Suffering indeed does take practice. This may not be immediately apparent to you, but practice the right things and you can free yourself from all suffering.
We are always choosing our response to life, truly we are.
The trouble is often you have no idea what you are choosing. You are asleep to the big picture. The little kid that exists inside each and every one of our brains is in the driving seat.
When the adult wakes up, often that’s where regret comes. Here’s all about waking up to freedom of choice.
Life is determined by a your attitude to it. Not by the things that happen, but your attitude to the things that happen.
This is a fundamental law of life, one that we’re really not taught, or taught that well because so few people actually truly live from a hugely positive attitude.
But it’s a choice which changes everything.
What is a good result?
Is it getting what you want in the short term? Or having a deeper understanding, a better perspective, “growing as a person” because you didn’t get what you wanted?
Have you ever lived through something that wasn’t pleasant at the time but now when you look back, you’re actually glad it did happen, simply because a lot of good came from it?
When my mum died, fairly young, of cancer - that wasn’t a good time. But it was the most amazing of times too, simply because I got to know her on such a deeper level. It was quality time, indeed. The same with my brother. I am so much closer to him now than ever before.
The silver lining, and one that may not have happened if mum hadn't gotten sick, is that I no longer have the mediocre relationships I used to have with my family.
The other thing that became so clear was that any future thoughts, with all the doctors’ prognoses (of which there were plenty) and lots of worry about mum, only led to suffering. I had to be very present otherwise I would instantly dissolve into a ball of worry and anxiety.
I got to see my mind clearly, and didn't go there. It was too painful.
So I was super present, and was able to be with mum as she was, not as I thought she would be in the future. We actually had a lot of fun.
The fact is you can frame any experience any way you want. It can be good, it can be bad. That label changes you.
I say always choose to see the good. If it’s a challenging situation you especially need to find a silver lining. Find a benefit to you and focus on that.
There is a story that my meditation teacher tells. He doesn’t tell it so often anymore, probably because he knows that his students steal all his best ideas quickly, so he has to constantly come up with new material.
But it’s about a villager who, to cut a long story short, has an amazing thing happen to him. He shrugs his shoulders and says “Good news? Bad news? Who knows?”. The next day the amazing thing has lead to something terrible. Again, he shrugs his shoulders and says “Good news? Bad news? Who knows?”. The next day the terrible thing turns out to be a blessing in disguise, and again, he simply shrugs, and says “Good news? Bad news? Who knows?”.
Who knows why things happen? Who knows what will happen next? I don’t.
Just assume all is good. In this moment focus on the silver lining. Make the most of what you have. Be wide open and see what happens next. You may be surprised.
Have a great weekend - enjoy each and every moment of it.
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"You are the only problem you will ever have and you are the only solution." - Bob Proctor
Resistance is the thing that kills all enjoyment and effectiveness.
The cause of all your problems is resisting what is happening.
I get to talk to a lot of people so I get to have a good overall view on what causes people pain and suffering.
Every time any one ever has a problem - and I mean 100% of the time: not even most of the time but all of the time - the problem is caused by resisting what is happening.
I will talk to them and they will use words like “should” or “could”, some kind of idea that involves their ideal present moment.
I will nod, and politely agree, that actually this ideal would be nice, but what is happening right now is different.
Do you see the difference between what is happening and your idea of what should be happening?
The only time you have a problem is when you can’t give up the should.
When you come to terms with what is, when you fully accept it, all your pain goes away.
Then, and only then, you can work with what you have, rather than wishing for something else, or insisting that something else should be happening.
Non-resistance isn’t giving up your dreams or living a passive life, it simply is seeing the clearest way through. It’s full acceptance of the current situation yes, but it doesn't mean stop walking towards what you want. That's giving up.
You really are the source of all problems and all solutions. When you see how you create all peace or pain in your life you will learn true happiness.
It's all within you - which is cause for rejoicing. You are the one person in the whole world you can actually change.
