Monday, 23 March 2015

Letting go of gender equality

I know what I'm about to write isn't going to go down too well with some people, but hear me out. Feminism has done a lot to provide freedom of choice for women and that's something, as a woman, that I'm very grateful for. However in the process we seem to have got stuck in the mindset that women and men are equal and to me this is a great shame.

In both eastern and western philosophical traditions we encounter metaphors for masculine and feminine energies in their most elemental form. In the east we have the receptive and inward going Yin balanced by the active, forceful Yang. In the west the nurturing, life-giving elements of Earth and Water are representative of the feminine, while the more active elements of Fire and Air represent the outward going force of masculinity. In both traditions we see depictions of gender balance, rather than gender equality.

For me, gender balance creates a harmonious way of relating where both parties are supported by the other. It does not mean that the woman no longer expresses the creative and active elements of her personality or the man his inner feminine qualities. Remember the Yin-Yang symbol: each element contains a little of the other. However, in our culture women are no longer Yin with a little Yang; instead, most of us are full on Yang, pushed by financial circumstances or our own drive to prove ourselves into a manic, stressful busyness that leaves us depleted and irritable. Too often we no longer have time to nurture and support our loved ones.

In a partnership based on gender balance the man's natural inclination to be assertive, decisive and goal-oriented can manifest more productively with the gentle encouragement, faith and trust of his partner, while the woman's gifts of inner knowing, intuition and nurturing are able to come to the fore when she is not so caught up in the outer world of action and accomplishment.

Now some will no doubt feel ill-at-ease about the words I'm using here. Am I advocating a return to a co-dependent state where the woman is reliant on the man to protect and provide for her? Well my answer to that is 'hell no!' There is no point, or even possibility, in going backwards here. What I'm talking about is a natural transition. We women were unhappy and oppressed being dependent and so we've worked hard to become independent. However as an ecologist I know that independence is an illusion. In nature interdependence is the natural way, and as we too are a part of nature this is also a healthy state for us.

Nature also teaches that the greater the diversity within a system the more stable and resilient it will be. When women strive to become like men we lose diversity and that means less stability and resilience in relationships, families and communities. This is because two beings of the same kind must compete to survive, and this creates power struggle and conflict.

The concept of gender equality is a hard one to let go of, particularly for women but for many men too. This is because it feels like we are going to lose our power, however I believe this is an illusion. Our culture has forgotten the true strength of the divine feminine, a strength so different from the masculine power we are taught to strive for. While the masculine pushes, climbs, acts, fights, the feminine supports, contains, gives sustenance. The Yin is the source of intuitive knowing, of wisdom and of the true strength which arises from gentleness and humility.

My journey toward this way of thinking began with the books of David Deida. He's written many books but one of my favourites is Intimate Communion: Awakening Your Sexual Essence. It's good one to start with if you're interested.

I suggest one caveat here: some women are born very Yang and some men very Yin. This can usually be seen very clearly in their natal astrology chart where there will be a predominance of planets placed in Masculine or Feminine signs. However even in these cases I believe the principles I am discussing here remain the same. 

I for one am enjoying rediscovering the power of the feminine. Perhaps you are too... If so please share your experiences.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Letting go of your career

Simply because I do not like the word, letting go of my career was less challenging than you might imagine. All that 'careering' gave me a pretty serious case of burn-out and I was all too ready to let the whole sorry burden fall from my shoulders.

Of course it hasn't come without its anxieties, money of course being the biggest one. But the funny thing is, once I set myself afloat at the whim of universal benevolence somehow I've always had more than enough.

Traveling to South East Asia was a good example of this. Within an hour of arriving in the town where I was to stay for the coming month, I had seen a poster advertising for someone to work in a guesthouse for room and board. And after this situation became untenable I sowed the seed to do astrology and tarot readings and this became the seed of a new enterprise that is now bearing fruit.

I do not see this newest venture as a new career however. The difference is that it is done in a spirit of playfulness. I like to earn money from it, but I will not stress myself unduly or turn on the hard sell to do so. This is a world away from the ten page proposals I would routinely submit to potential clients and funding bodies. Phew! What a bore...

And then the stress! Deadlines, regulations, bureaucracy. All tethers I can well do without!

Debt can be an especially strong tie to your career and one I have determinedly refused to accept. It's funny how all these bonds are self chosen - we literally sign our life away with the simple everyday choices we make, from enrolling our child in school to signing that mortgage paper. Every day we enslave ourselves a little more!

Many people pursue a career thinking that it will increase their status and influence within a community or network. Well weirdly enough my networks has grown markedly since abandoning this silly illusion and I find myself continually meeting people with whom I can collaborate in exciting, effective ways.

Letting go of your career is especially challenging when you have come to identify it with who you are. To find out if this is true of you, ask yourself whether you think of yourself as your job title, for example as 'a teacher' or 'an artist'. In such cases you are pretty strongly attached to your career and letting it go might cause you some discomfort.

Note that I do not suggest that you stop doing what it is their vocation to do. A vocation is very different to a career. One's vocation is the gift they give to the world, their niche within the social ecology. But unlike a career it is not something one has to strive for. It just happens naturally as we move with purpose through the world.

Letting go of my career was one of the most freeing things I ever did. It's been over three years now and I've never once regretted it :)

Monday, 9 March 2015

Letting go of being in charge

Until recently I held a job where a lot of the time I got to be the boss. I led teams of people in the garden and although we worked collaboratively I had a lot of control over the process because I was the one with the knowledge and experience. In the end, if there was a decision to be made I generally got the final say.

Just after I left this job I worked in a little guest house called Shanti Shanti on the Cambodian coast. Set on the beach with the waves lapping gently up to the little cane deck chairs, it's a place that should have been very peaceful. But actually it was often anything but! This is because the manager, an eccentric French gentleman, was very stressed indeed! And because he was so stressed his most common mode of communication was growling.

'Spoon, spoon, spoon!' he would shout at me in the kitchen, and then when I handed him a desert spoon: 'No! Spoon spoon!' The interpretation of this for those who are wondering is 'No I want a tea spoon.'

Once day the two of us, the only English speaking staff in this very small establishment, set out to mend a banner who's eyelets had been torn off. My initial idea, which I respectfully proposed, was to make new holes by cutting a small strip from the side, sewing a strong patch onto the corner and then reinforcing a new hole as one would a button hole. This way it would last for a good few years even in strong winds.

But my plan was not acceptable at all! 'Don't complicate things,' was the reply, and I was told to attach the banner to crooked bamboo poles with sticky tape. Of course this did not work! The result looked terrible unprofessional and would have lasted a week at the most, so we scrapped that idea after half an hour of mucking around. A series of new and increasingly wacky ideas ensued til I had spent the best part of my two hour shift on the project, but eventually the banner was up and looking fine.

