I am sat at home still smiling at the emotions of the beautiful wedding of my daughter nearly 2 weeks ago. I started thinking about advice I could offer the newly weds other than the 3 words I spoke to them about in my ‘father of the bride’ speech: Patience, Empathy and Deep Love.
My thinking then moved on from there to me asking a question of myself.
That question was: "Where do I want to be?" Strange you may think, but this question allowed me to think of a myriad of practices that we could undertake to help us on our journey to where we want to be. It could be short term, or way off into the future. Either way, it is a good practice to ask that question to see what pops up.
So, lets start: Where Do I Want To Be?
Because of negative past conditioning, the influence of family and friends, and even some stereotyping, many of us unconsciously fear thinking about what we want. Thus, the question "Where do I want to be?" is a difficult one for many people to ask, let alone answer.
Human life is motivated by four prime directives, programmed into each one of us by our supercomputer programmer, encoded in each cell's DNA.
To live: to dynamically engage in the stream of life.
To love: to both give and receive from our hearts.
To learn: to continually grow and strive for new knowledge.
To make a difference: to be the hero or heroine of your own life.
So, how can we do these things? To live, love, learn and to make a difference?
I thought about this, and came up with 4 ideas as starters to your thinking on the question, "Where do I want to be?" There will be many others, but I believe myself these go a long way to helping us on the journey to where we want to be.
These 4 areas are:
Practicing higher levels of gratitude, according to a study carried out by Robert A Emmons and written in his book ‘Gratitude Works’, enables individuals to maintain consistently normal levels of mental health. When practicing gratitude, we actively strive to eliminate negative emotion and ill-will entirely from our lives. When harmful emotions such as resentment and envy do not have the power to release toxic brain chemicals and hormones, it leaves your mind open to empathy, compassion, understanding, and healthy overall functioning.
A second study noted that individuals practicing gratitude were mindful of their physical health; as a result, they were more likely than others to visit the doctor for regular checkups, eat great food (non processed!), and more importantly exercise more often.
Quite apart from a wholesomely grateful attitude encouraging sharper mental performance, and a documented reduction in levels of stress and anxiety, regularly practicing gratitude allows those around you to benefit impressively as well. You will nurture an air of acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness around yourself, and motivate others to do the same. Your relationships with others will strengthen, and the levels of mutual appreciation amongst you will grow.
And of course, what you put out, will come back to you.
Standing up for others
A compassionate individual will work towards creating an aura – and world – which values love and tolerance. Standing up for the basic human rights of others will provide you with a cause to fight for, and communicate your ethics and stance vividly clear to those around you. As such, any individuals tending to disagree with your worldviews will exit your life naturally, and you will be able to surround yourself with a positively stimulating environment.
If you believe someone in your life has been treated unjustly, or if any individual deserves recognition and respect – do not be afraid to speak out on their behalf. Not only will you pick up the infinitely valuable lesson of defending those without privilege, but the ones you defend and advocate will be able to respect you, and follow from your example.
Create a chain of good-intentioned advocacy, and eliminate all the prejudiced voices from the space around you. Your position and confidence as a leader, influencer, and defender will enable you to take on even the greater personal obstacles in life.
Eternally striving for betterment
A crucial element towards self-improvement is understanding that it is a never-ending process. You may quite well reach the age of 99 and still pick up invaluable lessons in trust, tolerance, and positivity with any passing incident.
As such, allow your mind to open to both fresh and conflicting ideas; impartiality is a trait very few possess, and may take decades to master. Begin to place the cornerstones as soon as you possibly can, and understand the importance both sides of a story carry before arriving at a conclusion.
Your journey towards personal growth may never be complete, and this openness to new ideas, concepts, beliefs, and challenges is what will ultimately inspire those around you to follow suit. Furthermore, if you encourage an environment around you which preaches acceptance, people will be able to approach you for voicing and counsel without fear of judgment. This provides you with every chance to directly improve and assist those around you in whichever ways you can.
The ability to bounce back
Sometimes the truth is bitter, but it is still the truth: rejection leaves a lasting impression on your ego and motivation. Perhaps you were rejected by a dream job or a potential partner; maybe you did not receive that promotion you worked tirelessly towards; the scenarios are endless, and life may continue to relentlessly offer you disappointments and rejections on a silver platter. The trick is in handling both correctly.
Fully allow yourself to process rejection to the best of your abilities. Do not attempt to stifle a human response.
