What Seeds are growing in the Chambers of your Heart?

As we race through the busyness of our lives, much of our focus is on the external world and our place in it. We focus on the job at hand, the looming deadlines, the problem that needs to be solved. We focus on getting somewhere or something, or getting away from somewhere or something (or even someone). We focus on other people’s needs, other’s actions, other’s rights and wrongs.

For those who are more attuned to themselves, they also focus on their own needs, their own conduct, their own rights and wrongs, their relationships with others.

Yet even those who may be attuned to themselves, from time to time still miss something deep within themselves.

It is a like a chamber deep in our heart or mind, where we store things that are difficult to deal with, that get in the way of us dealing with things in our life on a day to day basis. In that chamber, we store hurtful memories, failed plans, humiliating moments, and people we try to forget. Even deeper in that chamber are the emotional seeds that accompany these things – the pain, the grief, the regret, the sadness, the depression, the worries, the fears, the anxieties, and most often, our insecurity about ourselves and our life.

The demand of modern life, with its busyness and ‘get on with it’ attitude, places enormous stress on us. To ‘rid’ this stress, we bury ourselves in the tasks that need to be done, we focus more and more externally, to the point where our emotions are secondary and our chambers store so many of our darkness that we don’t wish to open it up to take a look inside.

But the emotional seeds are still there, and would be triggered from time to time. When triggered, even by seemingly small and neutral things, all the darkness that we have stored there comes bursting out. We may be puzzled at what comes out, or even why it has come out, thinking it is a (over)reaction to what is happening.

The reality is that the seeds we have sown within us are always there, lying latent, in wait of when the right conditions come along for them to come into effect. So if we continuously plant seeds of unhappiness, disappointment, frustration, anger, we are creating whole gardens of negativity, ready to come to fruition whenever the trigger comes along.

So the exercise for this week is to do some gardening. It’s time to pull out the weeds, and work out which seeds to best plant.

In a quiet spot, where you feel comfortable and safe, take a moment to explore your inner chamber. Initially it may be hard to find, but be patient. Open yourself up to yourself…fully. Reassure yourself that there is nothing to fear for whatever may come out, and allow things to manifest themselves in their own time. Stay focused on the task; it will take some time. For some people it could take days. That’s OK. Allow the process to take its own course. Your task is simply to be open and be aware.

As things come up, try not to react to them. Just allow them to come up and watch them disappear. These are only old memories and old seeds; they have no power over you now unless you give them that power by reacting to them.

See this as a weeding process, or a detox for your heart and mind. Allow all the past negativity to surface and disappear. In time, you will come to understand how this chamber works, how things get stored in there, and what happens when you don’t give the seeds the conditions for it to grow. Similarly, you will see also how seeds of happiness can be sown in the chambers, and how with the right conditions, these seeds of happiness blossom into fruits of happiness.

Bearing Witness to your Life

LPC-Witness to LifeThe time we spend living our life is not as often as we think. In fact, life is experienced most intimately exactly in those times when we don’t think.

This may be a difficult fact to grasp. After all, thinking takes up so much of our mental activity, we have come to accept it as being a necessary part of our minds. For many people, they cannot think of what it would be like to not think. They cannot imagine what it would be like to have a mind that is quiet and free from the endless chatter and commentary that accompanies us every moment of the day.

So we develop an attachment to thinking. An ingrained habit to think. We have been conditioned to judge ourselves and others on our ability to think. We believe that it is our intelligence that separates our species with other species, and indeed we even separate our own species into classes based on our different levels of intelligence. We think our thoughts give us the power to be creative, imaginative, innovative, analytical and above all, to survive in this fight of the fittest. To not think would lead us to act with reckless disregard for others and the consequences of our actions, to fall into chaos without any plans or structures, and regress developmentally into babies.

And so we hang onto our thoughts. We place them on a pedal-stool in our minds and believe in everything that is projected by it. We believe the stories that are conjured up; we get lost in our fantasies; we relive our distorted memories of the past; we worry about problems we think may arise in the future; we torture ourselves with anxiety and fear from the movies playing in our minds. What is most concerning is how we allow our thoughts to rule us – throwing us into anger and worry with thoughts of negativity, then entrapping us with thoughts of desire, shrouded with a layer of illusions.

