Peeping Through The Stained Glass: a story about optimism versus realism

Peeping Through The Stained Glass: a story about optimism versus realism

Peeping Through The Stained Glass: a story about optimism versus realism

So last night in Manchester I was headed to my Five Rhythms class and was really looking forward to it. (For those who don’t know, Five Rhythms is a dance movement practice designed by a brilliant therapist called Gabrielle Roth in the 1970s.) But, I had to stop off on the way to get someone to look at my computer. The computer guy was taking ages. I was running very late. By the time computer man was done, I knew I would almost certainly miss the class, but I thought ‘fuck it, let’s take a risk’ (I’m pretty wild like that). I arrived outside the Methodist Church in Whalley Range 20 minutes late, the door was locked, the class had already started, and as I peeped through a stained glass window I could see a room full of people gyrating. “Oh well” I thought to myself. “I’ve missed it this week. Never mind.”

So I walked back to my car and bumped into a red-headed woman walking towards the church with a fold-up bike and a huge smile. She told me she was looking for the Five Rhythms class and that this was her first time. I said: “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we have missed the class for this week.”

She smiled at me and said: “I’m a relentless optimist. I’m sure we can find a way to get in.”

And so, she proceeded to walk around the whole church building, looking through every stained glass window to see if she could catch the eye of one of these gyrating bodies. After 10 minutes of peeping through stained glass windows, she managed to catch the attention of one of the organisers who very kindly let us in. We spent the next two hours dancing, gyrating, shaking, moving our bodies to work through fears, anxieties, insecurities, grief and trauma and, at points, reaching states of pure ecstacy.

There is a lesson in this story I want to explore with you: it’s about optimism versus realism.

You see, I have in the past described myself as relentlessly optimistic. I have believed in the (almost) infinite potential of human beings. And I’ve been a subscriber to the school of ‘anything-is-possible-if-you-put-your-mind-to-it’.

​​But over the years, as I experienced a number of losses and heartbreaks, my optimism lost its sheen. I’d probably describe myself these days as more of a ‘realist’. The type of realism I’ve been subscribing to more recently is best summed up by this quote from the I-Ching — which I currently have written on a pad next to my desk:

It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are,

without any self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events,

by which the path to success may be recognized.

Turning to face things exactly as they are — that’s the mature response right? That’s the necessary counterpoint to all this spiritual bypassing and saccharine, Pop Idol, positive thinking, manifest-your-destiny type of stuff.

But let’s just think about this together for a moment. What does it really mean, to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion?

When I turned up to the locked door of the Five Rhythms class, I thought I was facing things exactly as they were, without any self-deception or illusion. I’d accepted that there was no chance I was getting into the class now the door was locked.

​​Why did I accept this?

​​Because in another Five Rhythms class in London, I had arrived similarly late and wasn’t let in. My mind recorded this experience as ‘reality’, made a rule about it: if X then Y.

But this red-headed woman with her big smile (she is called Madeline by the way) was bringing to the church a different version of reality. She had never been to a Five Rhythms class. She was arriving in this experience with what Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi famously called a ‘ Beginner’s Mind’:

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Unlike me, she had never experienced being late to a Five Rhythms class and not getting in. And she self-described as relentlessly optimistic.

So, who was being more ‘realistic’ here? Me or Madeline?

The way we view reality is conditioned by our past experiences. Over time, and especially through painful and traumatic experiences, our optimism can contract into a kind of ‘realism’ that we might convince ourselves is more mature, more ‘realistic’. When we have painful experiences like not getting into an event we were really looking forward to, or having our heart broken in a relationship, or losing someone we love, our minds create rules designed to protect us from future suffering. Why would I spend 10 minutes trying to get into a Five Rhythms class, when I know from past experience this is most likely to lead to disappointment? Why would I open my heart in a relationship, when I know from past experience that opening my heart leads to me getting hurt? Recently, I worked with a client who lost her mother when she was young and couldn’t let herself get too close to her nine-year old daughter because she was terrified about dying and leaving her daughter heart-broken.

We of course need rules to make sense of this complex world, and to protect us from suffering. But sometimes, we need to shake ourselves free from these limits or rules. Sometimes we need a dose of relentless optimism, to believe that anything is possible, because who knows what might happen if we just kept peeking through those stained glass windows. We might find a way to open a door that we were convinced was locked. (NB. A message to the cynical part of your mind: opening up to optimism doesn’t mean denying the reality of things like death. We need to use our discernment to judge in what situations we could benefit from an extra dose of optimism).