"Oh, I don't really think about that, because it's wasted energy, isn't it? What's done is done, we can't change that, but we can change the way we cope with it."
- Diane Piper, mother of Katie whose face was burnt in an acid attack, when asked how she felt about the attackers
Everyone has challenges. Everyone has troubles in their life.
But what amazes and inspires me is seeing people who have lived or are living through horrific things and yet who shine, full of gratitude and love for their life, as it is.
You might call them “glass half full” people.
Then there are those with comparatively event free lives who grumble and complain through every little inconvenience: “Glass half empty” people.
Why is that?
You constantly choose your response to life.
This choice defines how you live, regardless of the circumstances you find yourself in. This choice is total: You decide whether you live in peace or in suffering. No one and nothing can cause you to suffer; you decide to suffer.
I know it doesn’t feel like this. No one wants to suffer, everyone is looking for a way to avoid it. The trouble is we don’t know how.
Furthermore, suffering has become normal, it’s almost expected as “part of life”.
Being constantly happy is viewed with suspicion by some. If you decide not to suffer it’s almost like you’re not being “real”, whatever that is.
Once, a friend of mine who realised it was her choice to be totally at peace with the world was taken aside by a acquaintance in the street and asked if she was on drugs.
Bizarre isn't it? Happy lady, walking down the street = must be on drugs.
But definitely those, like Buddha and Jesus, who have transcended suffering are elevated to a mythical status, beyond humanity.
Actually, it’s your human birthright not to suffer.
Your birthright is to have absolute sovereignty over your responses to life. Complete freedom from suffering is simple.
It all begins with you deciding to take responsibility for how you feel, how you react to life.
Don’t take this decision lightly - it means you can never blame anyone else for anything. It’s all on you.
Then, decide that nothing will make you happy - you won’t delay your happiness for a future moment, you’ll find happiness right now, however your circumstances.
No longer will you wait for your partner or a new TV to make you happy. Now you’re going to choose to have happiness that is uncaused.
That is it. Take responsibility for your own happiness, and then choose it.
You will come to a point where you'll realise that to choose anything else is madness. And therein lies true wisdom.
The crucial thing is that the more present you can be ordinarily, the easier it’s going to be when things gets tough. You'll notice yourself losing your cool and be able to step back and gain some objectivity sooner and sooner.
The more you prioritise your peace, the more you can see it slipping - the more you can tell when you aren’t prioritising it.
Gather to yourself an eyes closed practice - some time and tools to really get familiar with presence and inner stillness. Let that be the foundation upon which you structure your day, so you remember to be present and aware when you are out and about with your eyes open.
The regular practice develops a baseline of happiness and calm within you so it becomes super obvious when you stray from it. It just gets easier and easier to return. It actually gets to a point where peace comes and gets you when you leave it. Which, needless to say, is pretty cool.
From here life becomes more and more enjoyable. The saying “do you want to right or do you want to be happy?” becomes crystal clear to you in terms of your choices, and so you lose it less and less, just because it's not worth it any more.
"Hmmmm... do I want to be right or be happy?"... Happy please!
So don't let up on your practice when the going is good. Don't assume you don't need it. Just do it and get so familiar with inner stillness so that you never leave, even when the house is burning down around you.
Being calm and clear starts with a choice, now. If you're consistent with that choice, being consistently calm and clear comes quickly, and easily, and simply.
More on this though, so stay tuned for part two...
"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." -Viktor Frankl
Sometimes I get accused of being unrealistic, harping on about the need for living life with the glass half full. People say that having a constant positive mental attitude is a nice idea, but sometimes life isn’t like that, that positivity is sometimes ignoring reality.
But what is real? What is reality?
Here’s what I see: You shape reality by *how* you see *what* you experience. It is all about your perception. Nothing is real, beyond your thinking about it.
Do you realise this?
Here is your life, and here are your mental processes about your life. They are the same thing. Your life isn’t different from the filters that you maintain – the judgements, the beliefs, the attitudes.