In time, we come to experience the world through our thoughts, perceptions and interpretations. Most of the time, these are distorted perceptions and misinterpretations. So many times we think we know something, or interpret events a certain way, only to find out later that we had got it all so very wrong.

So we come to see the world not as it is, but as we think it is or as we think it should be. Over time, we forget there is a way to experience life directly, and that to truly see the world and our life for what it is, we can only do so by removing the filters that stand in between us and the reality that is occurring at each moment.

So the practice for this week is to bear witness to your life. To come closer to reality than you have ever before. To truly understand that your thoughts play a role in your life in helping you navigate this world, but your thoughts are not you, nor are they in command of you.

Here’s some ways I’ve found have helped ground me in reality:

1. Be present: Reality only occurs in the here and now. By the time you contemplate what has occurred, the reality is already replaced by what you think took place. Likewise, contemplating what is to come is simply you guessing what will take place. So if you want to see reality for what it is, you need to be here for it, at the time when it happens. As you become more centred in the present, you remove the tendency to jump into the past or the future.

2. Be open: So much of our time is spent on resisting what is happening or being afraid of what will happen. Conversely, we may be chasing after what has past or what has yet to come. Being open to the present moment as it is, without wanting to change it in any way, takes away the filters of fear, worry, anger, and discontent.

3. Be observant: we spend so much of our time doing and rushing, or changing reality to suit us, that we don’t usually stop to just watch life unfold in its natural way. If we are to understand reality, our life, our nature, this existence, we must observe it in the same way a scientist observes without interfering.This kind of observation at its purest form is free from thinking, but a direct experience of what is occurring at the present moment.

In our observations, we move from observing the obvious to the more subtle and refined. For example, we move from observing our displays of anger, to our inner anger, to finally see the seeds and causes of our anger. To do so, we try to catch each spark of anger, watch how it stays, and watch how it disappears. Over time, we will see how anger operates; we come to understand anger and anger becomes a choice rather than an automatic reaction.

4. Be centred: There will be times when we are confronted with reality, we want to run away in pain, or we grab it tightly with desire, or we simply don’t know what to do with it. Being centred allows us to maintain an equanimous, calm yet strong mind, to face head on with whatever reality presents to us. It is this ability to be centred and equanimous that allows us to see clearly what is going on, without bringing our own emotions, self-interests and preconceptions into our observations of reality.

5. Be sharp: Unlike what people may think about direct observation, the lack of thinking does not mean the mind becomes dull, but quite the opposite. The mind becomes extremely sharp, sensitive and concentrated, so as to pick up very fine details and penetrate deeper into the reality of whatever object of observation you choose. Developing this ability, you build an awareness and concentration, that helps you direct your mind to whatever you wish to use it for. Your mind becomes less scattered and more focused. In daily life, you will see how the sharpness of your mind can also be used to sort through very quickly enormous data that your mind receives at every moment.

6. Be patient: The development of the mind is rarely achieved overnight. It is something that is developed over time, or perhaps over an entire lifetime. When you first begin, you will be inundated with thoughts. This is normal, as it is the habit of your mind to think. To help settle the thoughts, you need to be gentle with your mind. You need to give it the time and space for it to settle on its own, but you can help it by anchoring your mind on something, such as your breath if you are doing meditation. The idea is not to stir the thoughts up with more thoughts. In its own time, the mind will become clearer and the thoughts will quieten down.

Want to try?

To get an idea what it is like to experience life directly without the filters and to experience the richness of life, you can try this exercise. You may need to do it a few times or in different settings for it to work. Whilst doing this activity, see if you can feel the difference between the two experiences.

Firstly, find a spot on your body that is touching another surface, such as your legs or back. Try and describe that experience to yourself. Can you feel hardness, pressure, heat, etc?

Secondly, drop the descriptions and just feel the experience as a whole.

Do you notice a difference?

Try this at different moments throughout your day. When you’re on the train, when you have a moment to take in the last rays of sunshine, when you are out walking.

Do you notice a difference in the moments when you are in thought, and the moments when you open yourself to the experience as it is?