So here is a simple, but powerful exercise for you:

  1. Think of one problem area in your life where you have convinced yourself you are being ‘realistic’. An area where you have settled on a belief about how things ‘really’ are. It might be in your work, your finances, your relationships, your ability to overcome obstacles.
  2. Imagine in this moment you are opening your mind and heart (as much as you feel comfortable), and as you read these words imagine you are receiving a direct turbo-charged infusion of beginner’s mind optimism for that area of your life you have chosen.
  3. With this turbo-charged, beginner’s mind belief that there is a solution out there, that you can unlock the door, decide one action you will take in the next 24 hours.

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Life Is Precious, Treat It That Way: write your own obituary to fully wake up

Life Is Precious, Treat It That Way: write your own obituary to fully wake up

Life Is Precious, Treat It That Way: write your own obituary to fully wake up

“I am going to die.”

 

What happens inside you when you let that statement sink into your body? Many of us experience fear and other difficult emotions. Many of us brush those difficult feelings under the carpet. But as we grow, that pile of dust under the carpet inevitably gets bigger and more difficult to ignore. We start tripping up over it.

Writing your own obituary is one of the most powerful exercises you can do to liberate that pile of dust from under your carpet, and transform it into life glitter. And you don’t need to wait until you are knocking on death’s door to do it.

Zoom in on the real juice

If you have ever had a sense that you are confused about your life’s purpose or that you are wasting so much time doing meaningless stuff, then this exercise will help you zoom in on the real juice, on what is most important to you.

People often find that when someone close to them dies, or when they have been faced with their own death, they experience a powerful shift in their focus, focusing intently on what is most precious to them. Often this feeling of connection, purpose and focus starts off strong and can fizzle out as the years pass by.

Writing your own obituary is a most glittery gift to yourself, as it can not only help you zoom in on the juice, but also will function as a document that can keep you accountable to your heart’s purpose. Whenever you start to notice feelings of confusion, meaningless, or lack of purpose, you will always have this document to refer back to and to adapt as necessary.

Now to the real thing

The first step in writing your own obituary is facing up to the reality that one day you will die. Both the ancient Greek Epicureans and Tibetan Buddhists meditated on a simple phrase to help them remember: ‘death is certain – the hour is uncertain’.

Repeating this phrase over and over may sound morbid to you. We naturally prefer to focus on the good stuff. This can certainly be a very challenging exercise. Great fear may be experienced at first. But if we can practice stillness in the midst of this fear of death, amazing gifts and crystal clear dreams await us.

Once you have meditated on the certainty of your own death, the next step is to start writing. To open your imagination, picture the scene of your death. Who is there? Who is likely to be reading the story of your life? What song would you have playing? As you imagine this scene, start to jot down some of the things that people who care about you would say in your obituary. It might be recognition of your qualities. It could be celebration of your achievements. It could be remembering fun times. As you make notes, you may notice that there are some parts of your obituary that you are not happy with. There may be judgments about certain aspects of yourself, maybe you didn’t spend enough time with close ones, maybe you didn’t have the courage to pursue your dreams, maybe you didn’t treat some people so well.

This not-so-shiny feedback is where the real juice lies.

In 1888 Alfred Nobel’s brother Ludvig died while visiting Cannes and a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite, stating Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”). The obituary went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” This not so shiny feedback of his life catalysed Alfred’s decision to leave a better legacy after his death. It brought him to establish the Nobel Prizes.

When you have jotted your notes, it is now time to pull it all together. At this stage, it is wise to write your obituary form the perspective of having lived exactly the life you want in your heart of hearts to live. This means that you are imagining having addressed those not-so-shiny aspects of your self that have held you back from being the change you want to see in the world. The obituary does not need to be long or detailed. In writing this, it can be super helpful to come up with the tombstone statement: what one phrase would people put on your tombstone, if you have lived the life you truly want to live? Let that phrase be your guide, not only for this obituary, but also for your life.

Living the story of your life

Once you have written your obituary, now the real work begins. Find a sacred place to keep your obituary. It does not need to be visible, although this can really work for some people. Revisit the obituary at least once a week. Make a ritual and meditation of this practice. Find a quiet space, light some candles or get some nice smells going, read over the obituary and let it be a constant guide in your journey. If it stirs emotions in you, this is good. Channel these emotions into your actions. You may at times want to adapt the obituary, and this is absolutely fine. It is a working document, quite possibly the most powerful one you have ever written.