You, and you alone, define your own life. That’s what you get to choose, and no one can take that away from you. It is your internal attitude that shapes and makes everything. This choice is total – the experience of hell or heaven depends on you.
Your life isn’t about the circumstances, your life is always about your response to these circumstances.
You decide how you will respond to everything. Engage this choice, it is one of the most precious things you possess. Choose to see the good, to appreciate. Choose to be thankful. Choose to love.
Choose and choose again until it becomes a habit. And then choose once more. You will come to a place where nothing can make you suffer, unless you consciously allow it.
Heaven or hell? It all starts with your attitude.
“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” - Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous
The mastery of life lies in the mastery of the above three things: The ability to do nothing, the ability to make change, and the presence and wisdom to realise when to do what.
Doing nothing is just as important as doing. Yet while many are excellent do-ers, not many can truly do nothing. That is why it comes first.
If, for example, within a situation you dislike wherein you cannot change or leave, you must accept. You must. There are no other options. Instead, many people complain and resist and blame, all stressful, pointless responses.
Life is change. Attempting to follow a set plan despite the reality of what is actually happening will always be as fruitful and enjoyable as banging your head against a wall.
In acceptance you are surrendering to what is.
You give up your insistence of what “should” be happening in exchange for peace and perspective: an excellent trade off.
You stop fighting and are able to see clearly and work with what you have, within the situation you find yourself in. There lies fluidity and freedom, and great serenity too.
Secondly, life is also about action. If you don’t do something, nothing will happen.
What do you want to do? It is your choice. After you decide, you need to follow through.
All of this may require courage. Now - needing courage to do something is an excellent sign that it is important to you. Keep walking that direction. Everything that has been important to you has required a jump into the unknown. A gulp and a leap. As tempting as it may be, don’t avoid it, do it.
Thirdly, the wisdom to know what to do comes from being very alive to what is being presented to you in this moment. Then and only then will you be able to meet the need of this exact moment.
Be alive to now, see what this moment requires, and let the next course of action be revealed to you. Wisdom lies in the ability to wait and see what is needed, what can be done.
When you know, do, or do not, but be whole hearted in your doing, or not doing. Don’t sit on the fence.
OK? Nothing worse than living a life half arsed.
We think we are in control. We strive and force and try and for what? A life of struggle? Is that how you want to live?
No, of course not. It's just often we don't realise how much we push.
Life is meant to be one of ease. Don't get me wrong - life still involves action - but action that is inspired, fluid and simple.
All the great things that have come to you have come with this straight forward, flowing effortlessness. A moment of inspiration and then an outpouring. An absorption in presence and then simple, obvious action.
Instinct, flow, grace.
Every time - and it doesn't matter if you are an athlete, an artist, a writer, a mechanic, a father, a teacher or a business woman, every good thing has come this way.
You act and you choose and you do, but the best comes when you let go of the future - of any idea of what should result.
The greatest moments have always been when you were totally present. Not overly concerned with the result or the plan, simply doing the right thing to do as it felt in that moment.
Control is the opposite. It kills inspiration and grace. It kills effortlessness and fluidity.
When you control you struggle and you try and you strain.
Struggle happens when you think you know what you need to do, and its not happening to your plan.
Instead of being fluid, you push a little more, and a little more. The resistance gets bigger and bigger. You get more and more tired, more and more stressed. There's less and less enjoyment.
You need to be aware of when struggle comes in and, in the knowing it is counter-productive, simply let go.
Letting go of control is that simple. Stop struggling. Stop fighting. Stop resisting what is.
The bottom line is protect your own peace. Protect the baseline.
You think you can do that? Of course you can. Just now, notice the trying and let it go. That is all. Little by little. Be present, be peace.
The key to staying cool, calm and collected is to have little islands in your day, regular little points of detachment from the world where you completely come away from what you are involved in. Spreading these times throughout your day when you stop and reconnect is the key to not losing your peace and fully enjoying what you are doing - whatever that may be.