If you unerringly believe in the power of the universe, and a greater spirituality – you will understand that only one of countless options was eliminated for you. Pick yourself up, and remind yourself that there is no success without rejection. Handle your losses with grace, and approach the situation once more with a more experienced mind and voice.
Those around you will pick up on your inspiring traits of perseverance, and may even help you in any way they can towards your journey of achieving your goals.
An anonymous individual once aptly stated, “A New Year does not come pre-packed and assembled with achievements.” Part and parcel of every human individual’s daily experience involves overcoming prejudice and obstacles, and emerging as a just, confident, and compassionate human being afterwards. Simply crossing a handful of barriers and shattering glass ceilings do not yield much without the experience impacting the individual behind it positively. So, if your goals involve self-improvement and productive problem solving, take a look into how your renewed positivity can potentially impact those around you.
I've said this before, but I will say it again - Do not get dragged down by toxic energy suckers – those people who have nothing in their lives other than regrets and moans, and these they are quick to tell you about. Hear them, and then move on, graciously.
After all, life is about enjoyment, love and amazement of what’s given to you. Only we can chose how we honour those gifts – so the ball is very much in our hands!
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering”
When I was out on my last solitude adventure last year of the 40 days and 40 nights, I read the book, ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ by John Baldcock. It is a comprehensive guide to living and dying, and contains exquisitely written guidance and practices related to transforming our experience in the daily life, on the processes of dying and the after-death state, and on how to help those who are dying.
Quite heavy reading you may say, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
I was taken by the description of the Four Noble Truths, which essentially talks about suffering and how by understanding this, we can forge more love in our lives and overcome any feelings that we are actually suffering.
The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism are stated in simple terms as:
Now, I am not in any way, shape or form a Buddhist! But reading this part of the book made me think about the simplicity of what was being written and what is practised everyday by Buddhists, and how if applied, will truly help us in the long run.
Details of Noble Truths
So the Four Noble Truths are open to interpretation, especially in the modern versions of Buddhism, but in short here they are:
Noble Truth 1 - Suffering exists
The viewpoint is that life consists of suffering and dissatisfaction. This suffering is called dukkha.
Human nature is imperfect, as is the world you live in (your reality). During your lifetime, you inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age and eventually death. This is especially true for those living in poverty or in what we call ‘third world countries’.
This also means that you are never able to keep permanently what you strive for. Happy moments pass by, and soon you will too.
Noble Truth 2 - Suffering arises from attachment to desires
The cause of suffering is called samudaya or tanha. It is the desire to have and control things, such as a craving for material things or assets. For example, if you desire fame and fortune, you will surely suffer disappointment and perhaps even cause suffering for others. Having dreams and aspirations has a different energy to that of a desire, and should always be pursued.
Attachment to material things creates suffering because attachments are transient and loss is inevitable. Thus suffering will necessarily follow.
Noble Truth 3 - Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
The end to suffering is called nirodha. The mind experiences complete freedom, liberation and non-attachment. It lets go of any desire or craving. It is attaining dispassion. To Buddhists it is the achievement of enlightenment or ‘Nirvana’.
Nirvana means freedom from all worries, troubles and ideas. It is not comprehensible for those who have not attained it. Nirvana is defined as a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self, and the subject is released from the effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth. It represents the final goal of Buddhism.
Noble Truth 4 - Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
In the book, in order to end suffering, you should follow the Eightfold Path. This liberation from suffering is what many people mean when they use the word "enlightenment".
The path to the end of suffering is gradually seeking self-improvement through the eight elements. The path to the end of suffering can extend over many lifetimes, throughout which every individual rebirth is subject to karmic conditioning. Craving, ignorance and other effects will disappear gradually, as progress is made through each lifetime.
So, this is the ‘call to arms’ on how we can improve our lives and reduce the suffering that sometimes accompanies our path.
The Buddhist way of life concentrates on eight attitudes or paths you must follow to find freedom from suffering. These are the "right" or correct things to do in your life:
Everything above is open to interpretation of course, not only in the word “right” but in some of the words that follow the word “right” I am sure you can see where they lead to. It is not for me to interpret these for you, as you will have your own opinion, but personally for me, number 2 is the one to get right in your life.
