Antidote – a rich internal life

Seth Godin, former dot com business executive and author, said,

Instead of wondering when our next vacation is, we should set up a life we don’t need to escape from.

What a challenge!

A rich internal life is an antidote to the pervading sense of dread and anxiety that we come across each day. When we are in touch with the richness of our internal life, we will no longer be dependent on an external life for escape.

The present external life

No matter where you are on this quest of setting up a life which you don’t want to escape from, you’re likely experiencing a degree of disappointment and dejection in the current environment. The prospect of the next vacation is bleak, and international travel almost non-existent.

Where do you go now, when options to escape from a high-stress or dissatisfied life are narrower than before? The distractions you allow yourself as consolations or rewards, the activities you indulge in to remind yourself that the way you live is worthwhile indeed, the activities you attend as temporary anesthesia – they are now severely reduced.

Even the most outward focused of us are compelled to reconsider our options. We now must find our respite from our work and in our home, and to maintain our sense of connection and belonging within a smaller social group.

Why an internal life?

This is the epoch to return to our internal life. 

It is time to return to greater appreciation of introspection, depth and meaning. It is necessary especially when we have to keep our own company more often than before.

And this internal life can be scary. Consciously or otherwise, many of us have taken quite resolute steps to not peek into this space while others have been oblivious to the need for it. And many more are tapping into it to varying degrees.

Where are you?

An internal life is the world within us, encompassing the mental and emotional spaces and spiritual by nature.

A rich internal life means you are self-aware and clear about your values, and well-equipped to manage your emotions. It means you have a calm and focused mind, with optimal level of resilience. 

To attain a rich internal life

Here are the preconditions to having a rich internal life:

  • time alone – in this place where  you are not performing nor entertained, and you are required to keep yourself company. 
  • independence – you must do this exploration and interrogation of your internal life on your own; no amount of discussion with close family and friends will assist in a resolution, in fact it may be counter-productive. Take time to nurture your ability to comfort, discipline, inspire, educate and entertain yourself.

Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company. ~ Seneca

  • curiosity – and here, you will give yourself permission to explore all aspects of yourself, the desirables and the undesirables. Let your imagination and fantasies take flight.
  • focus – you will spend time making friends with your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Learn to discipline your thoughts, and to choose what you pay attention to. Most importantly, focus and choose your daily behaviours and habits. They matter.

Remember that at any given moment there are a thousand things you can love.  ~ David Levithan

Necessary growth

When we emerge from the current environmental restrictions, will we be more aware? Will we know ourselves better? Will we like ourselves better?

This is the growth to aspire to. 

© Transfigure Therapy 2020

 

Busy is not a four-letter word

“Busy” is not a four-letter word. Busyness is not a badge of honour.

People have looked at me with “sad” eyes when I said I was busy, extending their sympathy to something perceived as negative and perhaps concluding  that I must not like it. Similarly on many occasions when I enquired about someone’s professional (or personal) life only to receive this reply – “oh, so busy”. These same people who seemed to be perpetually busy, as if proudly saying to the world, “look at me, I have much to do!” when what I could see was weariness and irritability.  

Have you encountered someone who is happily busy?

Many articles in recent times are denouncing the glorification of busyness, how being busy can negatively affect our mental health, that busyness  is unnecessary and that we ought to embrace the slow movement.

All true, but none is absolute.

The practical reality is, there are times when we are busy – necessary times when we work more hours that we’d like. There are times when accomplishing what we set out to do notwithstanding the long hours is fulfilling and a boost to our sense of self. Sometimes our perception is skewed in those moments when we are under intense time pressure and professional demands. Yes, busyness seems like an undesirable thing.

Yet if we pay attention and as we slowly zoom out for a wider view, away from our keen focus on the “harried life”, we may notice that we did work long hours or cram our day with many deadlines but only for a short period.

What we pay attention to, is amplified.

Through our perception and our narrative interpretation, we in fact create a world which becomes our reality. 

What does “busy” even mean? Busy is essentially keeping ourselves occupied or having a great deal to do. It does not speak of the quality of the occupations.

“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” ~ Henry David Thoreau

The meaning and purpose of these occupations to us are what differentiate the felt sense of “being busy”. It can feel great or it may seem too much of a burden. 

What does “busy” mean to you, now? On this occasion? 

Instead of unknowingly defaulting to saying “busy” with a sigh or hearing “busy” with a flinch, perhaps we ought to find out the nature of this busyness and to have a conversation about being busy, with mindful awareness, within context and without the bounds of common narratives.

Are you the always-busy kind of person, or just busy at this moment? How do you tell?

Or are you determined to take it slow? Because the opposite is also true. Going slow is not a badge of honour, and slow is not a bad word either.

As we head to the end of the year, to the much longed-for break in the festive season, consider this.

Why are you choosing to be busy or to take it slow? 

 

 

© Transfigure Therapy 2019

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Preparing for self-awareness

Can you conceive of the “why” to what you  say or do? Beyond the reasons and rationalising.

To thine own self be true”, Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet. So how can we “be true” unless we know our self?

What do we mean when we speak of self- awareness and “being conscious” of our words and actions??

To be self-aware requires attention and effort. It is easier and quicker to evaluate others’ words and actions, or judge their motives and intentions than it is to decipher ours.

