’s tempting to answer, when you feel like it, but there are practicalities! Like not when you’re working or traveling or cooking or being with family and friends, in other words when there are lots of distractions. Yet, it’s not as crazy an answer as it seems.

First of all, we’re talking about pausing, being in the moment, aware, present, in your body, focused on your breathing, letting go, noticing thoughts rather than caught up in them, being the observer or witness. You can do that anywhere and at any time. You can have a quick five-minute meditation even. The thing is, most people don’t do that.

It should be said right away that dealing with distractions is part of the practice. We need to learn to manage how we let the rest of our life get in the way.

Busy minds

The mind gets powerfully seduced every other moment in the stream of ego consciousness. We go off on one thing after the other. You might notice this even when specifically meditating at your appointed hour. A few breaths, feeling a bit more still, and then you’re off on some tempting line of thought or reverie, even without noticing you’re doing it, till say 5 minutes later you suddenly become present again, notice what’s happened, and return to your breath. Which is excellent, by the way, because you’re practicing being mindful. Yet, most people don’t see it like that and beat themselves up instead.

So, the point here is that you can practice mindfulness at any time. In fact this is invaluable since it helps you maintain your self-awareness, check negative thoughts and feelings and return to a centred state. The practice is key, since it helps reinforce the discipline that we need. Practice, practice, practice.

Thus in the middle of a meeting, if you’re feeling stressed, you can just breathe, become aware, and focus on your breath, or on a train or in a noisy, crowded airport while waiting for your delayed flight.

A practical time

However, from a practical point of view, to really help develop an effective grounding in mindfulness, it pays massive dividends to dedicate a specific time of day to the practice. Find a quiet place, ideally a room of your own, where you won’t be interrupted by others, the phone, etc., get a comfortable, upright chair, sit in an upright posture, perhaps with a small cushion in the “small” of your back, your lower back, and with your feet gently placed flat on the ground and your hands facing down on your thighs or on top of one another facing upwards on your lap. Breathe in deep and breathe out long, and repeat two or three times, relax, let go, and then as you breathe normally, allow yourself to focus your awareness on your breath. And keep doing that, bringing your awareness back if it has drifted off on some line of thought. Give yourself 10 or 20 minutes, or more if you can.

Do this regularly at a particular time of day to suit your rhythm, which might be after you have got up in the morning and washed but not yet eaten, and before work. Or it might be when you get home, in the early evening, before eating. Those are two of the most common times. It might be at lunchtime, but again before you eat as your stomach will otherwise be very occupied managing that food! Some people even get up early to meditate, and find that the meditation compensates over time for the sleep.

It is the regular practice that is crucial, and giving yourself some dedicated space and time absolutely fundamental to really anchoring the practice – and in coming home to your self! Then over time and with practice, you can come more and more to those quiet, silent, still points, the gap in the stream of consciousness expands, and you notice more and more the bliss that lies within! Isn’t that tempting!

I coach people to develop their mindfulness and meditation practice. To contact me, click here.

How to be present when others are losing it

Do you struggle to know how to be present with someone when they are upset or angry, or when you are tired or going through it yourself? I’m very often struck by how people can lack the ability to “be with” people emotionally, especially those who work professionally with people in challenging situations. It’s like our buttons get pushed or we feel inadequate or lack the resources we need. Somehow, people say, they “aren’t qualified” to handle it.

It will be all right

It will be all right

When people kick off

I remember once on a Gestalt training course unpacking a whole load of grief around the impact of divorce on my contact with my younger son, and how I verbalised it to the group in a way that the facilitator later said she was “out of it” for the duration of my work. I recall she was a parent herself. So this can challenge even seasoned professionals. Luckily I had another who  worked with me.

Yet this doesn’t just apply to professionals. Anybody can face this at times. What about when your partner kicks off about some hurt or pain and it’s you that happens to be there – and they need you to be there? What do you do? Do you do what so many do, and shift about uncomfortably, tell people “not to mind” and “it will be OK”, and not get upset, etc? Who are you really helping here, the person kicking off, or actually you yourself? Are you really telling them to stop?

What we don’t like is being faced with powerful emotions that tap into our own stuff, especially if it touches our own doubts and inadequacies. Yet, there are resources available, if you choose to access them.

Being resourceful: self awareness and self management

One is self awareness and self management, in this case the ability to be aware of your own process and how your buttons can get triggered by other people’s stuff. It helps to know yourself enough to know what is your stuff in this situation, of course! This is often all about personal development – that doing your own journey bit, dare I say, that many of us are today afraid to do. It is also about how you self manage, in this case choose not to get caught up in your own stuff but put it on one side, the rule of epoché in Gestalt terms.