So, to sum up:
The Four Noble Truths is the basis of Buddhism. The First Truth is that all life is suffering, pain, and misery. The Second Truth is that this suffering is caused by selfish craving and personal desire. The Third Truth is that this selfish craving can be overcome. The Fourth Truth is that the way to overcome this misery is through the Eightfold Path.
I hope you have found this mind provoking, if for nothing else, to view the word ‘suffering’ somewhat differently than you may have before.
I met someone the other day who was truly unhappy. If they were writing a letter to themselves, I would like to think these would have been the words they would have written, or at least wish to write:
I’m sorry for being so caught up in my inner victim drama that plays out in my mind daily. I know how much potential I hold yet I fear that I am falling short. Consistently.
I’m sorry for the headaches I have caused because nothing I do seems to be good enough anymore to anyone. I can always do better.
I’m sorry for stressing out over things that now have no meaning and for being cruel, so, so cruel to myself over how I look, act and behave. I am sorry for creating a façade that makes me appear to be happy with myself, when I am deeply sad and depressed.
I am strong, independent, and beautiful. I have so much to offer anyone who enters my life.
I have a kind heart and a genuine smile that someone will love one day.
I will be successful and accomplish anything that I put my mind to because failure is not something that I have been familiar with, but is happening all the time now. I will stop being so hard on myself, but rather pick myself up and brush myself off when it seems as though the world has turned against me.
I will learn to love myself, every scar and imperfection, because if I love myself then I will begin to understand myself. I will not lose sight of how important I really am nor will I discourage myself when I make mistakes. I will learn to use those mistakes as stepping stones to something great.
I will put myself first, because there is no one more important to me right now than myself. I will make sure that above all things I am happy and if I ever find that I am not I will do whatever I can to find happiness again. This path is in my gift to choose.
However, I will not rely on temporary or material things. I promise to be the friend to others that I would want for myself and I will not get upset with others if they do not have the same heart as I do. Most importantly I promise to treat myself as kindly as I would treat someone else.
I will learn to accept compliments from others, and to compliment back .
From this day forward I will love myself unconditionally. I will not allow myself to long for the things that I do not have, but rather appreciate the things that I do.
I will remind myself daily how blessed I am and thank the Universe for the life that has been given me. I will thank my parents for getting me to, even though they have passed, to where I am and also to tell my friends how much I appreciate them.
I will not take anything for granted or forget where I came from. I will accomplish great things. It won’t happen over night or even in the next few years.
In fact, the journey will be ugly and it most certainly will not be easy. However, one day, I will look back and be proud of myself for what I have done. I will be successful. I do not know, yet, where I will end up but I do know that it is going to be great. I will learn to love myself again.
It will be worth it. Yes, it will be so worth it.
Let me start by asking you a question:
Would you like to change something about your life?
For some, it might be getting a better job, losing some weight, improving your memory, accelerating your learning abilities, adding charisma to your personality and so on. Indeed, there are very few of us who would find nothing that they wished to improve or change.
The agency of change is within each of us.
Change is not a thing – it is an attitude.
For example, should someone wish to be more prosperous, then they must think in a different order of magnitude and frequency than one who is content with just getting by. And by the way, there is nothing wrong with that viewpoint either!
But what if that person had been raised to believe that 'money was the route of all evil'? This subconscious belief will literally work to sabotage any effort to become more prosperous. In this instance, the mind will perceive safety as avoiding evil (i.e. money). But what I am suggesting is that at least one element in our, lets call it, life strategy, must alter before change can takes place.
I have spent a lot of my professional life watching human behaviour (including my own!) and have found that many people believe that the workings of the mind are complex and complicated. Sure they are wondrous but not unfathomable.
We have a super computer in our skulls weighing on average only 3lbs or so, and it is an amazing part of our human frame, but one, which we rarely tap into its full capacity. I often see people’s eyes go blurry and distant when I start talking about anything that is neurological in subject, and yet if we understood the power of our minds, without doubt the happier we would be!
In fact, you only need to know three things about the way your mind works to have it fully collaborate with you in achieving the success you desire.
1. Your mind does what it thinks you want to do and is wired to move you towards pleasure and away from pain.
2. The way you feel about any situation is linked to only 2 things: the pictures you make in your mind and the words that you say to yourself.
3. Your mind loves and wants to return to what is familiar. To achieve success you must work at making the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar. Sounds odd, but this is absolutely true!