For me, when I first opened myself to the experience of walking as it is, it was like walking for the first time. Since then, these moments of direct experience of life fills my heart with a joy that is so extraordinary for the most seemingly ordinary things.

I wish you a joy that surpasses the worldly joys, and a life that is made up of moments that string together to make this life a most meaningful one.

Better People

Just as flowers bloom only if they are planted in fertilised soil, we are similarly shaped by our environment. When our environment is toxic, our physical and mental health is affected. When our environment is supportive, we are more likely to thrive.

One of the main factors of the environment that envelops us are the people we associate with on a regular basis. As social beings, we are interdependent on those around us, and more often than not our relationships with others are what make our life a more beautiful one (and also more stressful depending on the types of relationships you have). On a daily basis, we come into contact with a range of people, in a range of contexts and situations. Some bring us happiness and provide us with loving support. Others bring us down and make us feel worthless.

I have no doubt that one of the main keys to success is the people we know. I don’t mean that in the sense that you get ahead by simply knowing all the people in power who make the decisions. I’m talking about having people in your life who inspire you to better yourself, and who support you in your endeavour to make yourself a better person. People whose hearts are big enough to be happy for your success, rather than whose egos are so big they want to compete with you for success. People who want to help you because they want to, not because they want something from you in return. People who see the potential in you, even when you can’t see it in yourself. These are the people who you should have on your team, and in your life.

So the practice this week is to cast your mind through the people who come in and out of your life on a regular basis. Are the majority of the people you know supportive or unsupportive? When you associate with those who aren’t supportive of you, what kind of person do you become? Do you become withdrawn, distrustful, bitter, pessimistic, unhappy? On the other hand, when you associate with those who are supportive, what kind of person do you become? Do you become open, lighter, happier, optimistic, motivated, stronger, braver?

Knowing this, make a conscious decision to associate more with those who make you happy being “you”, or who support you in being the “you” you want to be. If you have to associate with those who aren’t supportive, then simply accept them as they are, without seeking anything from them more than what they can provide to you. For each unsupportive person you have in your life, try to spend equivalent time with those who do support you to bring that balance to your life.

After all, each person has a seed in them to be the beautiful and incredible person they want to be. All they’re waiting for is that supportive soil to allow them to blossom in full bloom.

 

This article has been published as part of the Metta Legal Client Wellbeing Series. You can access that article here: http://www.mettalegal.com/staying-positive-in-separation-divorce/

Tasting the Bare Essentials of Life

I’ve had a cold for about a week now. My body went through all the usual symptoms of a cold –body aches and sore muscles, runny nose, sore throat, weepy eyes, blocked head, and the general feeling of just wanting to stay in bed with a hot water bottle instead of braving the world outside.

I also lost my sense of taste and smell for a few days too. This has happened to me before too, and on both these occasions I was invited to dinner at posh restaurants. I accepted the invitation, because people’s company is always more important than the food.

So there I was sitting in this beautiful restaurant with a nice view, looking at the menu in front of me. I chose a dish, already anticipating the taste in my mouth.

The food came, and I watched my companion take his first bite, followed by signs of approval. My mouth watered, and I took a bite. What I tasted though was something salty, warm, soft parts then crunchy. I couldn’t taste the intricacies of the herbs, or the intensity of the flavour. It all tasted mild and unappealing. I asked my companion how his dish was, as if his words allowed me to enjoy the meal vicariously through him.

While eating this way, I reflected on this experience. What I was experiencing was the bare essentials of taste – salty, sweet, bitter, and sour. I could experience the temperature of the food, the texture of whether it’s soft or hard, but nothing too exciting. It was hard to become attached to those bare essentials. Food became simply food, eaten to sustain this body. The exciting flavours were additional extras, which went only to the pleasure of the experience.

This can be applied to our other senses. Sight is merely seeing; the pretty colours are additional extras. Sound is merely hearing; music is an additional extra. Scent is merely smells; aroma is an additional extra. Touch is merely feeling; comfort is an additional extra.

This distinction is not to denounce these additional extras, but to acknowledge that these are additional extras that make life pleasant, not essential. For those practising non-attachment and living with fewer desires, this distinction also makes it easier for us to not become too attached and consumed in chasing after these additional extras. By analysing our experience in this way, the additional extras become just that: extras. We come to appreciate the bare essentials, and become much more grounded in our happiness that doesn’t require us chasing after the bigger and better ‘additional extra’.