Presence

Another is the ability to be present, to be right there in the moment, thoughts and feelings on pause (I’ll say more about that in a moment), in the “here and now”, still in yourself, centred, at One as I keep writing on this blog, connected with some energy  centre or chakra within like your heart centre region or, in the case of powerful emotion, perhaps your power centre in the  solar plexus region. So that you are aligned with  Source as you are “with” another. “Being with” is all about being present with them. So you are truly “with” them, in support, with mind, body and soul, right there in the moment.

Empathy and respect

Your stance matters hugely too. So think about  it. Here is needed Carl Rogers’ empathy and unconditional positive regard. So you respect utterly the  other person right there where they are and what is going on for them. No judgement (this can be tough, but it really matters). No conditions attached. In fact  you  are unattached to everything, including how you feel. You have to let go of all that. And you empathise with them, which is to seek as far as humanly possible to see things from their perspective, although  you cannot “know how they feel”. Thus you can hear their story. And you hear it like you get it. So that they feel heard, which is what so many people need. They may not need to be fixed (which is what so many men try to do  with  women, by the way!). Here’s where you truly stop and be with them in their pain.

Then they will feel supported. You don’t have to take their side, or agree with them, or blame them. Just be there. In peace, bringing peace. Om shanti.

I coach people and give training in these core skills. To contact  me, click here

Repetition can be good too

In the business world to be repeating something, to be going over the same old ground can seem like the kiss of death, as if repetition is inherently a “bad thing”, contrary to the incessant need for new thinking, having something “different”, innovation. Yet this very belief can in personal development terms be a barrier to new learning and insight. It’s a paradox. Here to go over the same things generates growth and change.

A perhaps less well-known example of this is the Gestalt technique of the Paradoxical Theory of Change, that if you really focus on the repeating the same old pattern, and you even enhance it, and the dysfunctional aspects too, a new insight emerges. Thus in reviewing what you’ve already covered, you may be consolidated in what you’ve learned and feel reinforced in what you are doing, but you may also get fresh insights that carry you forward. I often talk of the cyclical process of this kind of learning, where you keep coming back to to certain topics, but each time with a slightly different approach. There is a whole theory attached to this cyclical approach to growth, as with people like Erik Erikson, and it runs counter to linear thinking so beloved of logical rationalists. This field I am discussing can after all be very subtle, and at each re-visiting, you are very likely going deeper into your areas of exploration.

It’s also worth looking at what comes up for you when something gets repeated. The very impatience that I referred to in the first paragraph could be instructive. What in a business might be an obstacle to growth can in personal development terms be resistance to learning. To “stay with the process”, to be present with your irritation let’s say, can challenge your beliefs and assumptions and help you see what’s right in front of you that’s stopping you growing. The invitation here can be to look at why you think something can’t be repeated and explore what it does for you to have to go over the same old ground. It might be that by embracing the resistance, and doing what you don’t want to do, you can see some pattern that you keep doing that stops you moving on. Somewhere in there is a letting go and a breakthrough to a new level. And it can come through a paradox.

There’s also great value in spiritual development through regular practice of course. Keeping doing the same things might to some be plain boring, but this is a society which throws a whole culture of innovation at us and obscures the deep truth of who we are in the process. Regular discipline of practice, say meditation, yoga, contemplation, walking, exercise, washing dishes, or whatever, that enables us to be still and aware, this takes us out of our habits of thinking, out of our “mind stuff”, and helps us let go of our patterns and be present and aware, still and at peace. In our culture we need these “re-minders”, to  come back to the moment, and to keep doing this regularly, to keep our focus and intent. Thus we can stay on track and not be diverted by the huge pressures “out there” that can take us off on various ego trips.

Thus repetition is good too.

Manage your mind to still your busy mind and be at peace

It’s a common complaint that I hear from people, that their minds are too busy, they can’t get it to be still, they are constantly plagued by negative or unhelpful thoughts, or simple are unable to switch off. It’s no surprise in today’s very stressful life but it’s not something limited to stress situations. Your mind can take you to hell and back if you’re not careful. This is where having the skill to manage your mind is so important. The mind is a maleable instrument and we can deal with these tendencies if we choose.

In yoga and other eastern practices, there’s a very strong emphasis on managing the mind, of knowing what’s going on “between the ears” so to speak, and choosing intentionally to manage it, to put it on one side, to drop it, to let it go, or to undertake self enquiry to learn more deeply what it’s really about and what it has to teach us about who we are.

In yoga and other disciplines, doing practices like hatha yoga and meditation are designed to help us become present, come “into the moment”, and let go of what’s “on the mind”. We can be aware of the Now as Eckhart Tolle calls it, where we can access “portals to the unmanifest” (The Power of Now) if we so choose too.