How you do this is up to you. When I first started The Bright Path Ascension meditation, what was recommended was time in the morning before work, some time in the afternoon - perhaps at lunch and/or on coming home, and last thing at night.
(This is eyes closed time - "power nap" or meditation/breathing time. Anything else is fine, but time closing your eyes is much more beneficial, just so you know.)
This way I had a little "oases" (plural for oasis) so I could start the day right, plug back in so the afternoon was easier, and/or in the evening so I could let go of the day and sleep well.
It quickly made such a difference to my attitude and energy levels.
Doing this means peace is a priority to you. If you commit to these times - not let them be flexible on a if and when basis, but a definite appointment, then you are saying to yourself that remaining clear, calm and content is the most important thing.
It sets a bench mark of calm so its easier to know when you're getting wound up and you need to back down.
Without this benchmark stress just creeps up on you. Sometimes you're not aware of how uptight you're getting simply because most stress comes in little by little, a death by a thousand cuts.
When a weight gets cranked up little by little it goes un-noticed until the straw comes that breaks your back, and you yell at the person who (usually) least deserves it.
With this benchmark you are more prone to take action to stay there. You are more conscious of your physical wellbeing, your internal attitude and mood, everything.
If you're regular with a practice of stopping it means this benchmark of calm is easier to come back to. If you fly off the handle, you can let go and reset quickly. You fly off less, need to apologise less, everyone is happy.
The bottom line is the ability to act - to have clarity of choice - as opposed to reacting, habitually.
There is nothing better than the ability to consciously steer your life in the direction you wish it to go. There is no need to be captive to the ups and downs of life. You want to be captain of your own ship, and you can be, it simply requires a little practice.
I just came back from three months at the Bright Path Ishaya retreat in Spain. Waking up this morning in my little cottage in the UK is different, but wonderful. There was a real sense of peace and serenity and aliveness on the mountain there in Spain.
But you know what? There is here in North Yorkshire too.
While waiting for our lift to the airport I read the last chapter of an autobiography of a guy who went to live besides a river in India to find his peace.
He returns back to the west after years and years of spiritual study and practice and instantly freaks out. The noise, the yelling, the traffic,the consumerism, the drunkenness, the sex.
He completely loses it, becomes a gibbering wreck until he manages to stumble upon a meditation centre - to him, an oasis of sacredness in the midst of a city of the profane.
He's completely missed the point of all of his practice. He's created a mood, an idea that peace and clarity is only available when the world looks a certain way. When I'm by my river, then there is peace. When I'm on my mountain retreat, then there is peace.
Life is out there, continually knocking at your door. You cannot avoid it forever. You cannot make it look the way you want it to all the time.
But peace is everywhere, no matter what, if you know how to tap into it.
In reality there is nothing that is not worthy of love.
All this time you've been looking for peace, it has been within you - and it will be, forever more.
Life transforms when you realise this. The circumstances of life don't give you peace, you bring peace to life - regardless of the circumstances.
Permanent peace, freedom and happiness is an inside job.
It may take practice to realise this, but it is the only reality in town.
"The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware." - Henry Miller
The result of meditation is the ability to not attach to the stuff in your head. It is the ability to be mentally fit, fluid and free.
You develop the ability to purely witness, to allow thoughts and emotions to come and go.
You develop the ability to choose what to focus on.
You gain the ability to enjoy every - every - aspect of your life.
Perhaps there is a negative thought or a worry or a doubt. Meditation isn’t about banishing it, it is about simply letting it be there but not getting wrapped up in it.
It is there, but it isn’t you. You don’t get lost in it anymore. Or if you do, you can choose to let go, simply, effortlessly, immediately.
Meditation in action is when you take this ability to not react to things in life.
So something doesn’t go the way you want it to. You are able to not be affected, to remain calm and clear and see what you can do about the situation - if anything.
