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Wholeness not Happiness

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.” 

― C.G. Jung

I picked a card from my pack of Pema Chödrön’s ‘Compassion Cards.’ It said, “regard all dharmas as dreams.” This means to regard all the elements that make up our empirical existence as dreams, as transient and non-absolute. I’ll use this to pre-frame this piece.

Going to seminar after seminar when I was 15 years old, I thought I was on the path to happiness, and I was. I’d mastered the art of noticing negative mental patterns and habits and re-directing them to ones that served me and created the experience I was seeking.

As ‘negative’ emotions arose I’d notice them, do an affirmation, incantation or cover them up with excessive joy so that I could experience the happiness I sought.

This felt great for a time. Slowly, slowly though, it started to feel a little shallow. When trying to connect with others at events or gatherings, it felt inauthentic. “Oh yeah I’m great thanks,” “yeah I’m going really well!” Always sharing how it I ‘wanted’ to be feeling but rarely how I was actually feeling deep down. As a result my relationship with others only seemed to grow so far — not to mention my relationship with my Self.

Facebook, Instagram and social media made this incredibly challenging also. Only seeing how ‘happy’ people were, as if happiness was the goal.

In Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness he talks about the practice of a ‘Circle of Trust’ as a way to “create space for the soul to speak.” For those in the circle to come to know the wholeness of who they are, to learn to love the entirety of themselves.

This neglecting and suppression of parts of ourselves that aren’t ‘good’ or don’t lead to happiness leads to something else; for me it is feeling disconnected, incomplete and inauthentic.

I’ve run a workshop on ‘returning to wholeness’ a number of times that walks people through these 4 quadrants.

Low-negative might be a moment of depression or sadness.
Low-positive might be a moment of peace, joy and balance. 
High-negative might be a moment of anger or activist-minded (against!)
High-positive might be a moment of ecstatic joy, celebration or excitement.

We each step into the quadrant on the floor, and let ourselves be witnessed in each quadrant as we express our emotion around a specific event that has had us feel this way. Letting ourselves be seen in these four quadrants give us the experience of learning to be ok with our full selves.

It’s almost a more empowered ‘happiness.’ When you can let yourself be in the total expression of who you really are, and observe from an observer’s perspective you are more empowered to navigate through your feelings with conscious awareness. With a more comfortable relationship to all of the parts of ourselves, we can choose when to let ourselves sit in and be with each.

“Regard all dharmas as dreams”

All of our feelings and emotions are transient and forever transitioning to another as we enter a new ‘now.’ Recognising this and letting ourselves experience the autonomy and liberation in observing this process without needing to manipulate or engineer our expression can be truly liberating.

So my question is: is it happiness we are seeking, or is it wholeness? If wholeness leads to an empowered liberation, is this more expansive and all-encompassing that happiness by itself?

Enjoy the senses,

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Here’s Why Befriending Yourself Can Be So Hard (and 3 ways to make it easier)

Just so you know, I’m also writing this to myself as I share this for you. To remind both you and I, of the context in which we exist, the pressures placed upon us and the hopeful ways in which we can return to a place of ease and connection in our own lives.

We move so often in environments that seek to pull us out of ourselves, to tell us we are not enough and need to do this, that or the other in order to feel worthy or ‘ok.’ Faced with billboards that aim to sell us the idea that we will ‘be happier’ if we drink Coca Cola, or ‘find our dream partner on the beach’ if we wear Zara. In such an environment, and without the tools to re-connect with ourselves as our first companion, it is almost by default that we live in the trance of unworthiness.

Oh and on top of these pressures in the physical world, we also now have the other virtual reality of the online world, that sneaks into our lives in some insidious and some dramatic ways. Our lives now in some ways moulded around our mobile devices, packed with yet many more mechanisms to suade us into comparing ourselves against others, deadlines and possibly the biggest threat of all — the notion of time and the haste we must carry ourselves with.

The last ingredient to this recipe being our very own inherent negativity bias, making it difficult to ‘see the goodness’ by default.

So how can we come to befriending ourselves, again, and build the inner-capacities to be in kind-relationship to our experience?

Here are 3 ways to make it easier to come home to yourself:

1. Consider a loving-kindness or compassion-centered meditation at least 3 times a week.

It was during a leadership training I sat in 2018 that I realised how internally harsh and challenging I can be toward myself, especially in regards to my work and my creativity. So here is where I committed to practicing a loving-kindness meditation 3 times a week. It works! I’m now “totally in love with myself, all the time!” No, that would be a little manic and quite unsustainable, but I will say that with this regular practice I am now able to notice when the trance of ‘not-enough’ does come to play and with compassion, remind myself otherwise.