So, this is how you can make your mind work for you:
Firstly - our minds job is not to make us happy. It is to make sure we survive on the planet against all odds. It does this by remembering anything that hurts us so that we can avoid it in the future. If you eat something that makes you ill, you will find that you are very unlikely to eat it again. This is a survival instinct that is wired into our species. When you say ‘my workload is killing me’, ‘my boss is a nightmare’, ‘I am dying under the pressure to finish this project’ then your mind hears and believes your words and responds by making you even more resistant to actually doing these things. Put simply, the language you use has caused your mind to perceive these tasks a threat to your well-being.
Most people are now familiar with the term ‘The Law of Attraction’ which is the new thought philosophy, that believes by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person will bring a positive or negative experiences into their life. And guess what, its true!
So, what we should do is to collaborate with our mind by telling it exactly what you want by using precise, specific and descriptive language. When you do this you will discover that are more likely to achieve success.
When you are specific and use detailed words that give your mind the right message, mistakes and misinterpretation are avoided. If you say ‘I hate working at weekends’ or ‘It’s destroying my health to work at night’ change that to I have chosen to do this, I want to do this and I have chosen to feel good about it. As your mind knows you have chosen to do this, much of the resistance ends. Adding the words, I have chosen to into your dialogue takes you towards what you want.
Stating ‘I want to focus on my exams to devote my free time to study to find it engrossing and rewarding’, signals very clearly to your mind that this is what you want with no room for misinterpretation.
If you want to be fit and healthy you must state I have chosen to eat fruit instead of desert and have chosen to feel great about that because I've chosen to lose some weight. This clearly instructs your mind whereas saying, ‘I want chocolate but I cannot have it because I am on a diet’, bizarrely will increases the desire for chocolate. The mind will start its inner talk saying, ‘that's ok, a little chocolate won’t harm you because it does know you love chocolate so why not, go on have some!’
When I was trying to write a book about rowing across the Indian Ocean, I linked pain to writing and the time it would take. I was using the words “I have got to try and write this book, but it will take so long”, and “I have got to shut myself away from everything to write this book”. It was not surprising then that I procrastinated and kept putting writing off. It took me a long time to actually start the process of writing.
However, when I finally changed my inner dialogue and sat down to write, I noticed how much I enjoyed it and because I changed my dialogue saying “I love writing” “there is nowhere else I'd rather be right now” and that became a reality.
When military guys are running around during training in the mud and rain they tend to sing because this signals to their minds that they are happy with the situation and that prevents them from resisting the training. Of course, there are other factors involved like fitness and determination, but the words that we use are a massive influence on the result and our behaviour.
Remind yourself that your problem is probably someone else's dream come true. They would love to have a job or a boss that was demanding or a baby that kept them up all night. Embrace your situation you will feel great about it. I am not suggesting for a moment that you ignore some of those emotional energies that we try to avoid, like sadness, anger or grief. You can still recognise them as part of you, an essential part, but you are also able to limit their long term effect on your happiness.
Lets take another example of the power of our minds inner talk.
If you were on a flight to a warm climate and the words you were making and the images you were picturing were of a great place and you will see beautiful countryside and experiencing wonderful weather, then you would have a completely different experience to someone sat close to you who was imagining that the plane was going to crash in midflight.
They just want the flight to finish and are probably questioning why on earth they are flying in the first place.
Each person's feelings about any situation are because of the words and images they are making in their heads. But the wonderful thing is that we can change the words and images at any time. It is down to us!
If you have a deadline to meet, a speech to write, or a difficult client to deal with, remember the way you are feeling about that event is because of the words and images you are putting into your mind. So change those images and words and make them more positive and less negative, lo and behold your feelings will change!
I repeat: the words that you use in your mind as part of your inner talk and consciously as the spoken word will determine much of how you feel about that situation.
Our minds respond to words that are descriptive so instead of saying ‘this client is awful’ say ‘this client is a challenge but one I am up to’. Using words that are less intense will make your feelings also less intense.
This is the same with the images you see. One of the reasons you can hold a ladybird but not a cockroach, is simply because the picture you are seeing is pretty and not ugly.
So, go ahead and shock your mind with newness by being more optimistic about something and less pessimistic.
Here’s something. The brain is unfamiliar with praise and therefore seeks to confront that.
We have to learn how to make praise and self praise familiar as it dramatically boosts our self-esteem.