Another thing I realised was my sense of taste actually was still somewhat intact, it was just obscured by my blocked nose which left me with little ability to smell. This emphasised just how connected our senses are with one another, and again for those practising non-attachment, it’s important to stay vigilant at all the sensory doors and not just one.

So the practice for this week is to notice and connect with the bare essentials of our senses and our life generally. Get to know again what taste is as it is without being lost in the additional extras. Get to know what smell is, what touch is, what sounds are, and what sights are. Often we only notice the additional extras, and we dismiss the bare essentials as ‘bland’ or ‘unimportant’.  Yet on closer investigation, we come to see that the bare essentials are closest to the core of our being and it’s the path to contentment through its simplicity. Becoming acquainted with the bare essentials may become your step towards understanding the workings of your body and mind.

For meditators, you may find this experience becomes obvious through your meditation and/or mindfulness training. You may find this exercise as quite similar to the instruction to watch your breath and watch the unfolding of the nature of this body as you do so.

Whatever the practice, I hope you come to understand this body and mind, and preferably without the need to go through a cold.

Nice to Meet You

When we think of family history, we may think of the amazing things our grandparents did or the number of children our ancestors used to have. We may visualise a family tree with all the branches spreading itself further across a piece of paper. Likewise, when we think of family inheritance, we think about wills and rich people fighting with their siblings over their dead parent’s money.

Lately, I have begun to untangle the braches of a different type of family tree that has been growing within me, and I’ve begun to uproot a different type of family inheritance. When I look into the person who I am now – including my personality traits, my habitual tendencies, my character strengths and flaws – I can trace a lot of those qualities back to my parents, my upbringing and the environmental factors I’ve been exposed to since my childhood. All these combinations of factors culminate to who I am today.

Yet my journey doesn’t stop there. When I look at my own parents, I realise how they have been influenced by their parents, and no doubt my grandparents have been influenced similarly by their parents. The chain continues on.

I accept that not everyone would be influenced by their parents or family in the same way. Some people may be influenced by other carers, by their peers, their environment, their education, their socio-economic situation. Some may be placed in situations that force them to change themselves (for better or worse).

For example, in my line of work, often children are taken from their biological parents, and they’re brought up by other people who may not have any biological connection with them. These children then grow up to be adults, carrying the characteristics of their biological parents, and/or their adoptive carers. Their peers, socio-economic situations, education, and many other factors also add to the branches of that person’s inner tree.

Whatever the factors may be that has led to a person as they stand before you now, the point is to remember that what you are seeing is merely a culmination of countless factors that has led this person to be who they are. Likewise, when you look into yourself, you realise that you carry with you millions of years of history, passed on to you through the roots of your biological tree or carried to you in the winds of your environment.

In seeing this, we can develop a deeper appreciation of each and every human life. We may feel a real gratitude for all the people and conditions that have contributed to making who we are. We see just how precious our life really is, and how much effort has gone into its creation. We see the miracle that occurs each day as we open our eyes and start the day anew.

So this week’s practice is to reflect on the seeds that have been sown in our hearts and in our life, and how these seeds have been watered the right way (or maybe even the wrong way), to produce the blossom that takes place in our life right now. Reflecting on this cause and effect relationship, take a moment to say thanks to all the people and things that have contributed to your success and happiness.

When you have a deep appreciation for the history that exists within you, inspire yourself to know that you are also history in the making. So start, right now, and make history happen.

Self-love and Self-hate

There is a common misconception that self-love and self-hate are mutually exclusive, and that they are polar opposites of a spectrum. Lately, I’ve been investigating into the correlation between the two. What I’ve found (and I know this may not apply to everyone) is that within one, there is the shadow of the other.