Perhaps unthinkingly or unconsciously we direct our attention outwards more often than we do inwards because it is challenging to look at ourselves, especially our Shadow (to use Carl Jung’s term) – this unconscious aspect of our personality which our conscious ego has trouble acknowledging or seeing.

Self-awareness will allow us to know our humanity and our place in it. We then are able to understand and know others .

So how do we learn to be self-aware? We have to be prepared

  • to be present to, and aware of our thoughts and feelings. A contemplative practice is useful, and over time, it will become easier. I have no answer as to the measure of time this may be for you nor even for myself.  It is not about arriving somewhere. I am not certain if there is even a destination we need concern ourselves with.  It is the contemplative practice itself which brings to light the judgement, blame and shame we hold and from which we act.
  • to hold our flaws gently in the palms of my hands, sometimes in playful lightness, sometimes in repose, always mindful to not judge.  In this I do not always succeed. That is okay too. The very act of being aware of my Shadow is by itself, empowering and humbling – to walk this life with consciousness.  The crux is to know when we are judging; if we can name it, we are more likely to be able to let the act or thought go.  

The essence of any contemplative practice is twofold – silence and stillness. As opposed to being ‘silenced’ by a fear, in protest or by resignation, silence in meditation is empowering because we come to sit in that space in which we are aware of ourselves, of our world and our relationship with the world; and we then have the choice to accept ourselves for who we are – to be true.

“The point [of meditation] is not to improve yourself …but to come back to who you are, the awareness that is your birthright” ~ Jack Kornfield

To do this,

  • we need to be prepared to turn to which is difficult in order to learn something of value,
  • be willing to seat ourselves in the middle of everything, joys and sorrows,
  • to trust this space of awareness with a loving and compassionate heart, and
  • to acknowledge this is our humanity.

Be still instead of perpetually chasing or running away. This is what it means to be present – to not look to our history and judge and attempt to fix it, to not look to our future and judge it against ideals we have inherited from our past or history.

Presence and awareness becomes the springboard from which we take our next steps – understanding and evaluating, inwards and outwards.

As Zen master, Suzuki Roshi, said,

I do not know anything about higher consciousness, I just try to teach my students how to hear the birds sing.”  

How beautiful, how simple!  Be here.

When we do not look to judge, blame or shame, perhaps then the task of becoming self-aware becomes less confronting.

~ FlorenceT

© Transfigure Therapy 2019

Use the power of words

 

The power of literature to promote psychological wellbeing is well documented.

Poetry, specifically, is a passage into the deepest parts within us – the hidden, ignored, unrealised.  Through reflecting on our response to a poem, we become more self-aware.

When you connect with what is essentially a bunch of words albeit well crafted, ask yourself “why am I drawn to this?” or “to which part of me does this speak to?”  Be open, and kind to yourself as you listen to the answer.

This is a poem that still resonates with me.  Can you hear an invitation?

 

THE INVITATION

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

by Oriah “Mountain Dreamer” House, “The Invitation” 1999

 

© Transfigure Therapy 2018

Experiencing our strengths…

In my work, words are privileged. They can communicate and persuade. They speak to the reason within us, the cognitive rational part of us. Most importantly, as we utter words and then narratives of who we are and how we are, these stories become part of us, they begin to form a part of our identity.

Words can prompt actions in, and change how we perceive, the world we inhabit, whether professional or personal.

Yet true transformation comes from our experience of ourselves in relation to another.

Peter [a pseudonym, of course] consulted me as he could not see a way forward in his career. It seemed to him that every step he took in his professional life was fraught with challenges and less than satisfactory resolutions. He was wondering if he was indeed in the right career and if he ought to move on. Peter also adopted some maladaptive habits to bolster his sense of loss of control.

One aspect of Peter’s problem was a lack of confidence. His success was “just good luck”, his failures were his fault. Our initial conversations revolved around the rational sensible steps to be taken in the face of challenges in his work – some of which resulted in his commitment to take certain steps – the notion of “feel the fear and do it anyway”. Peter would bring the outcomes back into our conversations, most of which were positive and he patted himself on the back, though not entirely convinced. Peter’s resistance to “stepping up” remains, the fear still takes hold at “crunch time”, as he called it, immobilizing him.

Ironic though it may seem, that at times of real conflict, we choose to trust a (professional) stranger than close ones no matter how supportive they can be. A stranger has no preconception or expectations of us as individuals. This gives us a level of freedom to experiment with being “different” to our “usual” self. It allows us to see ourselves through fresh eyes. This was how, I as psychotherapist/coach stepped into a relationship of trust with Peter, and established a foundation of safety upon which he could explore his “stuff” without fear or favour.

So what to do with Peter’s continued hesitance? It was not the ‘do’ but rather the being in our connection that provided rich evidence of his capabilities. It was not my job to tell him what to do with his work; each time there was a challenge, he was the one with the courage to face it with varying degrees of success. So it was that I bore witness to his courage, his analytical and critical mind, his creativity and his tenacity.

And it was through fresh eyes that he began to experience a different version of himself.  As Peter cautiously put on this new cloak, a new story of himself emerges – a self-assured man.

And the journey of self-discovery continues.

 

Writing and talk do not prove me,
I carry the plenum of proof and every thing else in my face,
With the hush of my lips I wholly confound the skeptic.

~ Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

 

 

© Transfigure Therapy 2017