Managing the mind is also very practical. It enables us to pause and put on hold what’s troubling us, to centre ourselves, connect with our essential Self as I was writing above, and Be as who we are as we make contact with the world. Thus it is a valuable practice in “self-management”, as it is known in Emotional Intelligence circles, where we exercise self-control. Thus we are able to put on one side whatever emotional stuff is going on for us and rise above it. We can in yogic terms be the witness of our process, not absorbed in it.

So part of the work is to get to know that still space within, and meditation is good for this. However we also need self awareness, to be able to “read” what’s going on for us, to develop greater self knowledge, and thus have greater clarity on what we need to manage. Then we can use techniques in managing the mind to deal with what’s going on, let go and enter our centred state.

Here is a short e-course I’ve put together to support you in this invaluable practice.

You can read more here.

There are always reminders of our inner presence

Yesterday we went out to visit a friend for her birthday and took the chance of this “re-birth” day too to go to a local architectural beauty, Tewkesbury Abbey. Inside the building was decorated with yellow spring flowers and it was filled with incense from the morning Easter Sunday service. The incense hung in the building as a thin mist, which gave an even more ethereal feel to the place. It was suitably mysterious but full of energy from the earlier celebration.

Tewkesbury Abbey altar and choir

Tewkesbury Abbey altar and choir

Easter Sunday celebrates the resurrection of Christ, and whatever your views about this or other aspects of Christian beliefs, it still felt good to be around a celebration of a major event in people’s lives. The event has  symbolised for so many people the conquest of death, and offered immense and reassuring hope to people despite the difficulties of their lives that in the end, if they stayed with their faith they would live for ever in paradise, that life is everlasting.

This aspect runs through much of religion and spiritual practice around the world, that if you change direction, or keep on your path, you will be rewarded, that the current dispensation is prone to suffering but that it doesn’t have to be like this, that humans are liable to go off down some unhelpful side alley but they can return to truth and awaken to what is really there for them. However, to do this, they need to challenge the devil within them and re-focus on that which uplifts them.

How we interpret this, and what gloss we put put on it is down to us, unless you buy into those that insist that their particular version is the only way.

I walked around the building in the mist. It was a quite dark day and so very dark inside, despite the subdued lighting, which helped create the particular mystery that these buildings have. The Abbey is very old, dating back to the 12th Century, and has lots of chapels built for the local medieval aristocracy. It was a monastery until the 16th Century but clearly well-endowed by those well-heeled who needed prayers to be said for their departed souls, as they saw it.

The darkness of the building took my awareness within and the lofty heights raised it upwards. In these places the eye is almost naturally drawn up, which was no doubt intentional for its creators. The smell of the incense penetrated my lungs and has stayed as a sense of the spirit of the place. The presence in these places stills my mind and remains as an image reminder of inner stillness for hours afterwards.

Whatever we do and wherever we go, there are always reminders of our inner presence. It’s a matter perhaps of noticing them and re-membering.

Devotion to a spiritual practice may not be easy

The idea of following a spiritual practice is one that is likely to be an instant turn-off to the “I must have it now” culture. Yet, the real fruits of a turn-around at the level of consciousness tend to come after long periods of focused devotion to that which uplifts you.

I say it’s a turn-off for many and it’s therefore important to ask what that’s about, since even a new devotee to adopting a practice needs to be aware of what can get in the way, so as to be able to counter it. We’re many of us used to the idea of instant gratification: it’s all around us, for example in the click of a mouse, the flick of a switch, grabbing the remote, the purchase of food and drink, the use of drugs, buying some new gadget, even a quick break, and many of us can quickly distract ourselves. I gave a talk recently about how we create our own reality, and one of the attendees, among several, paused from his absorption in texting or whatever he was doing with his smartphone to ask me, “Is there any quick fix?” When I said, “No”, he lost interest and returned to his phone.

However, people who have raised their levels of consciousness have usually dedicated themselves to the path, in whatever way suits them. A spiritual practice will involve things like regular silent time, meditation, prayer or contemplation, reading uplifting material, singing or chanting, work or voluntary activity that involves stepping outside the constraints of the ego often by service to others, care over what they eat and drink, attention to what they “take in” from their environment, the careful attention to their mind’s activities, keeping “good company”, a focus on the object of spiritual devotion, and so on. In more general terms, one who is working on their own personal development could take out the more overtly spiritual aspects of the above and still follow pursuits that ensure their minds are focused on what takes them forward, studying material that helps them know more of who they really are, engaging in new activities that help them learn new more empowering skills that takes them beyond limitation, challenging that in the ego which holds them back, taking care of themselves, and acting in other ways that help support their development.

To the “instant society”, this is boring. To take our awareness beyond the material is scary and actually sounds negative. Yet the careful cultivation of the purity and clarity of the mind is to recognise that the “instant society” is cluttering up and distracting the mind and keeping it firmly in the domain of the ego. Thus we lose the possibility to open our minds to the joy and beauty of the Self. Cultivation of the inner Self means to practice in ways that stills this “mind stuff” and negativity, quietens incessant thinking, and allows the peace and joy of who we really are to be present. Spiritual or personal development practice is about being present, aware, still, silent, connected, at One. It requires effort and devotion. It’s the paradox of finding lightness through doing something that’s not to be taken lightly.