Research has shown that loving-kindness meditation might be more effective (and certainly more sustainable) than Prozac! Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. Over a nine week period, research showed that this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. (If you are working on improving your ratio of positive to negative emotions, start with metta!) The research shows compellingly that it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression. This is probably because it increases a wide range of those resources that make for a meaningful and successful life, like having an increased sense of purpose, stronger social support, and less illness. Here is a great list of 18 science-based reasons to try loving kindness meditation.

“The world will ask you who you are, and if you don’t know, the world will tell you.” 

— Carl Jung

As we explored above, our external environment and the system we move within is a powerful force and it takes very conscious effort to re-frame, re-direct and counter-balance the narratives and habits it invites. So a regular practice to cultivate the states that balance our system’s default is very important.

Loving-kindness meditations are a practice of coming to hold compassion for our own, and other’s difficulty and challenge. To recognise and hold this difficulty with compassion is itself to come home to not needing to be any other way. Once we have acknowledged and accepted our inner-lives in this way, we then go on to send well-wishes or words of kindness to ourselves and others.

So you might set a reminder on Monday, Wednesday and Friday to do a loving-kindness meditation for 10–12 minutes.

Here’s one I prepared earlier!

Try this free loving-kindness meditation that over 3,500 people have enjoyed already.

2. Practice receiving praise and compliment with radical acceptance

If you’re like me, and many of us, accepting someone’s praise or compliment can be either awkward or emotionally challenging. Whether we have low self-esteem around a certain area of our lives, we are trying to hold a high humility or simply being seen in this light is uncomfortable and vulnerable for us, there is benefit to opening to the offerings of someone’s kindness in strengthening our own.

“Do I deserve this?” “No, it wasn’t that great.”

We either outwardly exclaim our dis-belief that we are worthy of such positive regard, or inwardly close-down. Both result in us not being receptive to one of the most powerful balancing forces to our culture — social affirmation and acknowledgement.

If we close off to the friendliness and kindness that does exist in our world, how will our cup ever overflow, let alone be filled in the first place?

Here’s something very simple technique (SBNRR) you can start to use when you receive even the smallest of compliment or praise:

STOP — don’t say anything back directly just yet

BREATHE — sit with what was shared for just a moment, breathe it in, let it find a place to rest within you

NOTICE — notice if you are mentally or emotionally guarding yourself from opening to receive

REFLECT — if you are, allow yourself to open up to worthiness. If you are not, great! You are strengthening the pathway to opennes.

RESPOND — respond to the lovely person who shared this with you, with thanks and acceptance. Maybe even make a statement that affirms yourself, “yeah, I’ve been working hard at it over the last 2 months.”

This might seem like quite a process, and there may be a sense of embarrassment or awkwardness in the thought of standing there for 2–3 seconds whilst you SBNRR the moment. This is what change takes: presence, awareness, time. So whilst it may feel uncomfortable, you are modeling what it means to participate, to accept and to open to the kindness that is already here.

To take this even further you can not only Accept the compliment my bringing it in, you can also Amplify the compliment by really breathing it in and letting it permeate your body. Then if you really want, you can Advance the compliment by asking questions to find out more about what is being offered specifically.

3. Keep a gratitude journal

This one is simple, and you may have heard the science and positive-psychology behind it many times.

In fact you may have heard the science so many times that you’ve tricked yourself into thinking you know it so well that you don’t need to do it. (sorry my cheeky little Indian is coming out!) Of course you also know, that the work is in the doing, the benefits are in the action, not the knowing.

Over the past decade psychology researchers have understood some of the very real social, psychological and physical health benefits of giving thanks and keeping a gratitude journal. Simply writing down the things we are grateful for (with intention, depth and detail) has been traced to many benefits including better sleep, higher self-esteem, few symptoms of illness and greater happiness and fulfillment in adults and young-adults alike.

So let me ask you this…

What will it take for you to commit to writing down just 3 daily gratitudes before bed, for the next 10 days, just to see how it feels?

In an attempt to balance our inherent Negativity Bias, a gratitude journal brings our attention to the things in our life that bring positive emotion and kind regard. That has to be a good thing, right?