This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. Of course I thought my plan was best but I had no say in the matter. Instead I had to bite my tongue and do what I was told. I'm sure many similar experiences lie ahead for me and each time I will need to swallow my pride and accept that I am not in charge.

But there is a blessing in all this. For the first time in a long time I was not the one responsible. I could relax and allow someone else to lead. This gave me the space to cultivate a calm and quiet spirit, and encourage the yin qualities of receptivity, gentleness and nurturing. Very soon my boss was confiding in me his fears and frustrations, and in this mode of openness I was able to listen and provide support.

Eventually we got along just fine, he and I. And I learned very quickly how to let go of being in charge!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Letting go of Prince Charming

It's incredible how strongly mythology can affect us at the subconscious level.

I'm an intelligent, independent woman. I've worked hard to become self-aware and I consider myself relatively emotionally balanced. And yet still I find myself caught up in what my friend calls the 'romance narrative trap', the mythology that when we find our Prince Charming (or our Beautiful Princess) we will then go on to live happily ever after.

One of the most dangerous aspects of this myth is that it gives us the idea that unless our partner is perfect there must be someone else out there who is a better match for us. We expect things of our lovers that we would never expect from any other person and we're terribly disappointed when they fail to live up to these expectations.

As a result, instead of loving our partner, we attack them with a barrage of criticisms. We focus on their faults and weaknesses, instead of their many beautiful qualities. They are not Prince Charming, and therefore they are not good enough.

The reality is that relationships were never designed to make us happy. If you really think about it, being 'in love' is generally more of a painful experience than a happy one! The beauty of relationships is that they confront us with our own darkness, they push us to work through our woundedness and they insist upon us being the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be.

Relationships exist to support the ongoing evolution of two people by providing a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly.

My lover is full of faults and weakness, just like every other human being on this planet. And just like me. By letting go of the need to find Prince Charming I am freed to love him for who he really is, and to see the unique beauty that is within him.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Letting go of trauma

Being raped is a terrifying experience for a seven year old child. I know because I've experienced it.

The mind is clever at dealing with such things. In order to avoid the intense rush of adrenaline and cortisol that such an experience induces, the mind disassociates. That is, it turns its attention elsewhere. In my case I focused on the sky and the forest around me, on the feeling of the hard ground underneath me. These are the things that I remember. The pain and confusion didn't really register, at least not consciously.

Letting go of traumatic experiences like this is not easy because with no memory of the incident it's hard to see which behaviours stem from the trauma. No doubt the observer self holds a full record of the experience, which could be accessible by hypnosis or meditation, but in the absence of the logical connection between cause and affect it's difficult to discern whether a pattern of behaviour is unhealthy or not.

Trauma also stays embedded in the body at an energetic level, mainly in the auric body. The result can be energy blockages, over or under activity of the chakras and other disorders. These can be resolved through meditation, energy healing techniques such as reiki, kinesiology and acupuncture. Yoga, aromatherapy, sound and colour healing can also help.

Practice conscious presence in your everyday life so that you become aware of whether your behaviours impact your energy body in a positive or negative way. This may feel like areas of tension, pain or tightness in the body. Let go of behaviours that do not serve you.

Letting go of trauma can be the catalyst for healing of chronic disease and mental illness, and the key to success, abundance and inner peace.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Letting go of identity

Recently, I’ve been reading this book called ‘Multiplicity: The new science of personality’ by Rita Carter, fascinating stuff for a psychology nerd like me! The premise of the book is that instead of having one steady personality most of us have several, developed in response to the dynamic and unstable contexts we encounter in modern life.

Consider how it must have been for people even just 300 years ago: with no means of getting anywhere other than by their own steam, or with the aid of an animal if they were lucky enough to have one, most people in the lower classes spent their entire lives in one locality with the same group of people, encountering the same situations day-after-day. They thus developed a very simple, stable personality that could be relied upon by the people around them.

Today things are different. We exist within multiple contexts simultaneous, with different groups of people and with complex social dynamics and expectations. Thus it is not surprising to find that most of us have a suite of personalities, just as we have a wardrobe of clothes for different occasions, one for work, one that comes out when we are at home with our family, and one that we share only with our lover.

How do these personalities arise? Just as personalities have always arisen: in response to the pressures of our environment and the needs of the people around us, and through the lens of our natural tendencies, we develop habitual behaviours that we then begin to associate with who we are.

For example a child grows up with a deaf mother and a violent alcoholic father. In her childhood she does her best to help her mother whom she loves but who also makes her feel guilty, not intentionally but in the subtle unintentional way of people who have learned to play the martyr. She also learns to fear male aggression and avoids openness with her father because it makes her physically and emotionally vulnerable.

Based on these early experiences, we could make a very simple prediction that this child is likely grow up to be a people-pleaser, working in one of the helping professions and never feeling she is good enough to be truly worthy of love, respect or status. In intimate relationships she may well struggle to be open and will likely take on either a submissive role or a strident nothing-can-hurt-me aggression that prevents her from really connecting with the other.

But because modern life is not simple, the development of personality is not simple either. Perhaps this child, so powerless in the home, learned to exert her power over children at school. Thus we may find that the woman who evolves is submissive and a pleaser at home, but an assertive, power-hungry bully in the workplace.

Carter defines personality as ‘a coherent and characteristic way of seeing, thinking, feeling, and behaving’ and this seems a good enough working definition to me. This clearly indicates that personality is not just a role we play, it’s something we identify with, we consider it to be who we are.

In my life I can clearly see three different personalities: there’s the studious responsible me who works in a leadership role within an organisation dedicated to personal and social change. Right now this is the me that’s writing this blog! Then there’s the rebellious, outrageous me, who does things my work colleagues would find very surprising indeed. And finally there’s the me that comes out when I’m with my lover and that is a very different person again.

There are also roles that I play but do not identify with: for example I used to work in a big corporation. I played the games and wore the uniform because I thought I could get things done that way, but it never suited me and I never felt comfortable in the role. So at some point in our lives we begin to identify with some of the roles we play but not others, and these became our personalities, our identities.

The trouble is that identifying too strongly with these roles can become very limiting, and in some cases can cause serious cognitive dissonance in our lives.

For example, because I’ve come to believe so fully in my most prominent personality, the responsible, good one, I sometimes feel that I need to hide the other two, both from others and from myself. In the past I even tried to deny that they existed: these weren’t really me, they were some kind of aberration, a dark-side that I needed to resolve or work to integrate or grow out of, or at the very least keep well and truly to myself. I worked to make the dominant ‘good’ aspects of myself stronger in an effort to assuage my guilty feelings about these other aspects of myself that did not fit into my self-defined identity.

It’s very freeing to recognise that none of these personalities are actually who we are at all. As all the mystic traditions teach us, these layers of identity are nothing more than self-constructed facades behind which the true self resides, the silent observer.

