The same, yet not the same

thesameyetnotthesame

At times, I feel like everything is constantly changing and that there is unlimited potential. At other times, I can’t help noticing the same old patterns, and the daily routine feels like Groundhog Day. Although on the surface things appear to be moving, at the core there seems to be a psychological stagnation and the following question keeps coming to me: why don’t I change?

On the physical and developmental level, it is clear that during the formative years – I did change. From the baby born in the south of France, to the 7 year old boy who walked to school in the streets of Paris, from the 14 year old teen who went to an international school in England to the 21 year old college student who grew a beard and shaved his head – there certainly was a chain of transformations. All along, though, I assumed that I was the same person.

When I became an adult, the process slowed down – my conditioning became more rooted and I noticed that I tended to seek security. I did not really feel the years go by and in my head, I still believed that I was young. My image in the mirror altered, habits formed, and I became mentally less supple. Career changes and parenthood were challenging and made their marks. More responsibilities and busyness kept me from watching and questioning the process. I kept on learning and accumulating, but rarely did I have the energy to unlearn and to let go.

Now in my late forties, I experience a great desire to shake things – not only in myself but also in the world. I want to make a difference. Many people would call this midlife crisis – I prefer to call it midlife renaissance: an opportunity to reinvent myself. I want to learn new skills, I yearn to meet new people and start new projects. But if I am honest, I am quite attached to my conditioned self and I know that changing things on the outside is very limited. So I have a renewed interest in self-knowledge and challenging my conditioning.

Our cells get continuously replaced, our neurones make new connections and we learn new things all the time, in nature everything is in constant flux, materially speaking our world is ever changing and innovations are transforming our lives at an unprecedented rate. Yet psychologically, it would seem that humans have not really evolved. So why don’t we change? What stops us?

It is probably beyond the scope of this blog post to go into it thoroughly, but I have observed a fragmentation in myself and in everything I do. I am not sure if it is real, but it sure feels that way. Seemingly there is a division between what I think and what I do, between idea and reality. Leo Babauta calls it the mind movie and I find it a very useful metaphor. What is also evident is that within the mind movie there are contradictions and conflicting desires. I want to stay the same and I want to change.

In the last six months, I have been observing the process more closely and find it fascinating. I have introduced mindfulness and have actively applied some changes in the way I do things. I try to meet my fears and have managed to become less judgmental. Our conditioning, although apparently quite ingrained, is not fixed. It is very persistent and builds an identity, but it can be dismantled by observation. In the same way, we can declutter our house, we can declutter our minds. We can let go of most of our past hurts, opinions, and ideals. Although memories are useful, they can cloud our thinking. Are we not more than the total sum of our experiences?

Over the last ten years, I have met many people who have told me that apart from my grey hair, I have not changed. If they were to see me now, they would probably say the same thing. They have not witnessed the many Groundhog days I have been through and all the different things that I am attempting to do. No, there has been no breakthrough, but things are moving. I am the same, yet not the same.

This post was originally written a year and a half ago, is it the same now?

Breangelo*

Self-portrait, Barcelona.

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Attached and detached

floating plastic

What if I were to suggest that you only had one problem?
That all the frustrations, heartaches, anger, doubts, failures, and unhappiness that you may experience, all have the same origin. And that all the problems that everyone else face are also different facets of the same one and only issue. You would probably think that I am out of my mind. Well, the chapter of the book I am currently reading just suggested that.

Before I go on, you probably want to know what that central problem is. Put simply; it is something to do with the mind movie and our attachment to how things should be. We are constantly projecting an imaginary version of the world and ourselves on our internal screen and don’t understand why things turn out differently. It is a constant misunderstanding. As a child, we tend to be quite flexible and are less attached to how things should be. When we make our first steps, and we fall, we simply cry and pick ourselves up and continue. But as we get older, we hold on so much to our internal imaginary world that we tend to find it much harder to pick ourselves up when things go wrong. We are all different, and some of us are better at picking ourselves up than others, and it probably depends on how attached we are to what is at stake.

It is a complex issue, and I will only brush at it on the surface with a simple example. After hearing that Bali had some of the most spectacular coral reefs and biodiverse sea-life spots in the world, we went on a day excursion to go snorkelling off the small island of Menjangan. It is hard to describe my horror when I saw how much plastic rubbish was floating on the surface of the water. What was the most difficult thing for me to accept was the contrast between the layer of the manmade drifting junk and the bountiful and colourful backdrop of the natural underwater world. It took me a long time before I could enjoy my time underwater as I was so attached to how pristine this place should have looked.

My son was faster to adjust and managed to ignore the floating waste and rejoiced in the beauty of the fish and kept on pointing at different amazing spots. The more attached to a different reality one is the harder it is to be with what is in front of us. It is not that we should be so detached as to ignore the tragedy of a situation, but rather not to be blinded by it and to stay with the facts. There is a definite issue with plastic, and I do not wish to speak about it on this post. However, when I look back at the photos,  I am surprised, given my intention to document how bad it was, to see how little plastic I captured. It made me wonder how much worse I had made it in my mind’s image.

