A Good Cry

When there is resistance, the present conditions that seem to provoke us are rarely the cause of our struggles.  These are merely symptoms of underlying undischarged trauma from the past. Unless we go at the source of the original recordings, the confusing feelings that emerge will keep on returning creating more friction.

To have someone by our side who can listen non-judgmentally and help us uncover what really is troubling us is so invaluable. We know we have found the right person, when tears come naturally. Crying is usually a sign that something inside is shifting, that some emotional knot is being released.

We may have been conditioned to suppress or stop the tears, but this needs to be challenged. It is true that there are many situations where it may not be appropriate to cry and it is wise to choose a safe context to discharge and re-evaluate the source of our sorrow.

After the tears, we may feel elated and relaxed – these are the sign of a good cry.

L.

Photo by Kat J.

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To Do and Not To Do

We all have to-do-lists.
Some of us may prefer not to bother writing them down and keep them in our heads. Others may have simple lists of tasks and commitments, jotting them down on paper or electronically so as not to forget. Others still, may have more elaborate systems with priorities and calendar functions with reminders. Lastly, there are those of us who use robust time-management tools and techniques, to not only stay on top of our to-dos but also to balance our life-work responsibilities and help us focus on short, medium, and long term goals. This is all very fine, but how much do our to-do-lists define our lives? And will we ever feel fulfilled by this seemingly never ending conveyor belt of activities?

Getting things done can be quite addictive as it gives us a sense of purpose, engages our problem solving minds and feels rewarding when we become better and better at juggling and keeping up with it all. The problem lies in that we may neglect its equally important polar opposite: not doing.

Doing nothing may sound boring or even unpleasant, yet I would like to argue here that it is not only necessary for our health and wellbeing but it may actually also be highly fulfilling. Whereas ‘doing’ deals with the measurable, ‘being’ dwells in the immeasurable.

There is an art of being idle, to take the time to enjoy the simple act of breathing, to contemplate the beauty of life and to adopt a child-like carefree alertness. These ‘acts of being’ are not reserved to the poets, philosophers and religious people – they are accessible to everyone.

With practice, we quickly recognise how good it feels to give ourselves a few moments of peace each day. Once we are able to put on hold all the things we have to do, even momentarily, we may touch a sense of freedom that we use to experience as children.

There is nothing wrong with the “to-do”s so long as they leave enough space for the “to-be”s

L.

Photo by Kai D.

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Begin Fearlessly

Can one have commitment and freedom at the same time?
This is what I am going to explore during the next six weeks.

On one hand, I am committing to complete two specific challenges. On the other, I want to investigate the more subtle relationship between doing and being. In other words, I am going to focus on the quality of the journey with a playful, fearless, carefree approach while keeping an eye on the final destination.

The first challenge I have set myself is to finish developing – an 8-week course in Yoga, breath work & health awareness that I am planning to run in the New Year. The second,  is to write a short blog post everyday  to document the learning that comes from consciously exploring fearlessness while moving out of my comfort zone.

Now that I have set this intention, the aim is to enjoy the process form moment to moment regardless of what comes my way. Today is a little special in that it is the very beginning and things have the quality of an exciting engagement – everything seems new and there is clarity. Showing up everyday without judgement is possibly the surest way to make progress, but above all it is essential: to begin.

Let me finish with a quote which is widely misattributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe but is in fact extracted from W. H. Murray’s book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition (1951) [4]

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

(The “couplet” referred to here is from an extremely loose translation of Goethe’s Faust lines 214-30 made by John Anster in 1835)[5]

Learning about fearlessness, commitment and freedom is what seems to matter most to me now. Therefore, I am beginning the process of facing it head-on with a playful and effortless attitude.

L.

Photo: Matt Duncan

PS: I invite you to do the same, find out what currently matters most to you and begin playfully and fearlessly to do something about it.

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Write the Change

Writing can be transformative. The core intention of writing on Breangelo.net is to explore what helps us “Breathe the change we want to see in the world”.

This blog started two and a half years ago with a seven-week writing challenge and, after a few months of regular posting, it petered out. Writing came to a stand still after a powerful ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat in  December 2016. It is not often that one gets radical insights and sometimes these can be derailing. Two year later, after an enriching fallow stretch, where I have been mostly writing by hand in diaries, there is a wish to share some of these insights on this pratform. Three themes thread them together:

  • everything is in constant flux,
  • important changes have to come from within before they can manifest externally
  • and thought is at the core of almost everything we struggle with.