You don’t get wrapped up in drama any more. You develop the awareness that being calm and at peace is much more enjoyable, and you know how to choose for it.
You give up your ticket to the rollercoaster - life becomes one steady, super enjoyable, very effective moment. Joy and contentment is the overwhelming response to life.
This is good, that is good, all is good.
From that calmness and clarity comes the ability to live the very best version of yourself.
All through a little practice. A little commitment to being that version of you.
You can do this, it is who you have been all along.
Stop, take a moment from trying to work stuff out or trying to control. Be present and alive to this moment. See the beauty that is here, see the good that is already in your life.
Why would you want to set aside time to meditate?
So you become aware, and in doing so, totally and completely alive.
It's worth it.
The overwhelming difficulty so many have with meditation is that they believe they need to empty their minds.
Meditation becomes confused with having an empty head, no thoughts, complete silence in the skull.
Rejoice! For I am to tell you this is not necessary. You can have the busiest mind in the world and still experience peace, calm and clarity.
This alone will make all things in your practice super simple and easy. Maybe it will help you try again if you find meditation hard work. Draw in closer...
Meditation involves no force, no strain, no controlling, no trying whatsoever. So don't start.
Meditation is effortlessly allowing each and every thing. Being aware of all, and sitting in the middle of this awareness.
You don’t have to change a thing, simply change your relationship with everything.
Be totally okay with each thought, emotion, sound, and sensation as it passes through your awareness.
Watch it come, watch it go.
A child can sit and watch. So can you. And so you will, especially with practice.
Make yourself comfortable, close the eyes, take some deep breaths if you like that, and just sit.
Open your senses, be presence itself. Just notice.
Distraction is normal. No deal, come back. It is never a problem unless you make it a problem.
If you have a technique like the Bright Path Ishayas’ Ascension, use that simply and gently.
Allow, allow, allow.
This moment is the only moment you can do anything. The past is gone, the future not yet here. Just be here, right in the middle of the moment.
All is well here. Enjoy.
A wise man once said that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.
If that is the case, and I believe it is, fear isn’t the opposite of love either.
Fear is actually more closely related to love than you know.
It is an emotional response to the unknown and the uncontrollable.
Some shut down in the face of fear. They try to grab and hold tight until the storm passes.
Others open up.
They know that fear only comes when something is important to you. If it’s not important you would be indifferent, you see?
Fear means it is important to you and therefore can be a reliable indicator to head in that direction, to investigate, to be aware.
When something requires courage to do, don’t delay, don’t dilly dally - therein lies your passion and your purpose. Therein lies what is important and where your love dwells.
Go that way. Don't let fear stop you.
ps. the top quote and the subject for this blog came from a cool book by Steven Pressfield which I just read:
“The opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference” - Steven Pressfield
Indifference is a very subtle beast, yet once fallen into leads a long way down a grey and winding path indeed.
Like a sleepwalker wandering deeper and deeper into the forest, life becomes lost not through deliberate choice but through not paying attention.
Its a truism that you don’t know how good you have it until its gone.
What you have to do today becomes more important than what is here, already. The lack takes our attention instead - what is missing.
This focus, continued for long enough, means life becomes one constant question: “Why?”
“Why is this happening to me?”, “why doesn’t life go the way I want it to?”, “why isn’t this working?”, “why does she have all the good luck?”.
Indifference directly leads to living life with the perspective of a victim, one long grey, whiney, blame and stress filled existence.
The solution lies not in the past or in some future time, but here, is this exact moment.
Pay attention, for what you focus on grows. Be not indifferent, or take things for granted. Base your life in the appreciation and gratitude for what you do have, right now.
Through continued nurturing and choice, the automatic - the natural - response and reaction to life becomes not one of “why?” but one of “wow”.
Richness and blessings lie solely in perspective. And now you know.
You may not be able to control the circumstances of your life, but you can control how you react to it. It’s not about the what, its all about the how.
Don’t allow life to unconsciously slip away.