When you let go of identity, accepting that none of your personalities are really who you are, you bring a playfulness back into your life. You’re free to try on different roles, as you would try on different clothes, selecting the ones you enjoy wearing and discarding the ones that don’t serve you. Life becomes a big game of dress ups where anything is possible

So now I hear you say ‘that’s all very well but if I suddenly start cross-dressing or play the smart-arse with my boss it’s not going to go down very well,’ and you’re absolutely right. But that doesn’t make cross-dressing or sassing your boss the problem. If you’re a man and you really want to wear woman clothes and the people around you can’t handle that then you have to decide what is most important thing to you. Like anything this will depends entirely on the context.

The point is not to cling onto something new, that is the need to try out different roles, but to recognise how by identifying with the roles you do play you hold yourself back from experiencing life to its fullest.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Letting go of our need for 'roots'

One thing that’s always been distinguishable about me is my lack of roots. It’s not that I’m in any particular way a rootless person; it’s just that my life’s circumstances have been such that I haven’t really had the opportunity to settle down, or become attached to any place or person. I have no hometown, no childhood friends that I catch up with every year or so, no place to go back to. My mother and father both live many miles away from the area where I grew up and my brothers and sisters are scattered all over the country. I live a nomadic life, staying in a place for a year or two before moving on. At this point I’ve lived in more houses than there are years to my life!

But throughout my life there have always been a few things that remained stable, anchors in what was sometimes a tumultuous sea of experience, and one of these anchors has been my grandmother. On many occasions I’ve returned to live with her after some adventure in my life ended or went a little more pear-shaped than I could handle. Because we share many of the same values and perspectives on life we have a wonderful relationship that is very enriching and her support and unconditional love has nourished me and made me the person I am today.

Now she is 1000's of kilometers away from where I live. Letting go of her is perhaps the hardest lesson in surrender yet.

Roots are different for everyone: they include family, childhood friends, cultural traditions and customs, a piece of land where one feels at home, learned ways of looking at the world. Many would argue that letting go of these things is not desirable, that roots are essential and beneficial to our wellbeing. I agree that roots provide stability, a firm foundation. They are nourishing and grounding. But here we need to distinguish between enjoying and benefiting from our roots and needing them, which is where attachment comes in. If we ask ourselves ‘what would happen if I didn’t have that person/place/idea/thing in my life?’ the answer should be ‘I’d be okay.’ You can be happy and creative, free to go with the flow of life, either with or without that connection. 

Two situations illustrate an unhealthy attachment to roots:
  1. Your roots feel inhibiting. They hold you back from following the natural flow of synchronicity in your life, from taking up the opportunities that come your way and from using your gifts. You are like a pot-bound plant that needs more space in order to grow.
  2. You feel great about your roots. They provide the foundation on which you’re able to be creative, to explore and to grow. However when those roots aren’t there you fall down. You can’t seem to be happy and at peace without them.
The first situation is not so relevant to me, as my family is supportive and encouraging of my choices, never judgemental or clingy or manipulative. But for many people family roots equate to disapproval, guilt, secrets, game playing and other unhealthy attachment-based behaviour. In these cases letting go of one’s roots can be very freeing.

In my case I have learned very well to do without roots and the freedom this has allowed me has enhanced my creativity, my courage and my growth as a human being. But still I feel a great fear in my heart when I think of my grandmother’s passing. It’s as if the constancy of her presence has allowed me to explore so boldly, knowing that if anything were to go wrong I could return to her, that if I became lost she would always be the reference point by which I could reorientate myself.

I suppose that letting go of my dependence on her for this sense of security will push me to find my own inner anchor point, my inner roots. So that in dark times I may find light within, in times of tumult, peace, in times of confusion, clarity. To do I must remain aware of the petty day-to-day attachments that divert my attention, pull me away from my centre and stifle my freedom of expression. Meditation remains the best tool I know of to achieve this clarity: as I sit, allowing my thoughts to pass by without my mind grasping onto them, I learn to let go of the frustrations, the fixations, the passions that occur in my daily life.

Once you’ve found your inner roots you can begin to nurture them, tending them with care and attention, watering them with love, so that they grow deeper and stronger, providing a stability that is far more real than any security you might find in the outside world. Such outer security is subject to change: the lover dies, the house burns down, the business fails and where are you left? Letting go of our need for roots allows us to become strong, to act with freedom and to grow into the highest expression of ourselves.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Letting go of jealousy

Jealousy is a common emotion for most people and indeed is thought by some to be a healthy expression of love in a monogamous relationship. This is because it seems to demonstrate care, that one feels strongly enough about the lover to care whether they connect strongly with others or not. To me jealousy does not signify care but merely attachment, and all attachment is based on insecurity, never on love.

Those who identify as poly-amorous use the term compersion to express the opposite of jealousy. To experience compersion is to be full of joy when you see your lover discovering a beautiful connection with another. Isn't it incredible that in order to express this sentiment, which seems to be a far more positive way of dealing with this common scenario, a whole new word needed to be invented so late in the history of human relatedness and connection!

Some people don't experience jealousy. I'm not one of those people! For a long time I struggled with this. I wanted my lover to claim me, to create a boundary and demand that I not cross it, to show me through his jealousy of other men that he cared. On the other hand I wanted him to want me so much that no other woman would make him look twice, or if they did and he enjoyed that connection that it would be no comparison to the connection we share.   

In other words I wanted to be special, and to believe that our relationship was special.

Letting go of jealousy is about recognising that our worthiness and value as human beings does not stem from our relationships with others. It's about realising that deep connectedness need not be synonymous with attachment and that despite what the media and other fairy tales tell us, true love always means freedom: freedom to create, freedom to explore and freedom to grow as human beings.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Letting go of certainty

It's a curious thing that the illusion of certainty gives us a sense of security. Even though we really have no idea what will happen in the future we feel much better if we have our plan firmed up, pinned down and signed in triplicate.

I've been experiencing a lot of uncertainty lately because I've just let go of a place I called home and a community I called family. Now, as I set out on a new journey with new companions and only a few vague ideas of what the future may hold I am yet again confronted with all my fears.

What is it I am actually afraid of? Well it's hard to even say... I'm told that physicians call this phenomenon 'generalised anxiety', a sweeping sense of panic that has no particular focal point, no particular reason. The experience is visceral: the stomach churns, the heart pounds and the palms sweat. It's as though you've just come round the corner and encountered a great wild beast, but actually you're just sitting in a pub drinking a beer!

What causes this great avalanche of fear to descend upon us? We fear because we cannot accept uncertainty. We cannot come to terms with the fact that we do not control our circumstances, or the people whom we feel strongly attached to. But the fact is that even when we think we are in control we most certainly are not!

Take marriage as an example: many people feel more at peace in their relationships when they have secured the solemn vow of their loved one that their partner is committed to them for the rest of their lives. But the reality is that no greater certainty has really been created. The world remains an unstable place; its manifestations emerge and dissolve continuously. Our reality is one of impermanence. At any point our loved one may encounter a magnetic pull to an enigmatic stranger, die unexpectedly or simply detach from us emotionally.