Writing is a special mirror that can uncover our understanding and help us grow. Stay tuned if, like me, you are interested in discovering more meaningful ways to challenge yourself and contribute to making our earth great again.

This quote by the 13th-century poet, Rumi, particularly resonates with the current phase of enquiry :

“Yesterday I was clever,
so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”

The intention is there, now let us write the change…

Breathfully yours,

L*

 

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The Habit of Thought

habit-of-thoughtMost people believe that there are good and bad habits. In the last few years, I have been focusing on getting rid of bad habits and establishing ‘healthy’ ones. I have also been interested in awareness, mindfulness, and presence. Habits tend to make us mechanical, and one wonders if there is such a thing as a good habit?

At times, I wish that I had a distinct habit such as smoking or biting my nails – clearly noticeable by others and obvious – so that I could work at understanding the mechanism and attempt dropping it. Unfortunately, it would seem that I am not addicted to any substances such as coffee, tea, alcohol or even sugar. I am not claiming to be free of habits, but I would like to identify a conspicuous habit that I could focus on and tackle.

Some years back, my eldest son observed that I always seemed to start talking as soon as there was a silence. I have to admit that I am very talkative – even verging on being a compulsive talker and I wonder if that would be the right candidate?

Interestingly, I am about to embark on an experiment that is the perfect opportunity to tackle it head-on. I am on my way to Nashik in Western India where I will go on a 10-Day Vipassana Meditation retreat. It is the first time that I will be quiet for longer than a few hours! It will undoubtedly challenge my talking habit.

The real intention of the retreat, though is to go into a more deep-seated habit still: the habit of thought. Could it be the habit that ends them all?

Breather*
Photo credit: Vincentiu Solomon

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First, put your house in order

put-your-house-in-order

I am writing this blog post on a bumpy minibus journey to the outskirts of Bangalore. The road that we are on has been turned upside down as a new metro line is under construction in its very centre. Such chaotic cityscape makes me wonder why there is so much disorder in the world and reminds me of my internal fragmentation and my longing for outer harmony.

“First, put your house in order” is one of the earliest phrases that I heard from Krishnamurti when I was studying at Brockwood at the tender age of fourteen. This statement is both meant literary and metaphorically, for as we embark on understanding ourselves and meeting the challenge of change, it seems essential to have a certain amount of order not only in our physical surroundings but internally. Thirty-three years later, I find myself not anywhere closer to having put my house in order. Why?

To be honest, until now I have never taken this advice very seriously, nor did I really understand what it really entailed. In the last week or so, I have been provoked to contemplate the issue a little deeper, and I feel quite clear that it is something that I want to work on. As I find myself in a new environment, with few belongings and little commitments, there is an opportunity to reevaluate the source of disorder and clear the  clutter. A great amount of energy can be gained from having a healthy rhythm: going to bed and getting up early and being regular about it; eating and enjoying fresh, nutritious, modest meals; practicing a balanced and gentle exercising regime; walking and having quiet meditative moments; participating in meaningful work with others; and giving and receiving affection.

Once the body and our emotional needs are taken care of, it is valuable to start putting some order in our head. If the mind is busy like a cityscape, it may be hard; on the other hand, if it is more like the wind in branches, then the work seem more tangible.

It would seem that it is not something that is done once for all, but rather something that needs to be regularly maintained. If we take the metaphor of the house, it is easier to keep a house tidy if we keep on top of the disorder as it arises, and inversely, it becomes much more difficult if things accumulate to the point of being overwhelming. But perhaps the most important step is to have the clarity that one wants ‘order’ in the first place and that one is ready to commit time and energy to it. The decision to do something about it is instantaneous, the act of tidying takes time and consistency.

Finally, one needs to remember that making order is probably just the first step – for the real work is more complex and requires even more energy to address.

We have reached our rural destination and the environment seems so much more harmonious and conducive to meaningful relationships and learning.

So are you ready to put your ‘country’ house in order?

Breather*

Photo credit: Terri Bleeker

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zen, not Zen

Piping Plover chick - Sandy Hook in Highlands, New Jersey.

To stop burying my head in the sand, to stand on my own two feet and to be consciously vulnerable. To be alert, listening and watching without thoughts. To breathe the change, mostly in silence. Such is my intention now.