When I speak of self-love, I’m not talking about self confidence or a healthy self-esteem. I’m talking about those times when we inflate our ego or self-image, wrap it in bubble wrap and get all defensive when other people or circumstances seek to burst our bubble by undermining the unrealistic ideal we have created for ourselves.  This kind of self-love may be full of self-centredness, self-importance, attention-seeking, pretension, perfectionism, and even arrogance. This self-love cries out, “Me, me, me!” all the time, and starts every sentence with “I…”

Self-hate describes those times when the ego is deflated, the bubble has burst and it looks like it’s never going to come back. It’s those times when we punish ourselves with guilt, blame, anger, mistrust, pessimism and negativity. It’s the cloud that hangs over the head of someone who’s depressed. The sound of self-hate in someone’s head takes the form of put downs, “I’m never going to be good enough” and “I made a fool out of myself.”

Looking at these descriptions, it seems like self-love and self-hate are so different they can’t possibly be linked. Yet when you look deeper into each of them, you realise they both stem from the same place and share the same qualities. The commonality is so obvious sometimes it’s missed. That commonality is the “self”. The self is obvious in self-love where the ego is grasping onto everything that uplifts it. Yet the self is also dominant in self-hate, because when someone is lost in self-hate, they are consumed in their own preoccupations and misery. The attachment to the self – wanting it and not wanting it – is featured in both self-love and self-hate, respectively.

Another fundamental commonality between the two is our lack of understanding of ourselves, and more specifically, our true self. With self-love, we have an inflated ideal of ourselves; with self-hate we have a deflated view of ourselves. In actual fact, we are neither. As imperfect human beings, we are a mixture of good traits and flaws. Sometimes we are kind, generous and loving people. Sometimes we are angry, inconsiderate and nasty pieces of work. Those wrapped in self-love only see the former, and for those in the self-hate camp will only tend to see the latter. The reality is often somewhere in between, without judgment, and always in continuous flux.

When you investigate into your own mind, you may come to see that in self-love there is actually an insecure acceptance of yourself. You accept yourself, but only when things are going right. After all, it is hard work to continuously maintain an idealistic and perfect image of ourselves. When we say or do something that does not accord with our expectations of ourselves, we either turn a blind eye to it or we try even harder to maintain that tenuous ideal we have set up for ourselves.

This insecurity is also a pivotal driving force of self-hate. Again, there is a lack of acceptance and appreciation for ourselves. When you do something that is negative, this simply confirms the negative view you hold of yourself. When you do something positive, you may dismiss it as insignificant. A good test of whether you fall in this category is a reflection on how you accept compliments, if you can at all.

Whether self-love or self-hate, we are plagued with an attachment to the self. This attachment becomes the never-ending source of unhappiness for us. This is because we will always be susceptible to the whims of praise and blame. Self-lovers grasp onto praise as it feeds their ego, bur overreact when met with blame; self-haters grasp onto blame as affirming their self-view, and often are ambivalent or even distrusting of any praise that they receive.

The point of this article and my investigation into the correlation into the two isn’t for intellectual amusement. I hope this article highlights the need to recognise the two extremes are not extremes at all, but rather interrelated and stemming from the same attachment of the self. I also hope to share the message that if you swing from self-love to self-hate and back again, this is nothing unusual and not the onset of bipolar or something. Rather, as both are so intertwined and in continuous change as it reacts to whatever is happening in our lives, the swinging you feel is but a movement of the mind. In time, as you watch the swinging without reacting to it, without feeding it or pushing it even further one way or the other, the swinging will eventually come to a stop on its own.

As the mind becomes still and quiet, you can use this calm mind to look deeper into yourself. See for yourself who ‘you’ really are, without being caught up in the chatter of the self-lover or self-hater. In time, I hope you will find that there is another form of love that is not even on the spectrum between self-love and self-hate. That form of love is an unconditional love, one that is all-embracing, all-understanding, and that which loves without reference to the self.

So the exercise for this week is to take notice of the self-talk that happens in your head throughout the day. Believe it or not, every person talks to themselves in the head, some just louder than others. Become familiar with the type of ‘talk’ that goes on in your mind. Don’t react to them (don’t need to talk back to them either!), and try not to get caught up in them either. Just watch/ hear what kind of talk happens in your mind.

Is the talk mainly self-inflation or self-deflation? What often happens that sparks either kind of talk? How do you react to that kind of talk? What if you chose not to react and just let the talk fade to silence? What power does that talk now have on you, if any?