Make 2016 the year you discover your pearl beyond price

Make 2016 the year you discover your pearl beyond price

Make 2016 the year you discover your pearl beyond price

Newsletter, December 2015

  

This email is a kickstarter campaign.
 
I am kickstarting your imagination, giving it permission to dream of what might be possible in 2016.
 
Of course, dreams can come true! But you know the one thing that holds back your dreams more then anything else?
 
Its your mind. For as long as you have limiting beliefs, so too will you experience a world full of limits.
 
But…it ain’t easy to free yourself from limiting beliefs. They are often deeply ingrained in your psyche. To get free, we all need sustained commitment, discipline, skill, support. And being the end of this year, now is the perfect time to make the commitment you require to live the magical life you fully deserve.
 
You know the phrase ‘The world is your oyster’. Well, it comes from a person who clearly had the discipline to overcome limiting beliefs….Shakespeare, of course! From The Merry Wives of Windsor. Here is the script below:
 
           Falstaff: I will not lend thee a penny.
 
           Pistol: Why then the world’s mine oyster, which I with sword will open.
 
           Falstaff: Not a penny.
 
As was often the case with Shakespeare, his best phrases have a double meaning. In this case, Pistol did not get the money he was hoping for from Falstaff, so instead he declares that his fortune can be found out in the world. However, the use of the oyster as a metaphor shows here that, although our dreams can indeed be realised in the world, it takes commitment, dedication, and skill to find our oyster, prise it open, and get the pearl we desire.
But how do we find our pearl in the first place?
 
What if I told you that the pearl you so deeply desire is buried inside your heart?
 
What if I told you that all of your seeking for this pearl outside of your self is driven by fear, and can and will only ever result in disappointment?
 
What if I told you that true love, peace, abundance, joy can only ever be found inside?
 
This is the truth as I know it, embody it, and increasingly live it in my own life. The strangest thing is how easy this truth is to realise in a moment…and how rapidly we forget.
 
As with Pistol’s hunt for pearls, to really abide in this state of peace, abundance, joy, love, this takes commitment, dedication, skill, and support.
 
And so here is my personal mission for 2016: to support as many people as possible to move from abiding in a state of fear to abiding in a state of love.
 
I look forward to helping you on that journey to your pearl beyond price in whatever way, shape or form I can.
 
Here are just some of the ways and means I am dedicated to serve you by in 2016:
 
  • I will carry on supporting you 1-1. In my private practice, I help you get to the very roots of your stress, anxiety, low moods, confusion, lack of fulfilment. Once we get to the roots, I help you weed out this source of negativity, and replace it with total empowerment, deep fulfillment, and abiding, awakened love. In this last year, I have been seeing some really incredible results. In just 3 sessions, I saw a couple move from ‘just filed for divorce’ to laughing and crying together in love, wholeheartedly recommitting to each other for the rest of their lives. Helping clients such as these to abide more in authentic, courageous love has been my greatest joy. In 2016, I am refining my service into 12- week and 6-month programmes, combining psychotherapy, transformational coaching and deep mindfulness. These programmes are designed to be playful, powerful, and heart-focused. I have very limited spaces opening up in 2016, so if you are interested get in touch.
  • I will be leading an amazing retreat in a very beautiful location. There will be meditation, yoga, connection, sacred ritual, nature walks, and seriously delicious nutritious food. Dates and details to be confirmed.
  • My wife and I are teaming up to write a book. The book is all about introducing ancient wisdom into modern lives. I can’t share any more for now, but I will say its going to be really beautiful:)
  • I am developing a digital tool that will be your very own ‘guru in your pocket’. I will be looking for people to test the tool at some point through the year, so please if you are interested let me know.
 
 
I will leave you with a quote from one of my favourite spiritual teachers, A.H. Almaas:
 
” The pearl beyond price, the incomparable pearl, the personal aspect of Essence is central for many important reasons. It is actually the true essential personality. It is the person. It is experienced as oneself. When the individual finally perceives it, the contented expression often is “but this is me!” The sense is of oneself as a precious being. There is then a fullness, a completeness, and a contentment. It is as if the individual feels full and complete, realized. Nothing is lacking. No more search, no desire or wanting anything else. The person feels ‘now I have myself. I am a complete individual. I am full. I am fullness. I am complete. I want nothing else.'”
 
Whatever your personal commitments for 2016, I encourage you to do whatever it takes to stay connected to your pearl beyond price.
 
Wishing all you precious beings a wonderful, magical, peaceful Holidays and a whole lot of Love and Pearl for 2016.
 
With all my Love
 
Louis