As I begin this journey my intention is to explore those aspects of my being that have so far been in a state of dormancy. These are the yin parts of me, the receptive, yielding, in-going aspects of who I am. To do this I must not only let go of the need for certainty, I must embrace uncertainty. I must surrender to the benevolence of the universe with faith and trust, allowing things to be as they are from moment to moment.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Letting go of addiction

Since my late teens I had a mild addiction to tobacco which I managed to hold at bay for eighteen years. I'd go for periods without smoking and generally didn't smoke more than one or two per day, but when alcohol was involved, or if I was with a friend who smoked, I'd often find myself smoking way more than I liked to.

What is it that's so appealing about smoking? I mean it's not a very nice idea is it: pulling hot, drying smoke into our tender pink lungs! So how does it attach itself to us, or perhaps more accurately, why and how do we attach ourselves to it?

I think part of it is that having a little of something we enjoy at regular intervals provides a pleasant, predictable rhythm to our lives that lulls us into a sense of security, makes us feel some level of control over a chaotic universe. And of course there's the sheer pleasantness of the sensations that the substance catalyses in our bodies. Coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, as well as sugars and simple carbohydrates, all give us a rush of brain chemicals, including dopamine, which are highly stimulating. And addictive!

So of course we feel attached! In many cases attachment feels really good! At least until it comes time to let go...

Wow! Letting go of addiction... where was I to start? My instinct was to break the association between alcohol, which I occasionally enjoy, and cigarettes which I no longer wished to partake in. So I think part of the answer for me was to let go of alcohol at the same time.

The other factor with addiction is that the people we are with strongly influence our addictive behaviour, and we theirs. It's not always possible or wise to break associations with everyone in our lives who makes it harder for us to let go of our addictions, but we can be very honest with them and ask them to help us by not offering these substances or partaking of them when we are together.

However if you're in an environment where smoking or drinking is a big part of the culture you will probably find letting go of addiction quite challenging! In this case perhaps you need to seriously consider whether the culture you are participating in is life affirming or self-destructive.

The most important factor for me in letting go of my addiction to smoking was becoming very conscious of my motivations for smoking. Every time I felt a craving to smoke a cigarette I'd ask myself why I wanted it. Was it because I felt bored or socially anxious? Was I actually hungry or thirsty? I then thought about how that cigarette would actually make me feel, both during and after I smoked it. I also considered the many powerful things that repel me about tobacco, such as it's impact on my health, communities and the environment.

Sometimes after this I did smoke the cigarette, but more and more often I got up, walked to the sink and drank a glass of water instead. This new ritual temporarily replaced the one I'd been using as a security blanket! While drinking the water I'd affirm, "this water cleanses me of my attachment to tobacco. I now let go of my addiction."

It's been 7 weeks now since my last cigarette and I'm happy to say that I no longer experience any cravings :)

Friday, 19 December 2014

Letting go of the old to make way for the new

It's always a bit sad letting go of something you've put a lot of time and energy into, but what sweetens the deal is the knowledge that the space created will soon be filled with something new. Something perhaps more wonderful and fulfilling than you've ever previously encountered.

It's a bit like this with Surrender to the Infinite. It's been such a long time since I've written here because I've been pouring all my time and energy into a new project, the Insight Astrology website and blog. Yes I've finally decided to take myself seriously as an astrologer and share this gift with the world!

Those of you who know me well will agree this has been a long time coming. It's very exciting! I've had to learn a lot about all kinds of things, from internet marketing to audio recording to online networking. I've also had to get over all sorts of fears around putting myself out there in the public sphere. A steep learning curve but ultimately very enjoyable.

Working from home has opened up an entirely new way of being for me. Solitude, silence and the freedom to prioritise my time and tasks according to my own values have brought so much peace to my heart. This even in a time when much is changing in my life and at such a fierce pace!

And to my small but loyal band of followers: of course I'll continue to write Surrender to the Infinite. Just a little less frequently. And I'm open to guest posts by others who believe in letting go as a path to freedom and joy - just contact me with your ideas and we can see what's possible.

In the meantime please visit me at Insight Astrology. I think you'll be impressed by how my skills have advanced!

Much love (you know who you are),


Monday, 28 July 2014

Letting go and forgiving our parents

I met a wonderful woman the other day. She is passionate, loyal and kind-hearted but she also carries a heavy burden. She is attached to the notion that it's her responsibility to fight against evil and for over ten years she's devoted her life to fighting the system, moving from one protest site to another, living from skips, sleeping in make-shift shelters, living under a false name. Always putting the needs of the cause before her own.

When she was young there was a lot of violence in her family. She and her younger sister developed different ways of coping with the fact that as children there was no way for them to prevent this violence, and no way to protect themselves or their loved ones. The younger sister seeks to defend others from such harm, and is training to become a police officer. My friend has taken a different path, but the burden is the same. Both feels it is their responsibility to prevent evil from taking place. Although one perceives this evil in men who commit domestic violence and the other sees it in the domination of multi-national corporations over nature, both are projecting their feelings of failure and inadequacy onto the outside world instead of facing it within themselves.

We all know the saying, 'the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children,' and we've all seen this principle at work in our own lives. Our parents, bless them, never had a chance to rehearse their roles as mums and dads. They were simply thrown into the task and we are the result of their failings, as well as their many successes. Sometimes, in situations where parents are under a lot of stress, or not mature enough to deal skillfully with the challenges of parenthood, the failings are very great and children grow up carrying around all sorts of misconceived ideas about themselves and the world around them. In fact if we look closely at ourselves we find that almost everyone is carrying around some kind of burden bequeathed on them by their parents. 

My friend grew up watching violence she could do nothing about and at some point her little mind was made up: there was no way she was going to let that sort of thing happen again. This makes logical sense to a child, but what it translates to in her adult life makes no logical sense at all. Instead of recognising that evil has been a part of human history since we made our first faltering steps on this planet, and likely will be until we breathe our last, she devotes all her energy to struggling fruitlessly against it, exhausting herself with one failed fight after another.

As with all projection, my friend has an inner conflict that she is externalising. Instead of looking directly at the anger and pain she carries inside her, she directs it into the outside world. Until she can reconcile this conflict her struggle against evil will never cease. Nor will it bring about the justice for which she strives. This is because she will not allow herself justice. For what does a frightened child need but nurturing, freedom to play, to be creative and to be loved. Instead she berates herself for even the smallest acts of selfishness. Taking a break from the cause after so many years is a cause to feel guilty. She feels herself to be a sell-out for wanting a home, the small comforts of warmth, good food and stability.