Self-compassion, self-care, self-love — these are not selfish acts. If you are reading this, then like me, you are privileged enough to be able to consider more than your physical needs. We have the privilege to consider things such as our emotional and mental health, our purpose and our creative potential. It is in fact our responsibility to use the tools we have, so we can hopefully restore our culture to one of equality, inclusion and connection. Oh and it works both ways, by coming to include, value and treat as equal the many aspects of ourselves, we learn to do so with the world around us.

So what did you take from this? Is there something that spoke most loudly to you, maybe a practice that you are going to test out? Let me know in the comments, or feel free to ask a question.

To re-connecting and befriending, 

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How The Practice of Haiku Can Enrich Your Life

How the Philosophy and Practice of Haiku Can Enrich Your Life

The details beneath,
Finger-tapping on life’s beat.
Haikus everywhere.

Connecting to the texture of our lives seems important. To connect with not just the contents, but the emotion, the detail, the nuance, the juiciness. Rather than simply letting the world and your experience hit you like a ball against a wall, taking the time to reflect, digest and breathe it in. Living in contexts and environments that constantly draw us away from ourselves and out of our experience, it seems like a worthwhile endeavour to develop a way to re-connect with the bumpy, itchy, silky smooth, slimy and velvet texture of our lives.

Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, says that “writers live twice.” They live once, as most people do; getting up from their slumber, probably having a coffee or other morning drink, going about their day, waiting in line at the cafe and sitting on the tram amongst the many on their way home from work. Writers though, live it again when they sit down for practice, reflecting on the detail in the moments, asking themselves ‘why’ and ‘how,’ and ‘what if?’ They contemplate, and re-live it all over again, in high-definition. 

At the change of year and entrance into 2018, of my commitments to myself was to nurture my creativity. I was going to do 12, 30-day ‘creativity challenges’ over the course of the year, to exercise the right hemisphere of my brain a little more, and strengthen my courage muscle with a daily practice.

So I wrote down 12 possible challenges I could do:

  • Share a pencil drawing each day
  • Record and share a vlog everyday
  • Write a personal affirmation note and share it everyday
  • Take a photo and share it each day
  • Write and share a haiku a day
  • Perform a spoken-word poem each day
  • Create a small collage everyday
  • Share a rather audacious new idea each day
  • Wear something slightly differently each day
  • Record yourself dancing everyday

The first challenge I chose was to write a haiku a day. Poetry was something I used to enjoy writing in primary school and it was time to re-connect with this. In fact, my first ever piece published in a book was in Grade 3; a lovely poem by 9-year-old Al, called ‘Summer Days in the Sun,’ that was published in a collaborative book with students from across Australia…there it all began!

For my month of #dailyhaikus I would take a moment at the end of each day, to close my journal entry with a haiku that encapsulated the most meaningful or significant moment from the day, a way to summarize my journal entry into a digestible, bite-sized poem. It might have been the great sense of feeling lost and helpless, the spark of inspiration from a walk with a friend, the cheer in someone’s laughter, the flowing of the river. 

Here I’ll simply say that since then I’ve now written over 260 haikus since then. My 30-day challenge has become a life-enriching contemplative practice, and even more, a philosophy through which I digest and meet the world around me.

As John Paul Ledarach says, “It’s amazing how something you learn in second grade could become the light that enlivens the spirit.” John Paul is someone I’ve connected with recently who shares a very similar relationship to haiku. No, I’m not the only one! 😉 

Haiku is a Japanese poetry form that uses just a few words to capture a moment and create a picture in the reader’s mind, a tiny window into a scene much larger than itself.

It is considered to be more than simply a type of poem though; it is a way of looking at the physical world and seeing something deeper than what first meets the eye, to touch the beauty beneath the surface.

The philosophy of ‘seeing through the lens of haiku,’ prepares you to be touched by the beauty around you.

For me, I now not only sit down to write my haiku after my journal entry at night, I practice simply opening myself to the haikus that exist in each moment. They’re there, waiting to be noticed! The noticing of the haiku moment is the ‘aha’ when the world is revealed for what it is and that five-seven-five is landed on and experienced as you say it to yourself.

More than writing down a haiku to share, I now finger-tap the pulse of life as it happens around me. If you ever see me walking, and see me tapping or counting my fingers, it’s because there are haikus all around you.

Do you have a practice that has you connect with, reflect upon and digest the many textures in your life?

You can see my daily haikus on either my Facebook page or Instagram page. 👍

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