So Easter and re-birth is a good time to reflect on where we’re going with all this and can we really commit?

Opening up and allowing in the new is essential to our growth

Developing an ability to open up, to allow in the new, is very important. It’s a part of our growth function in psychological terms. Hence we need change flexibility, to be able to adapt. If we don’t do this, we close off access to part of our life force. It also makes us more able to awaken, which is a facility open to all of us.

Many of us have got so locked into resisting change and are focused on what’s missing and on the past that we miss this potentiality that’s there.

We can spontaneously wake up every day, literally as we wake up from sleep. These times just before going to sleep or on awakening are very important. It’s worth paying attention to the moment of waking. Alan Watts described how he’d have the experience of an awakening every morning. “Every morning, as I first awaken, I have a feeling of total clarity as to the sense of life, a feeling of myself and the universe as a matter of the utmost simplicity. “I” and “That which is” are the same. Always have been and always will be.” (from In my Own Way)

The ego of course can very quickly shut this off, and whatever is preoccupying our minds can fast crowd in and off we go on our familiar thought patterns. Yet, being open to allowing, to be present, to let this initial moment of awareness to be there, is very important.

Psychics say that these moments of waking up from sleep, or just before going to sleep are times when our consciousness is much more open. Similarly people who wake in the night with insights have potentially similar experiences.

Thus it is useful to cultivate our wakefulness through such things as mindfulness and meditation. This is when we can still our mental activity and allow an intensification of awareness to occur, to be “aware of awareness.”

So as we approach the Easter weekend, with its powerful symbolism of re-birth, here is an invaluable practice easily available, if we just choose to give our mind to it. Shift our minds away from whatever cares there are, give it all a break, and spend time to be aware of your awareness.

Try just being and not doing for a while

In an activity-orientated society such as ours, the thought of not doing very much might seem a bit strange. Which begs some interesting questions.

This came up recently in a conversation I was having. “What do you like doing?” I asked, to get the reply, “Not very much. I just like being.”

Now I guess a lot of people would find the prospect of that a bit uncomfortable for them. We’re all very busy, so much so that it’s a pretty regular question to ask, “How are you? Keeping busy?” So, to say “No”, would put presumably put you in the Not So Well category.

You could test it out for yourself. Let go of whatever you are doing and just sit or stand and wait a bit. See how you react after a while. Does your mind start to run off on something you are working on, or something you feel you ought to be doing, or something that’s coming up later on? Check it out.

If you meditate, do you find your mind gets very active and you need to address your mental busyness in order to get the benefits of meditation? If you have have an “idle” few moments, do you get fidgety?

To spend your time not doing very much but just being therefore might seem crazy to many people, but to those interested in perhaps the quality of their aware, conscious life, it’s a very different matter. To them, to not “do” very much would be something to be almost envied. How about not being under any obligation to earn money, for example, and to have no family commitments, and no targets and deadlines and obligations to others? How about just spending some time sitting in a park, or walking down a country lane, or sitting in a room contemplating the view?

The key to this is the quality of your inner life and the meaning you derive from it, and what is important to you, your values.

One who for example likes to be present, in the moment of Now, could be deriving great bliss from that very moment. The more you stay with That, you more you get That.

I would suggest that we don’t do enough of this, and we have lost the art of contemplation of stillness, silence and presence.

So, when you next get a “spare moment”, use it to be present, in the moment, just Being, and allow the very richness of Being to come to you.

Where you are is where you are

Here’s an interesting quote to reflect on this weekend: “Wherever you go, there you are.” (Tolle). Do you ever find that you wish you weren’t where you are, that there must be some place or situation better than this one?

We can invest huge amounts of energy and longing into thinking we’d rather be somewhere else. For example, not liking the house you are in, not liking the job you’ve got, not liking the person you are with, or direction you seem to be going in, or the place you are physically at. The grass is always greener on the other side. What someone else has is better than what we’ve got.

It’s the ego thing of comparison. We compare the status quo with some seemingly better alternative. But you don’t actually know. The other place might not turn out to be any better. Those other people who look so happy could be miserable inside and the outward manifestation just a facade. The job you have might need a spring clean and you may not actually need to move.

We can get heavily invested in things not being “good enough”. There can be a permanent air of dissatisfaction with life, always something at fault.

So, the awareness work could be to just notice that, and be in the moment. Where you are is where you are. Let go, step into the present moment and appreciate what you’ve got. Everything is contained in the present moment.

You might find you’ll notice it if someone took it away!

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