In dropping the self-centredness and attachment that you hold to your ‘self’, open yourself up to the possibility of love that is unconditional, boundless, non-discriminatory, and pure. Love that is the same for yourself, and the same for those around you.

Telling a Tale

There is a small shop I pass by almost each day, owned by a man in his 60s. It’s one of those shops that cuts keys, repairs shoes, and does random jobs for its customers. The shop is only about 4 metres by 2 metres, yet it is filled with all the equipment needed to meet the needs of the customers with their odd requests.

The shop has been serving its town for decades, and the owner has worked in the shop longer than I have lived. Each morning and afternoon as I pass the shop, the owner greets me by my first name, and sometimes I stop for a chat. This isn’t unusual – I’ve seen locals take the time to stop and share their joys and woes with the owner, and a purchase may or may not be made. It doesn’t matter to the owner, he happily chats away without expecting much in return.

I love listening to the owner tell me stories about the town, and all the things he’s witnessed from his 4 x 2 metres shop in his 30 years there. Over the last few months, however, his stories have changed to stories about his struggle with keeping the shop profitable in the midst of the economic downturn and competition – why repair shoes when you can buy a new pair for a fraction of the price? Although he was passionate to continue working there, it wasn’t financially sustainable for him.

So with a heavy heart, I listen to him tell me recently that he has sold his business. For a moment, I see in his eyes a real sadness in having to leave a place he was devoted to in the last 30 years. Within those eyes, I also saw fear. He tells me he was feeling the loss in leaving what he has known for the last 30 years and was feeling the fear of now jumping into the unknown of retirement. He tells me that he has been spreading the news to the locals who regularly visit him, and some were visibly upset to see him leaving. The owner, like the shop, has become a part of the town in its own humble and seemingly unimportant way.

The owner told me about how he came to buy the shop, the sacrifices he had made to maintain it, and the pride he took in it. For a moment, I was brought into his world, and the 4 x 2 metres in front of me was a whole universe of memories.

In that moment, it occurred to me that his story, and his presence, will eventually be lost. Some may have a fragment of a memory of it, but the full extent of his contribution to the town has already been forgotten.

It reminds me of the very reason why I initially took up writing. I deeply believe that each one of us has a story that is fascinating, beautiful and moving…if only we acknowledge and appreciate it. If only there is someone to tell it, and someone to hear it. Each one of us has struggled, whether internally or externally, physically or emotionally. Each of us has overcome our struggle through our persistence, our courage, and our strength. Each one of us is a hero in our own right. Sometimes we forget to give ourselves credit, but also we forget to see the story of those around us. We forget that they too are heroes, even if sometimes they play the victim or the villain. Yet when we open up and really listen to someone, we bring a part of them into our heart and affirm to them that they are just as amazing as the people we read about in books or discover in films.

So the practice for this week is to recognise any time when a friend, a family member, or even a stranger, wants to share their life story with you. Grandparents are classic examples of this. Often we simply ignore or dismiss their need to tell someone their story. And indeed, it is a need for them – they need to share their moments with someone as a way to make it real and enduring. So take the time to listen to their story, and make them the hero of their story. Their stories may inspire you, and with your affirmation of their positive qualities, their own stories may inspire themselves in return.

So…what’s your story?

Storytellers and Puppeteers

A good storyteller knows its audience, knows how to hook the attention of its audience’s imagination, and make the audience believe its story as being true. Hollywood spends millions of dollars trying to achieve this, by use of special effects and cinematography. Authors spend hours trying to create cunning storylines and use various characterisation techniques to make their story believable. Yet as the movie draws to an end, the world created by the storyteller similarly draws to a close. Even during the time we’re watching the film or reading the book, at the back of our minds, we know it is not real. We know what we are seeing is merely a projection and a story.

The stories that are created in our minds, on the other hand, do not require special effects or literary techniques to make them believable and enduring. Yet they can spin us into another dimension of reality, one that’s distorted in our misinterpresentation of what is really happening in front of us. In our story, we may be the victim, the aggressor, the winner or the loser. We may be all of these. We may fantasise about the future we want to create, or replay over and over again the memory of what we think had happened. The trigger for an entire story that can span over days may be only a single utterance, a simple gesture, or a neutral event. We add our own drama to it. We make something relevant to us, even though in reality it had nothing to do with us at all.