It is healthy to have an open mind, and if, one day, someone suggests that every problem you have is the same one in disguise, look at it, stay with it and find out if it is true. Does it hold up to your reality?

When I first heard of this idea, I got very interested in it – it sounded real. Then paradoxically, I got quite attached to the concept. On further inspection, I realised that I was absorbed by the idea and projected it on my mind movie. In a metaphorical way,  I focused on the floating plastic that was in front of me. Using the advice this idea came with, I detached myself from the projection and became more conscious of the beautiful fish and sea-life that was surrounding me.

Breather*

One sentence journal – day 17:
“The nights are very short; I could blame it on the month of June but I simply need more sleep.”

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Loic Lopez

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Cloud watching

cloud watching

When we are in a good mood, we tend to have a greater perspective on events in our lives and are overall more resilient. We are ready to take more risks, and we don’t take things too personally. Conversely, when we are in a bad mood, everything seems much worse, and the smallest bump on the road can become a source of irritation. In tempestuous emotional states, we are even capable of causing harm to people we love.  Seeing how impactful our moods are, there is a natural desire to be more in control of our them.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand that moods are not easily controllable. Bottling up anger or frustration, for example, is asking for trouble. What we can do, though, is not feed them and try to release them. In the same way, as thoughts can be seen and let go of during meditation, we can watch our feelings and circumstances without being caught by them. It requires a little practice, but it is possible.

An image that is often used to help us visualise the process is cloud watching. With the right attention, we can look at what is coming our way as if it were clouds. I was reading about this last night and wondered if the practice would be made easier by actually looking at the sky. Living in England and not far from the sea, I have the advantage of the erratic British weather. A little word of warning, for those of us who are a little impatient it does not work very well when the sky is still! No matter – the act of looking up and gazing far above our heads can help us to change perspective.

Looking at clouds is often associated with children, poets, dreamers and carefree people – but it does not have to be. It does not hurt anybody to take a little break and look up. The sky is a great reminder that everything moves – even when things appear still. The worry or current problem that may overwhelm us currently will lift and pass by.

There is an important difference that is worth exploring between the real sky and our internal sky. The former is entirely out of our control, while the latter is often used as a screen or a lens on which we project our mind movies. In other words, a part of us is responsible for clouding our consciousness with old thoughts and feelings. The more we get caught in the drama that is played, the harder it will be to watch our current thinking. Internal cloud watching is best done without any screens, filters or tinted glass.

When caught in a mental tease is it possible to take a ten-minute break and practice cloud watching? First, if you can, observe the real sky and watch the movement or the vastness of it all. Then, look at the internal sky, the movement of your thoughts without being caught by them. Try to detect the projector and switch it off if you can. The problems won’t be solved, but a change of perspective and perhaps a shift in mood may occur.

Remember that life may bring some dark clouds, but everything is in constant motion, and we can expect most things to pass. Being good at watching the clouds can help us clear our inner skies.

Breather*

One sentence journal – day 12:
“Going through family pictures on a computer is frustrating, pleasant, moving and also disconcerting. ”

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Iren Petrova

 

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The Mind Movie

Mind movie

We all play our own mind movie – almost all of the time. It is a useful function of the brain, yet it is the source of much confusion and unhappiness. Learning to pause the movie to see things more as they are could make us more aware of the beauty that surrounds us.

The mind has a tremendous ability to imagine how the future could pan out. This is an excellent faculty to have to plan a trip or to make a meal. However, I believe that it becomes problematic as soon as we use it on a psychological level. When we are in touch with ‘what is’ without judging it with the yardstick of ‘what could’ or ‘what should be,’ then we are likely to be much more appreciative and alert to what unfolds in front of our naked eyes.

A growing number of people, believe in the power of imagination and visualisation to improve their performances and to realise their goals. It is a way of becoming more active with our mind movie. In my experience, the more time we spend dreaming about what we could be or could do, the more ineffective and discouraged we become with the day-to-day. There is a constant movement of becoming that comes in the way of experiencing the now.

A few studies coming from the sports industry show that those who visualise tend to have better results than those who don’t, and it could well be the case. Apparently nerves and part of the brain cannot tell the difference between what we visualise actively and what we experience. But I think there is a danger in concluding that we can magically make things materialise by powerfully wishing them.

Sending messages to the unconscious can provide results, but in the long term, I believe it can backfire. If we constantly try to convince ourselves that we are good at something, it may help us make some progress, reprogram negative thoughts and feel more confident, but the flip side is that we will become proficient at deluding ourselves. Our mind movie will play one thing, and the world will show us something entirely different.

The greater the gap between reality and our mind movie, the more likely we are going to be in conflict and disappointed. Attempts to reconcile the two may involve distorting reality and putting on blinkers. More importantly, being absorbed in our mind movie is likely to disconnect us from the beauty and the magic of the moment.

Breather*

One sentence journal – day 2:
“Feelings of inadequacy, led to a mild internal conflict, which in turn exhausted me… until I had the opportunity to be listened to and to listen in return.”

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Lloyds Dirks

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