By recognising where we are carrying burdens unwittingly left to us by our parents, and withdrawing the projections we've created to shift responsibility away from ourselves, we are empowered to enjoy fully the abundant, joyful life and creative life that is waiting for us. When we can see our parents flaws as human instead of looking at them through the idealistic lens that expects perfection, we see they were doing the best they could with what they had. We can forgive them and free ourselves from this unwanted inheritance.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Letting go of vanity

I haven't written for this blog in a long time. To be honest, I haven't been feeling up to it. You see I've been struggling with a demon I'd suppressed for a long time and now he's out and he's vengeful!

The demon is called seborrheic dermatitis, an inflammatory skin condition I've been managing with mild cortisone creams. Finally, after many years, I'm acknowledging this is not a solution. In order to truly heal I have to find and understand the underlying cause and address it.

So I stopped the cream. Up came the rash and with it my vanity, my attachment to beauty!

It's very easy to say glibly that beauty comes from within when you feel pretty, but when you're looking in the mirror at a scaling, swollen red face it becomes much harder. All the insecurities I thought I'd gotten over came crushing back on top of me. The shyness and social anxiety, the fear of failure, that crushing sense of defeat and apathy we call depression. And all because my face is no longer beautiful!

I see clearly now just how much of my self-worth I've attached to my appearance. In truth I'm completely and utterly vain!

Letting go of physical beauty has been very hard for me and I still hold great hopes that I'll discover the root cause of the problem and regain my clear healthy skin. Of course this would be beneficial on many levels, as the rash is clearly only a symptom of a deeper malaise, however I've come to realise that even if I do not permanently lose my beauty now, I'll certainly lose it soon enough!

Letting go of vanity forces us to look deeper within ourselves to find our worth, to bring to the fore all the gifts and talents that truly give us value as human beings. These are the things most of our friends and family love us for. They may admire our beauty, but they love us for our kindness, our humour, our generosity.

Why is it then that we place such a high value on something so shallow? Could it be (shock, horror) that we've been brainwashed by our consumer culture? No... surely not!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Letting go and loving our dark side

It's been a challenging few days. Here I am in the beautiful medieval town of Bruges, staying with the family of my new Love and I feel incredibly lost and alone. Unlike my own family, who could variously be described as chaotic, nomadic, messy and complicated, this is a clan with generations of history in a town considered to be one of the best preserved in Europe. They're settled, this family, and they have customs. Customs I'm unfamiliar with, and that I unwittingly get wrong!

To make things worse, I don't speak a word of the language. And I'm sooooo different to them! I've spent the last two and a half years teaching permaculture in my gumboots, while they put on smart clothes each morning and go to their 9 to 5 jobs. I feel out of place here, like the ugly duckling who accidentally landed in a pond full of swans.

Isn't it weird that as soon as I'm without my community around me I begin to question my own way of being? I start thinking, 'Am I crazy? Shouldn't I be getting on with my career, having children, buying a house?' The sense of certainty I felt about the 'rightness' of my life path just a week ago has all but evaporated. I'm adrift in a sea of doubt. And my doubt makes me feel frustrated and ashamed.

Even this blog, which has been giving me so much creative satisfaction, has come under fire from my critical mind. Suddenly I feel it's too preachy, too idealistic. How can I write about something so lofty as spiritual non-attachment when I clearly just haven't 'got it' yet! And what about all those other darker aspects of self that don't seem to fit?

I've come across this before and those who know me best will attest to it. I find it difficult to accept that inside this basically good person are all kinds of dark inclinations and desires: self-loathing, masochism, fear, judgement and anger. Sheesh! Anger especially! 

Spiritual teachers tell us that we should integrate our dark side but I've always felt a bit at a loss as to how this can be done without turning a wonderfully diverse character into a bland grey persona. Because honestly I love my dark side, even though at times I feel uncomfortable with it. I like that I'm a wild cat when pissed off, and that I'm introspective enough to question my own opinions and occasionally notice that I'm being a complete dick and feel like crap about it.

However I want to be able to move between these emotions, these aspects of self, and not get lost in them. So that they become like films projected across my being and I can enjoy every single moment, even wallowing in self-pity or ranting at someone I love, because I can stand aside from it and not identify with any of it.

Because none of it is really who I am! In A New Earth - Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, Eckhart Tolle clarifies this when he writes, “You are not IN the universe, you ARE the universe, an intrinsic part of it. Ultimately you are not a person, but a focal point where the universe is becoming conscious of itself.”

Observing our reactions and allowing ourselves to experience every aspect of life, both 'light' and 'dark,' is part of our awakening process. I think the trick is not to get caught up in it, but to allow it to move through us freely while we remain firmly rooted in the present moment. Or as someone I no longer remember once put it: 'Don't jump in the river!' Just enjoy watching it flow on by :)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Letting go of creative control

When I was in Thailand recently I was responsible for cooking lunch for a group of twenty people each day. It was really fun but I was feeling challenged working with others, as I've just spent the last two years working closely with people and now have a strong urge to do something on my own. Because I'm attached to that idea, having to cooperate with others was pushing a few of my buttons!

So anyway, one night I lay awake and carefully imagined a beautiful meal based around hummus. What eventuated was something different; the girl making the hummus decided it was better kept til dinner and there was no hummus in the meal at all! Although it seems insignificant now, it rankled at the time because I was attached to my idea of how the meal should be. It made me feel grumpy towards her which made us both feel bad.

So the next day I thought I'd try to do things a bit differently. I decided to have no vision for the meal at all and to just provide the ingredients, fire and a clean environment for it to be created in. I chopped and washed vegetables and when someone asked my opinion about something I tried to counter with something like, "whatever you feel" or "just go with your intuition."

In the end the lunch was one of the yummiest we'd had and I did not cook at all! We had onion, pumpkin and chickpea stir fry by Jaun, savoury snake beans and morning glory by Letitia, an enormous salad by Ami covered in a garlicy sauce whipped up by Lucas. All this was followed by the gooey chocolatey goodness of Kokko's banana and sticky-rice bliss balls. OMG!!

The benefits of letting go of creative control are self-evident!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Letting go of a lover

Letting go a of a lover can be especially difficult if you’re in the habit of basing your self-worth on whether of not you’re loved by someone else. Being dependent on someone for this sort of reassurance is very disempowering, because it leads directly to what the Buddhists call craving and aversion. We crave the pleasant sensations of being with our lover and having them give us affection, compliments and love, while at the same time doing everything we can to avoid having to experience the pain of separation, rejection or abandonment. 

This kind of attachment only leads to suffering. On the one hand we become fixated on ensuring that things remain the way we feel they need to be, which is very hard work! In fact it’s impossible – how can one person control a situation that involves so many external variables, including the will and desires of another person? We will only exhaust ourselves trying… On the other hand, clinging to another person is the best way to push someone out of your life, creating the classic pursuer-distancer dynamic that is guaranteed to bring an early end to your relationship.

So how do you let go of a lover? You settle back into your centre and remember that you are a divine being in a human body, eternal and wise and beautiful. You are one with all that is and despite how things may seem nothing can ever be separate from you. You remind yourself that this person is in your life for a reason, but that this reason may not be what you think it is in your romantic mindset. Then you bless your lover and yourself, letting go of any desired outcome you have for the relationship, in the knowledge that to truly learn from each other the two of you must be free.

Then you take a bath, go for a walk or treat yourself to some creative time, giving yourself the love and appreciation that you would otherwise seek from a lover. And you allow your lover to be exactly who they are, a soul on a journey, learning and growing as they go. You give thanks that this beautiful soul is in your life, or that they have been in your life, and if you can you make sure they know how grateful you are. But you express this gratitude not so that your lover will give you something in return, but simply because you are an overflowing expression of unconditional love and because in the giving of love you yourself are nourished.

Still feeling a bit muddled about all this? Then check out the great article How to get over someone over at Confustulation blog. Or if this is a repetitive pattern for you and you really need to dig a little deeper I can personally recommend the following books on the topic:

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Letting go of shame

Lately I've been noticing the role shame plays in my life and how it limits and inhibits my true expression. Nothing is more sure of sending us into a state of depression, indecision or denial than shame! And all these feelings inhibit our ability to make wise and courageous choices in our lives. The kind of choices that expand our lives and our sense of what is possible.

Shame is different to guilt which usually only shows its head when you've deliberately or maliciously wronged someone. But shame can attack even when no one has been hurt at all! I might feel ashamed of the chubby parts of my body or of my off-beat sexual fantasies or because I feel I haven't lived up to my own high expectations. Everyone has their own shame triggers.

Guilt is more of a function of traditional and accepted notions of right and wrong, whereas shame can be attached to all manner of odd things. For example the other day I was sitting by the window and catching a movement out of the corner of my eye I looked up to see if my boyfriend were coming up the drive; afterward I felt a twinge of shame for caring so much about him! Yes it's bizarre but this is how shame works. It's attached to all sorts of wrong-headed beliefs that we hold about ourselves, others and the world around us.

Shame causes us to become stuck for a number of reasons. Firstly, it can cause us to start beating ourselves up which weakens us spiritually and makes it difficult for us to make empowered decisions. Secondly it can make us feel that we're not deserving of the good things in life. And thirdly it can send us into a state of denial where we unconsciously block out key facts about a situation that we need to know in order to make wise choices.

Letting go of shame requires us to first develop our self-awareness so that we become very clear about the beliefs we are holding onto that trigger shame. These beliefs may have been passed down to you from your parents, or perhaps they were developed in response to experiences that occurred earlier in your life. Either way they need to be explicitly understood and seen for what they are: just one way of looking at things.

Next it's important to become really clear about whether these beliefs are useful to you. Perhaps they were once, but if they're now triggering shame you can be sure they have outlived their usefulness! Ask yourself: 'What is another way I could look at this?' Even just realising that there is another perspective on the matter can help you see that your belief is not the only truth.

Meditation and the daily practice of mindfulness can help us notice when shame occurs and we can then trace the experience to a preceding thought, slowly deconstructing our ideologies and replacing these destructive beliefs with more life-affirming ones. By letting go of these beliefs day-by-day we can gradually free ourselves from shame. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Letting go of the need for success

There's a great line in a song I like by the band Modest Mouse; it goes 'Do you even believe there's a race to be won?' To me it's a very profound question because of all the many things our society tells us to believe the idea that we should strive to be 'successful' is one that is very rarely questioned.

Before we go on it's important to understand what success actually means to you because there's a lot of different definitions floating around out there. For some people success is about becoming better and better, it's about improving yourself, perfecting your skills. For others it's about using your talents to your greatest potential. For many it's about achieving what you set out to achieve. But the most common definition we find for success in our competitive world is that of beating others, winning, being the best.

All these definitions are to my mind problematic. Those definitions that emphasise self-improvement seem suspect to me because they imply that we are not good enough as we are, that we need to somehow prove our worth. And defining success as the achievement of a desired outcome suggests that we always know what is best for us in any given situation and denies the fact that sometimes the most undesired outcome turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. But it's the last definition that I find particularly fraught with complications, because if I'm going to be the best, have the most or win, then by implication there must be someone out there who is going to be the worst, have the least or lose. And this is not the kind of world that I would like to contribute to creating.

Being attached to success can lead us to push aggressively against ourselves, others or the harmonious natural flow of the universe. By doing this we separate ourselves from each other, become weak and exhausted and often miss out on wonderful opportunities because we are fixated on our goals and not receptive to other possibilities. Often if we really look at our need for success we find that what we really need is the approval or respect of others around us. This need for approval can really warp the choices we make in life and lead us down the wrong path.

So is there really a race to be won? I don't think so... In fact I think the idea of success is promoted in our society because at a fundamental level the socially unjust and ecologically destructive economic structures of our times require continual growth and to achieve this people must work long hours and buy many unnecessary products. Promoting 'success' is a wonderful way to co-opt people into both working hard and acquiring things. The intrinsic value of the work being done and the products being consumed is not questioned because the value of 'success' is so widely accepted and ingrained.

Letting go of the need to be successful means accepting that we are beautiful and worthwhile even without great accomplishments, material possessions and social status. It's about acknowledging that no matter how good we are at something, even if we are the best in the world, this will not necessarily bring us happiness. And it's about seeing that every human being has talents and qualities that make them an indispensable part of the Earth community.

Success is easier to let go of if you get in touch with your motivations for wanting to be successful in the first place. By becoming self aware, and by observing the thoughts you attach to the idea of success, both in meditation and through cultivating moment-by-moment mindfulness, you can begin to detach. In fact just noticing that you are attached is the first step! Now you can move towards a different idea of personal fulfillment, one that doesn't involve competing with yourself or others, or resisting the harmonious natural flow of the universe. 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Letting go of anger

The other day a good friend of mine came out and said some things that really blew me away... Not only were the things he said deeply hurtful but many were also untrue. You know how it goes. We've all had this type of experience with friends. In fact if they weren't friends it's unlikely that what they say would hurt us at the level that it does.

Of course I found myself absolutely seething at this person. I wrote him letters in my head in which I named him as the most self-righteous, demanding, selfish and judgmental person I had ever met. But unfortunately my emotions were so strong that I found it impossible to actually communicate with him about any of this. I just fumed inside while he was left wondering what I was so upset about.

This anger invaded every area of my life. Even my daily meditations were affected; I just couldn't take my focus away from the stream of hateful and condemning thoughts. I felt trapped and controlled by my emotions even as I could see that they were counter-productive.

In order to escape from the anger I thought that I would simply stop being friends with this person and I rationalised in my mind that really we had very little in common, that our ideas of what a good friendship should be differed radically. But this was just my way of avoiding having to come to terms with the fact that my anger, not my friend, was the cause of my unhappiness and that what I really needed to do to regain my peace of mind was not to let go of my friend but to let go of my angst.

What brought me to the point of realisation was when I acknowledged that I felt controlled by my emotions, rather than being in control of them. But the silly thing is that I was actually giving this control away, by clinging so firmly to the story I was telling myself, the story that justified my anger. The story went something like this: 'I can't believe that after all these years he can have so little understanding of me, that he is so self-absorbed that he thinks only of his own needs and demands that I meet them, while having no interest in what is going on in my life.'

When I was able to acknowledge that this story was just one way of looking at the situation, and that it was in fact a distorted view, I was able to take responsibility for my anger. I could then see that it was an emotion chosen by me and not caused by someone else, that I did in fact have a choice in the emotions that I experienced. I was then able to recognise that anger was not a pleasant or productive emotion for me at this time and was able to let it go. 

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Letting go of grudges

I've always thought of myself as a pretty forgiving person because I really believe that we do not forgive for the sake of others, we forgive in order to be freed from the burden of the past. However recently I discovered that deep down I had been harbouring a bitter resentment towards someone who had hurt me many years before. Holding onto this grudge, even sub-consciously, had begun to distort many areas of my life, even down to the way in which I made decisions about my career and my future.

You see I had thought that I had forgiven this person years ago and it wasn't until I heard news that he had changed careers and was doing remarkably well in the field in which I myself worked that I found myself feeling some really intense feelings of dislike and anger towards him. 'What is he doing muscling in on me like this? Who does he think he is?' I even started to distance myself from this area of my work and to tell myself that I wasn't really interested in it anymore. I couldn't accept that I would have to come second to this person. I began to think of myself in opposition to this person by creating a separation between us that doesn't really exist. I could then turn him into an enemy. 

Of course this person had no idea I was feeling this way. From his perspective we were 'ok'. We had talked over our problems years ago and I had forgiven him. Or so we had both thought at the time. My grudge towards this person were harming only myself. I became caught up in thoughts and feelings that made me feel unhappy and incompetent, and even risked losing the work I love and through which I can make a useful contribution to the world.

So how can we let go of a grudge like this that is so deep seated as to be almost unconscious? Well I believe the first key is to see how so many of the things we resent from our past have actually been opportunities to grow and to change, or have created turns in the path that have led us to where we are now. We become stronger through crises such as these and because these people have instigated this growth and change we can choose to think of them with gratitude instead of resentment. In fact some teachers even suggest that such people are actually crucial to our life journey and without them we would not be able to evolve to our full potential.

Secondly, it's important to see where your own actions played a role in your own hurt. We are never victims in this life but active agents manifesting our reality from moment to moment. Look back at the situation and you will probably see where you failed to follow your intuition, or acted in anger or with a lack of consciousness. Maybe you should have spoken up about something, stood up for yourself, or even walked away. But you didn't. You cannot pretend that you were not involved and cast all the blame on the other person.

Finally, I think it's important to see that we can only see another as an enemy when we think of them as separate from us. Discoveries in quantum physics are showing that our idea of separateness, of independence, is really only an illusion created by the mind. We are in fact one being, we co-create our reality. When we acknowledge this it becomes much harder to hold a grudge, for who are we resenting but our self?

Letting go of our grudges frees us from our past, from our painful, obsessive and illusory thoughts, and allows us to move into a place where we can trust that everything that happens is an opportunity for growth and change. We are not a victim of life but its creator. We are not separate from each other but interdependently linked, constantly co-creating ourselves and our reality.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Letting go of needing things to turn out 'right'

Over the last few months my partner and I have been going through what most people would call a 'rocky patch'. We've become really reactive to each other and have both said and done many hurtful things. Things are definitely not 'right' between us. There's a lot of resentment and anger and we're finding it hard to forgive.

Because I'm the sort of person who likes things to be just so, I'm having a hard time accepting this 'not rightness'. I feel that I need to do something to change the situation, or to change him, or to change myself. I struggle with this feeling of uncertainty and transition and I feel that if I can't make things 'right', right now, then I might as well give up, run away.

But what I'm realising is that it is often in these times of chaos, or pain and disillusionment, that real transformation occurs. As Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön advises, when things fall apart, when we cannot get a handle on anything anymore, when we lose all control, then an opportunity is created to reconstruct things in a new way.

It's the same when our plans don't turn out the way we want them to. Here we can either struggle and moan, fixating on our idea of how things 'should' be, or we can let go and allow this new set of circumstances to reveal itself to us. Perhaps it is life's gift; even if it is a challenge it could still provide an opportunity for us to look at ourselves differently, to expand our idea of ourselves or the world around us. It's all about perspective, of acknowledging that just because life doesn't feel 'right' (according to our limited idea of what right is) doesn't mean that life isn't in fact perfect as it is. 

Life's perfection is chaotic and it's just this quality that makes it so magically synchronistic and replete with potential. We can never predict or control it, and if we try that's when things start to go wrong. When we resist life it starts to become deformed, things don't flow so smoothly anymore, the wheels and cogs of life become snagged on our rigidity, our refusal to surrender to it's infinite possibilities. 

Learning to let go of the need for things to turn out 'right' seems at first like a hard task. But if we look at it another way we can see that holding on takes a lot of energy. Letting go just means relaxing, falling back into the arms of life, trusting that all will be well. When we see it in this way letting go becomes a simpler way of living. We don't have to worry so much anymore. As Eckhart Tolle advises, we can simply 'allow things to be as they are'. This is true freedom.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Letting go of needing to be liked

Most of us spend a lot of time censoring our behaviour because we don't want to be disapproved of by others. In fact many of us actively make decisions in order to make sure that others like, respect and approve of us.

Why do we do this? One reason is that we have learned to define ourselves by the responses we receive from others. If others are impressed by our intelligence, tell us we're beautiful or that we've done a good job then we feel validated. We feel worthy. This method works just fine as long as we can ensure that people only think and say good things about us. But as soon as the criticisms start making an appearance we fall apart. What makes it all the more ridiculous is that our self-identity is often so fragile that one little negative remark can override years of compliments and approval. Someone thinks an idea we had is impractical and suddenly we feel as though we are incapable of having a good idea ever again!

Clearly this is a very tenuous way to live. It sets us up to be constantly swinging from self-confidence to self-doubt. We will always feel needy of others' attention, always looking for the next kind word that will buoy us up. Perhaps more importantly it prevents us from living our lives freely and to our fullest potential because every time we open our mouths or consider doing something a little differently we end up thinking: 'But what will other people say?' If we cannot be completely sure that other people's responses will be positive we may avoid doing something that could help us learn, expand our horizons or express our creativity. We are trapped by this need for others' approval.

It's easy enough to see how this works in theory but how does one become free from this need to be liked? Well it all comes down to how you define your self. Underneath the part of us that is a reflection of other people's responses (sometimes called the ego) there is another self that doesn't give a damn what others think. Accessing this deeper self is the key to letting go of the need to be liked.

Connecting with our deeper self can be achieved through practicing meditation and mindfulness in everyday life. When we meditate we watch our fears and desires flit across the screen of our mind without becoming attached to them. We let them come and go without judgment; we just observe. This part of the self that observes is the deeper self. Sometimes it is called the witness because it doesn't get involved in the action, it doesn't have any needs or fears of its own. It is beyond fear and desire.

When we have accessed this deeper self, and become more and more identified with it, it becomes easy to let go of the need to be liked.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Letting go of the need to be right

Have you ever found yourself passionately involved in an argument about something that doesn't really matter at all and yet you will not give up your point of view? Say you're arguing about who's turn it is to do the dishes, or why dogs bark more at night, or whether the Queen of England is the richest women in the world. The outcome of the argument has very little bearing on your life, or on the lives of others, and yet you somehow cannot back down. You are determined to prove that you are right and the other person is wrong!

Many wonderful relationships have been ruined because of the inability to let go of the need to be right. In the moment we feel so completely justified in our position that we somehow convince ourselves that we are prepared to sacrifice both our own happiness and the happiness of our friend in order to prove it. At the same time we close ourselves off from learning anything new because to do so would require us to let go of our solidified perspective on the world and to open up to other ideas and viewpoints.

Why do we feel this need to be right? One reason is that our self-esteem is so fragile that we associate being wrong with not being good enough. Even if we know deep down that we are mistaken we can sometimes go into denial and continue arguing til we're blue in the face. The irony of this is that by being so stubborn we often cause others to lose respect for us.

If we have attached our self-esteem to being right it can be difficult to let go of it. One thing that can be helpful is to remember how vast and mysterious the universe really is and to acknowledge that our understanding of it can only ever be partial. That goes for all of us; we're all in the same boat here! Therefore even if you do not know, or are mistaken, this is only to be expected. It does not mean that you are stupid, and it does not mean that you are not good enough.

Another thing that is helpful in letting go of being right is to cultivate mindfulness. When we are mindful we tend to be more aware of what we are about to say before we say it. Thus we tend to avoid getting involved in pointless arguments in the first place. We are also more likely to notice when we are getting attached to our point of view. You'll come to a point where you think, 'Hang on. Does this really matter? What am I getting so worked up about?' It then becomes much easier to acknowledge the other person's perspective and move on to more meaningful discussion.

Cultivating mindfulness also gives you a different view of yourself in relationship to the world. As you watch your thoughts in meditation you find that 'the observer', the part of you that watches the thoughts as they flow through your mind, is unconcerned with your day-to-day anxieties and insecurities. This self doesn't have poor self-esteem, in fact this self doesn't need to be esteemed. All those thoughts in your head that tell you you're not good enough, they're just obscuring this deeper self. When you become connected to this deeper self you become pure peace, and being good enough or pretty enough or smart enough just doesn't matter any more.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Letting go of being perfect

In the past I was one of those people who's addicted to self-help books. Why? Because I've always felt there was something wrong with me that I had to fix, something that I could improve about myself. I felt that until I was perfect I was not worthy of love.

In my work especially I felt I needed things to be just so... Even when I did my best I always felt that I could have somehow done better, that the work I produced was somehow flawed. If someone gave me negative feedback it would send me into a tail spin!

This way of looking at myself meant that for a long time I seemed to attract partners who reflected back my need for perfection. They were always offering suggestions on how I could correct this or that fault, or how I could improve myself. On the other hand, because I had such high expectations of myself I also demanded perfection in them. Needless to say we made one another pretty unhappy!

It took me a long time to realise that achieving perfection is both impossible and undesirable, not to mention that in striving for it we lead ourselves into all manner of difficulties along the way. By expecting perfection of ourselves we set ourselves up to fail over and over and over again, at least in our own eyes. Other people may be impressed by our work, they may love us dearly despite all our flaws but this is never enough. We never believe in their love or praise because in terms of our own aims we have fallen far short.

Letting go of the need to be perfect is difficult, though I've found along the way that a few things can help us along.

Firstly, look to nature; nature is replete with desperately beautiful things that are deeply flawed if looked at from the perspective of conventional beauty. Nature is messy, smelly and seemingly disorganised but somehow harmonious. When we look at our own lives we can see many parallels here; we begin to appreciate that it is our 'imperfections' that make us uniquely, beautifully, who we are.

Secondly, daily meditation helps us to become mindful of our thoughts so that instead of working towards perfection we instead start to notice the kind of thoughts and actions that work for us and those that don't. For example we may notice that drinking a lot of alcohol when we're depressed simply makes us more depressed, so we stop doing that so often. We don't stop because we want to be a better person or to live up to some ideal, we stop simply because we can see clearly that it doesn't work for us.

We no longer struggle to change, we simply let go of what no longer serves us.         

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Letting go of possessions

Very recently I was traveling overseas and had stored a lot of things in my brother's backyard shed. While I was away a great flood came through the area and a lot of my things were badly damaged. In particular, many of my favourite books were ruined.

Now for me a book holds something of a sacred virtue. I know this sounds nerdy but books have been the doorway to so much pleasure, learning and insight that I place them on a sort of pedestal! So of course I was upset. I grilled my brother over the phone. Exactly which books had been damaged? How badly had the water affected them? Were they still readable? I ruminated about the whole thing for hours wishing that I had made a different decision about where I stored my stuff, blaming myself for being so stupid, wondering if my brother could have done something more to have saved them.

Then it occurred to me that most of the books I own I haven't read for years and yet I dutifully haul them from house to house whenever I move. Moreover I have dusted and sorted them, and made room for them in my sometimes small living spaces. Really I was better off without these books!

The other thing I realised was that many of the books I own help me create an identity that I use to present myself to others. You know how we gravitate towards someone's bookshelf when we visit them for the first time? How we judge their character by the titles they own? Well I wanted other people to be impressed by the books in my shelf, to think of me as a certain type of person: a serious-minded, intelligent and spiritual person with a wide range of interesting hobbies. Many of the possessions we own are used for the same purpose: to impress those around us in some way, to present to the world a persona that we think of as an ideal. For example we may want others to think of us as wealthy, or stylish or unique; in all these cases possessions can provide a means of demonstrating this persona to others.

Image: Copyright Petr0.

So beneath our attachment to possessions often lies a deeper attachment: the need for others to approve of us, respect or like us. And this attachment ties us up in even more knots than the first! When we are attached to the good opinion of others we are forever afraid that our mask will slip, that we will ultimately reveal who we really are and that this 'real' person will not be good enough. Moreover by creating this identity with our possessions we cut ourselves off from others and this can lead to feelings of separation, loneliness and alienation.

Letting go of possessions can be liberating not just because we now have less things to clean around, dust, move, organise and tidy, but also because by letting go of these identity props both we and others will see us more clearly. This is not so scary as it might sound: in fact life becomes simpler, we become more genuine as human beings and we move closer to the truth of who we really are.