Tell yourself how good you are. Be that person who wakes up thinking in a positive way, despite all the challenges that might be facing you in the coming day. Do it by changing the words you use, both inside your brain and outside in the world. See those pictures in your mind of upcoming events in glorious technicolor and not in grey and drab.
So there we have it.
Speak to your mind and your mind will drive actions, behaviours and feelings for your positive benefit.
I will finish with a quote from Mahatma Ghandi:
"Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning."
The other day didn't start well for me. I woke up and went downstairs to make a cup of tea, but then realised I didn't have any milk. The tea would have to wait.
I set off for my early bike ride as usual but I was, for some reason, feeling grumpy as I departed. Miles away and not thinking, I rounded a corner too fast. Boom. I took my first fall of the year, and it hurt. Picking myself up off the tarmac, I realised that I had no 1st aid with me – that was in my backpack at home. I had a big hill to climb and so got going again, only to find I had no water in my bottle. This was most definitely turning out to be a bad day. If I let it…
I started to talk to myself and remind my ever-chatting inner critic about the good things that I had and how to turn this bad start to the day around. What follows is not rocket science, but worth reminding ourselves to do:
1. Begin Each Day with a Creative State of Mind
As you open your eyes to greet the new day, spend the first few minutes thinking of the things that bring you the most happiness and comfort. It can be your family, your friends, your faith, or a special goal or project you have set for yourself.
In addition, spend a couple of brief moments thinking about the most exciting thing that happened to you yesterday. Savour this experience and allow the feelings to spill over into the new day.
Create a picture in your mind of how you want the day to unfold. Visualize it clearly and attractively in your mind.
2. Each Day is a Present for you
Make it a goal, no, a priority to appreciate each and every day. Too often we get caught-up with planning and scheduling our lives, but not living our lives. Make a list, right now, of all of the things you want to see or do in your life.
Use this day to pick an item from the list and perform one action that will move you closer to achieving it. Confidence builds and motivation soars when we use our days to move forward to fulfilling our heart’s desire.
Today is a gift we have been given. Allow this day to live within your heart. Allow this day to move you closer to your life’s purpose and passion.
3. Begin 'Conditioning' Your Mind for a Good Day, Every Day
Just like what we pay attention to grow, we also become what we think. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
So the question becomes how can we learn to develop the right kind of thoughts to get the most out of each and every day? It begins with starting your day with positive thoughts. Then it becomes very important to condition your mind to keep doing this. Consider the following:
4. Master your Emotions
Exerting your control once in a while is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it comes to your emotions. The controlled person is a powerful person. He or she who always keeps their head will get ahead. I talked recently about frustration, and how it can lead you into a downward spiral.
When you feel your emotions begin to trump logic, stop and regroup. Sit quietly and think: “What would a logical and rational person do in this situation?” Or, “do I need to be logical”? You will get your answer if you pay attention and keep listening.
Do not forget though, that even as adults we can, and do, act as emotional as a child occasionally does. You know, that tantrum. That childish emotion is naive and 'full on'. There is no harm in it rising to the surface - just be aware if you can, that it is only mimicking your past and that you are here and now as an adult! Mind you, throwing your toys out of the pram can be a lot of fun anyway!
5. Do One Thing, Every Day to Feel Healthier
There is a mind & body connection. It is sometimes difficult to have a good day when you do not feel well mentally or physically. Here are a few ways to begin feeling healthier today and every day:
6. The Art of Giving Back
It is our reality to have a good day and to resist the temptation to surrender or simply give up and have a bad one. Just as we expect great things from Life; Life also expects great things from each one of us.
Think of your life as a bank savings account. Your job is to make meaningful deposits of love, grace and kindness every day. Your focus should not be in how much interest you are earning, but rather how many deposits you are making.
There will be come a day, however, when you will need to make a withdrawal. By giving more than you take, you will have all the resources necessary to receive what you need; when you need it the most.
7. Finish the Day Strong
It is important how we begin the day; but it is also important how we end the day.
Begin it right, live it right, think it right and end it right – and you can have a good day every day. Take the opportunity just to quietly reflect for a few minutes in the evening about what the day has brought you. Look for positives and forget the negatives.
As your drift off to sleep tonight, count your blessings and name them, one by one. Acknowledge them and give them life. When you do, these same blessings will be waiting for you tomorrow ready to help you get the most out of the new day.
And finally, always fill up your bike water bottle!
Happy to be a regular blog contributor to a fantastic website in Alaska - check it out at: