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.

Letting go of our ideal world

One of the things I find most difficult to let go of is my vision of an ideal world.

For many years now I have worked as a social and environmental activist trying to bring about change through education and community development. At first this work came from a sense of outrage: how could people be so greedy and selfish, so blind to the suffering of others and so ignorant of the beauty around them? After a while I began to realise that people do not mean to cause harm. Mostly people act out of fear, or out of a desire to build a secure, happy and safe little world for themselves and their families. So my work began to be about developing awareness, building connections and demonstrating a better way of living.

But of course no matter how noble our desire for change may be the world does not conform to our ideals. If we are too attached to this ideal then inevitably we will begin to feel as though our work means nothing, that nothing is changing. And we think that we cannot be happy while the world is the way that it is. At this point a feeling of hopelessness sets in. Even though we realise that we cannot change the whole world we still cling to our precious vision, we still refuse to accept the way things are even though we can see that we are struggling against the current.

Image: Copyright AD-Passion.

Letting go of how we want things to be is easier if we are able to acknowledge that we cannot always see the full picture, that reality is a much more complicated place than we can comprehend. It's useful to use the metaphor of a camera lens to see this more clearly. We can zoom in close and then our little world and our concerns about it are very real, or we can zoom out and see, perhaps for the first time, that our planet is a tiny speck of dust in the immensity of a vast universe, and that our human species has existed only for a second in the larger timescale of universal ages. We see more clearly that these things are not our responsibility to fix and we can let go of our struggle to change them, our need for things to be a certain way.

In reality the polarities of hot and cold, dark and light, good and evil are necessary to sustain the dynamic equilibrium that makes our world the wondrous, diverse and magical place that it is. The universal laws that govern life are constantly working to keep these polarities in balance but this is not a static process; there is a continuous movement from balance to imbalance and back again. From our limited perspective we cannot see this very long-term, very large-scale process. We see only that things look out of whack to us and so we panic.

Ironically by letting go we are freed to act in ways that we may not have seen from our narrow perspective. When we are tethered to an ideal we quite often also tie ourselves to all sorts of dogmas that prevent us from making a wise and loving choice in the present moment. We are too busy scheming, too caught up in our strategies and plans to see the potential for change right here and right now. Usually this change is what we social engineers might see as insignificant: perhaps it involves correcting a prejudice we've been carrying unconsciously in our minds, or maybe it's a simple connection between two people. Yet if we use our telephoto lens again we see that small acts such as these can change the world too: because the microcosm is just as significant as the macrocosm. It just depends on how you look at things.