If we look carefully into the stories of our minds, we will see that the misinformation and misinterpretation stems from ourselves. If our hearts have seeds of doubt and suspicion, then we view other’s actions with distrust. If our hearts are contaminated with jealousy or anger, then the words we hear are always with thorns (despite what the actual words may be). If our hearts are full of fear, then we focus on the impossibilities and miss seeing the opportunities. If our hearts are filled with self-loathing, then any success we experience will be minimised and any failures we encounter are exaggerated to add to our already low self-esteem.

So our feelings become drivers in our view of the world. When we are happy, not much would bother us and the world seems to shine brightly while the flowers blossom in unison. When we are sad, all seems hopeless and the world seems that much greyer. When we are angry, we snap at each petty irritant that crosses our path. In this way, we are continuously swinging on a pendulum of feelings from one extreme to another. We can be crying with tears of sadness one minute, then tears of joy in the next.

In our ignorance, we live our lives as puppets to our feelings, fed by the stories of our storytelling-mind. These stories in turn feed our feelings, and the whole cycle begins again.

So how do we overcome these strong forces that have dictated our lives for so long?

With calm awareness and equanimity, we learn to watch the pendulum swing from one to another without adding to it or trying to control it. There is no use grabbing the pendulum to stop it from swinging. The force itself will only make the pendulum swing even more rigorously. The key here is to be gentle and patient. Watch the pendulum, know its rhythms, and allow it to settle in its own time. Trust that the pendulum, and your river of feelings, will subside to a calm stillness.

Similarly so, watch the stories being created by the mind. Don’t get swept up in them; don’t add to them with your own fantasies of the future and reconstructions of the past. Don’t give them the power to control over you. See the stories for what they are – the fabrications of your mind.

To start this process off, the practice for this week is to take note of when you feel the rising of anger or a similarly strong emotion or feeling. Don’t wait until the anger has explored, see if you can catch the moment before it erupts.

Don’t react to the emotion. Simply watch it to see what is happening. What triggers the emotion? If the stimulant external or internal? Does the emotion stay, or does it fade away? If it fades away momentarily but then comes back, what are the conditions that makes it return? What happens when the conditions are taken away?

You may need to see this emotion or feeling rising and fall away a number of times before you can clearly see it for what it is. Hopefully in time you can see that these emotions or feelings come and go, and you do have a choice in whether you want these feelings to stay or go.

As for the stories that are created by our minds, the practice is similar – just watch the stories as they are being told, but do not react to them. Do not make yourself the main actor in the stories. In fact, don’t be an actor in the stories at all. Take yourself out of the story, and in time as the stories become irrelevant to you, they will naturally fall away.

I know this is not an easy practice, but I do hope you give it a try. I hope that you will one day silence the storyteller and cut the strings that bind you to the puppeteer.

Healing from Tears

When we speak of grief, we often associate grief for the loss of a loved one. When someone dear to us pass away, we recognise the importance of taking the time to grieve for them, and those around us may support our grieving process by giving us the time and space to grieve.

This grieving process is important for us to heal the hurt we feel when a loved one passes away, but it can also be applied to other forms of loss we may experience in our lives.

Some obvious examples of this is the loss of a job and the loss of security that comes with it; the loss of a marriage through divorce; or the loss of any material possession.

There are also some other subtle forms of loss which may be the basis of our unhappiness, but of which we may not recognise as a loss or a loss that requires us to grieve for.

A personal example of this is when someone close to me fell ill. The illness overwhelmed her whole being, and she seemed to me like a completely different person to who she was. I struggled with this change in her for a long time, all the while holding onto my memory of the person who she was and trying to come to terms with the person she had now become. It was only when I recognised that the person she was was ‘gone’, did that open my heart to grieve for my loss – that I had lost the person who she was. Once I acknowledged this loss and took the time to grieve for that loss, was I then able to allow the wound from the hurt to be healed, and move onto getting to know and accept the new person she had become.

Another example is from a friend of mine who spoke about her making ‘progress’ in her life now that she is recovering from depression, but nonetheless she’s now struggling with the feeling that she had ‘wasted’ a lot of time in her depression. A wise friend of ours advised her, among other things, that she should give herself the time to grieve for the time that has passed.

