It’s been a busy couple of weeks with little down-time to reflect and put down my thoughts. We’ve just farewelled a second group of visitors who, along with the first family who stayed with us, meant that overall we were a house of twelve people for the last two and a half weeks! Needless to say, it’s been fantastic to have good friends and family join us for their holiday break and to be able to share with them our beautiful coastal town and beaches. Both families are amazingly easy to get along with and are great house-guests, but the energy of twelve people in the home meant little down-time or space for quiet reflection. And it proved to surface an important learning on my journey.
Since my last post there’s been a lot going on, but one of the learnings that came up today while pondering what to write is that of decisions – the type that are small and numerous each day, yet are the most difficult to identify and then make, and ones that I’m finding require a healthy level of Mindfulness to make. And they’re not be what you would normally think of as the ‘hard decisions’ that we’re familiar with. The type of decisions I’m talking about are the little decisions we make (or don’t make) in relation to our inner dialogue; the conversation and words we have with ourselves when we ‘think’ things don’t go our way, or when we worry about the past or future, or get angry/frustrated with someone or something.
I’ve made some really big life decisions over the past year in order to take an extended break from my career (permanent or not is still to be determined) and to move out of city-living and into a coastal community. Each were huge decisions with some pretty significant ramifications; for my career, our family’s financials, as well as wider family and relationships. I’ve stepped out of a successful career mid-life, some would say at a time where I was flying; in deciding not to formally work while I take the time to reflect and determine my future, my wife has happily gone back to work and is solely supporting our family financially – which poses a significant difference in the lifestyle choices we are now afforded for the foreseeable future; and we’ve moved our family to a regional coastal town where we needed to make new friends and start the kids at new schools. All big decisions – hard ones that took much reflection and discussion – but we’re pleased we found the courage to make such significant changes and are loving life, albeit with the new challenges we created for ourselves in doing so.
These decisions, while instrumental in my seeking a life that is more true to myself and the need to find out who/what that is along the way, were simply the ‘framework’ needed to lay a foundation. In that I mean they were some of the ‘macro’ decisions that were required in order to take me/us out of an environment and way of living that we were no longer aligned with. That in itself is amazing and we’re loving our new life, but I’m finding that now, the real work has begun.
The type of decisions I’m talking about in this post are the internal ‘micro’ decisions that form part our daily lives; the internally oriented decisions that we consciously, or unconsciously, make inside our mind each moment of every day when thoughts arise in response to external or internal stimuli. Becoming aware of them in the first place is a challenge for most of us – which brings me to the topic of Mindfulness.
I recently read in a blog post on Mindfulness (How to Live Your Truth ) that the one of the things that stops people from living a life that’s true to them is a lack of awareness – a lack of Mindfulness in the author’s terms. Without mindfulness, or awareness of ourselves, we tend to live much of our lives on ‘autopilot’ and when we’re on autopilot we often fall into conditioned, mechanical patterns of thought and behavior… most of which we did not consciously choose, and most of which was handed down to us from our culture and upbringing. Sound familiar?
The author goes on to write that “living in unawareness like this leads to a sense of discontent and disconnection from ourselves” – exactly how I’ve been feeling for some time now…maybe even years. For me this has varied from something akin to a low hum of unsettlement running in the background that I learned to put up with as ‘normal anxiety’, to a more conscious brooding on ‘what could be wrong’ with me in the face of what I’d previously taken on board as ‘success and happiness’.
When we’re on autopilot, we’re not conscious or mindful of our own energies and how they affect us or the people around us when not controlled. With my own self; this could be allowing a frustration about something minor get to me (we all know someone we say has a hot temper or easily flustered), or to let it stew and then brood in my thoughts long after the inconsequential event has passed. Or, it could be ruminating on the uncertainty of my future and allowing that energy to take hold – feeling the anxiety cloud a potential sense of peace that is there in the moment, waiting to be experienced. In the past, I simply thought of this as ‘me’ thinking these things and that my reaction, while not socially desirable, was most often justified and therefore the reason for my emotional response (whether internally or externally).
Mindfulness means ‘waking up’ out of that autopilot and connecting deeply with ourselves and our lives. For me to ‘wake up’ and connect deeply with myself, I’m working on being more Mindful so that I have a sense of balance and control where that type of negative energy can be contained and channeled for good.
Mindfulness gives us the capacity not only to ‘listen to our hearts’ and to stay in touch with what’s meaningful to us, but it also gives us the ability to respond (from our values) and not to react (from old conditioning).
For some of you that know me, I’ve been practicing Yoga and meditation for a few years now (not always consistently) and I’ve found that they’re great practices for helping me connect my head with my heart, or more practically for me to date..mind and body. What I’ve learned over the past couple of weeks though, is that while it’s beneficial to make time each day or week to practice Yoga, meditation or some other form of contemplative practice, the real challenge is to be Mindful in between those times we set aside for such practices – to be Mindful every moment of every day. Something I’m sure Eckhart Tolle writes about in his book “The Power of Now”…which incidentally sits on my bookshelf unread! (note to self…add to reading list).
How this links to Decisions and my other blogs?
I feel that in order to find a place of stillness within my mind so that I can become conscious of who I really am and understand what sort of life will nourish me, one of the things I need to do is to become more Mindful not just during external practices such as meditation or Yoga, but during every moment of every day. Being more Mindful means I will be better able to identify and catch those ‘energies’ that cause anxiety, anger, frustration, resentment, discontent as they rise, avoiding a useless waste of emotion and energy, essentially draining me of energy that could be used elsewhere.
Most of the time we don’t see emotions as energy that can be controlled or contained; we simply identify with them in the moment and place some blame/cause on something or someone outside of us. For example “he/she did this so therefore that’s why I’m frustrated or angry”, or “what if such and such happens, what will that mean for me?”
I’m learning that in that moment, as that energy rises, we have a Decision to make: do I let it take hold of me and blow up into something that ultimately damages me or keeps me from living a happier and more content life in every moment, and therefore all of the time? Or do I learn to catch the energy before it takes hold, learning to identify and observe the energy as it rises, and then gently but firmly directing it back into reserve for a positive use?
I’m not necessarily talking about an external loss of control – flared tempers, frustrations or verbal rumination of past or future events. It’s the inner dialogue that we have with ourselves on an ongoing basis – our thoughts and self-talk. The big Decisions we face, which I believe are more important than how we respond/act externally, is what do we do with the negative energies from the space of our inner world?
They are the hardest Decisions to make because, well frankly, it’s really hard.
With courage and support we can make macro Decisions that change our external lives; and we learn to control our physical reactions to situations as we mature and get more experienced. But the real challenge comes when we do the work with our internal lives and are faced with making Decisions on how we think and react to situations in our own minds.
For me, making those really hard internal decisions when I feel such negative emotions arise is what I need to do again and again, and again. Whether it takes tens, hundreds, or a thousand times a day, I believe that eventually a new way of being will arise where I’m consciously in control of negative energies that otherwise left unchecked will continue to block my quest for deep inner knowledge and guidance.
Sometimes the hardest Decision is going to be the one we make right now, in this moment.