Almost two years ago, I started a blog called ZenPlan. It was not about Zen Buddhism nor was it about planning. I combined the two words and chose that name to create a tension and to encapsulate what I was most interested in at the time.  Namely, being present, direct perception, intention, focus and spending my time wisely.

The main influence for starting writing a blog was an article by Leo Babauta entitled “Why You Should Write Daily”. I later came to appreciate his simple style and decided to emulate some of his writing. In many ways, Leo Babauta encourages people to use his ideas and he is a great believer in the concept of ‘uncopyright‘. Like him, I am also interested by some of the insights of Zen Buddhism but prefer not writing about religious teachings or meditation techniques. We all have many influences and it is valuable to acknowledge them, yet it is equally important to learn to find one’s voice and to communicate authentically. Is it possible to write freshly about old questions, about something someone else has already chewed on? Language, thoughts, ideas all come from the past but can take a life of their own once they are breathed upon with an alert mind. I also like paradoxes, for they can destabilise our reasoning. They can provoke a temporary blank. This is what I mean by zen, not Zen.

Last May, when I launched this present blog, as well as writing new material, I decided to rewrite almost all the old entries from the ZenPlan blog. It was interesting to revisit the posts that I wrote when I was in Bali. It was like reading letters from an old friend and to my surprise I found them stimulating and happy to share them again.

I am now ready to let go of Leo Babauta’s influence and of zen for that matter. My current enquiry is concerned with freeing the mind from thought and focusing on attention. Nonchalantly,  I could call it Thoughtless, not thoughtless!

Breather*

Photo: Ray Hennessy

 

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Still happy

Still happy

Around this time last year, my son and I arrived back home – after having spent 14 months abroad – travelling from Britain to Bali overland and back. The memories of that trip and the wonderful experiences we lived, put a grin on my face. This past year, in comparison, has been much less adventurous, yet I am still happy. Just like the weather – and everything else in this world for that matter, – I know that this happiness is just transient. This present state of well-being made me want to re-post an article on the nature of happiness and why most of us so frequently feel dissatisfied.

So why am I happy? I could easily list a large number of wonderful things that I am grateful for. I could also rationalise that it is due to good health. I am currently in Barcelona on a four-weeks yoga teacher training course (eating some of the most succulent peaches) and I have not felt that healthy in years. Being surrounded by people that I get along with, good sleep, wholesome food, regular exercise, meditation and time to contemplate are conditions that generally tend to put me in a good mood and contribute to my wellbeing. Culturally, there seems to be a deeply ingrained belief that happiness is brought on by external conditions, yet is that truly all there is to it?

Let’s look at the source of our discontentment for it may reveal something else about happiness. Sometimes I feel spoilt, and that all the good things that come my way will never satisfy an inner sense of sadness and fragmentation. It is clear that one can become frustrated at almost anyone or anything, that one can feel down by the state of the world and the destructive actions of our civilisation, that people who are close to us can suffer and make us suffer, that the mind is constantly in need of solving (and creating) problems and that we are rarely satisfied by what we have, where we are, who we are with and what we do. There seems to be in humans a discordance which leads to conflict, loneliness and harm regardless of how rich, healthy and successful we are. It is often assumed that the problems we have at hand whether it be circumstantial, relational, financial or health related are the sources of our unhappiness, but is it the case?

It may be important here to go into the difference between conditional happiness and a deeper sense of wellbeing which I prefer to call contentment. When we eat an ice-cream or a good fruit, we usually feel happy, but the feeling is usually short lived. When we feel loved and appreciated, we also tend to feel very good, but here again, we may easily get used to it or it may be shadowed by its opposite. So this type of happiness will constantly fluctuate and be at the mercy of changing circumstances. Things get a little more complicated when our minds start to want to control the world around us for the pursuit of happiness. This tends to lead to frustration for we may fall in a constant state of wanting to become something we are not. On the other hand, staying with ‘what is’ regardless of what it is and being truly present can nurture a form of contentment that is unconditional and wholesome.

We have probably all heard of exceptional human beings who in some of the worse circumstances and against all odds, remained peaceful and content. We probably also all have glimpsed in our own lives moments of unconditional happiness. Could it be that this quality is linked to a conscious state of being truly alive and alert?

So, if someone were to ask me today “why are you happy?”, I would simply have to answer “because I am alive”.

Breather*

Photo: Ian Baldwin

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