Likewise, sometimes we may feel we had missed an opportunity that passed us by. Instead of guilt, we can simply acknowledge this loss and motivate ourselves to make the most of any future opportunities that come our way.

A final example are our experiences. Experiences are so fleeting, but memories can be so enduring. Sometimes the happy times that have passed become an impossible ideal for us to recreate. Acknowledge that the past is gone, and the future is anew with possibilities. Things will never be the same, but once we stop comparing, we open ourselves up to the never-ending changes in life.

Loss pervades our existence because everything around us and within us are in a constant state of flux. Things come and things go in our lives, like the wind that blows endlessly without beginning nor end.

Some loss are welcomed in our lives because they remove the unwanted and replace it with what is useful to us. However, some loss linger longer in our lives, and can cut deep wounds into our hearts. This then becomes the seeds of our sorrow, and sometimes we may not even realise the seeds are there until the conditions ripen for them to manifest themselves.

So the practice for this week is to look within ourselves, and acknowledge any wounds that may exist in our heart and mind. If those wounds are linked with a sense of loss for what is gone or changed, then take the time to be kind to yourself and grieve for the loss as if you are grieving for a loved one. Say goodbye to what is lost, as this is your way to let it go. If a good cry helps, then shed those tears and use them to heal the wounds from your loss. In time, we recognise that change and loss are simply part and parcel with our existence, and we lessen the number of wounds that we inflict on ourselves from the loss we experience.

 

This article has been published as part of the Metta Legal Client Wellbeing Series. You can access that article here: http://www.mettalegal.com/healing-from-tears/

The Burden of Control

Most of us are control-freaks in one way or another. We try to control our environment, our circumstances, our finances, our careers, our health, our looks, our reputations, our past, our present, our future, and of course…those around us. We may not even realise we are doing it, until things don’t go according to our wishes and people don’t act the way we expect them to act. We then become frustrated with them, unhappy within ourselves, and even close our hearts to them in indifference.

Yet there’s real wisdom in realising that we can’t change others, real humility in accepting that we can’t help everyone, and real freedom in letting go of our expectations to doing so. We see that this expectation is a burden that we’ve placed on others, but also ourselves.

When we can let go of our desire to change others, we give them the room to grow and to be as they are. More importantly, we can then spend our time, not on changing others, but on changing ourselves. In bettering ourselves, we change who we are (i.e., our character), not simply others’ perceptions of who we are (i.e., our reputation). In time, the qualities of our character are the greatest tools for influencing others towards change. The change may come, it may not, but within ourselves, it matters not. This is because we are no longer acting a certain way in order to control others’ reactions or perceptions of us. We act a certain way because it is consistent with our character and values.

An example of this is a story from my friend about her relationship with her sister. Since they were young, her sister rivalled for their mother’s attention and complained about how her mother loved my friend more than her. Her jealousy grew, and her resentment hardened. My friend and her mother tried different methods to bridge the gap between the sisters, showering her with kindness and love. Nothing worked, and for years my friend was tortured by what she perceived was her ‘failing’ to reconcile her relationship with her sister.

However, very recently, my friend told me with a triumphant smile that she had found a resolution. My friend realised that all along she was trying to change her sister, and change their relationship. Each time she tried to reconcile their differences, she opened herself up to disappointment because she expected her sister to change. She told me she’s changed her approach now. She has accepted her sister the way she is, that jealousy and resentment within her sister is not something my friend can resolve, but something her sister needs to uproot on her own. It seemed like such a simple act of letting go, but one that was so freeing, one that allowed her to preserve her love for her sister, and one that transformed her frustration to compassion for her sister.

After all, real love is to accept someone for who they are, at whatever situation of their life they may be in. This love helped another friend of mine find solace when her grandmother was ill. For months she was troubled by sadness and helplessness, but in accepting her grandmother as she was – sickness and all – she opened herself up to a deeper love for her grandmother. This love allowed her to give her grandmother room to be as she was, easing her and her grandmother from the emotional pain of the situation.

So the practice for this week is to release yourself and others from the burden of control. Open yourself to appreciating people as they are, and allow kindness to blossom from that pure place of loving acceptance.