“When you can just sit, having the experience you have, whatever it is, without comparing it to what it should be, you will have true ease.” (Zazen – The Practice Of Freedom – Edward Espe Brown, Zen Teacher)

A few weeks ago, I returned from the annual Three Principles Global Conference. It was my second time at the conference, and, as always with these kinds of events, it was a great experience for me.

It was a time to connect and network with some very close friends and colleagues and I had the chance to listen to some inspired talks about how this understanding really has the potential to be of massive benefit to humanity in it’s search for peace.

It was a truly inspiring four days of bliss, presence, and sharing with amazing people.

And then I got home!

Thrust into the depths of quite a challenging situation, which meant I had to cut my trip short, along with the normal realities and responsibilities of my life, I hit the ground running with a bit of a bump.

For the next two weeks, I found myself feeling very flat, even depressed and slightly anxious.

It was not an unfamiliar experience to me, in any way. But equally I noticed it really didn’t look like it was a problem.

Now that may sound surprising to you. Not so long ago, it would have sounded odd to me too. After all, we live in a culture that very much treats depression and other low moods as problems to be eradicated.

But the way I see it these days, this may not actually be helpful. In fact, doing this might actually serve to make our suffering even worse.

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For so much of my life I searched for a solution to a feeling. How do I get myself to feel better when I am depressed? How do I overcome my anxiety and panic? How do I stop myself being angry at my kids? All were examples of where I looked for that magic bullet.

I learned NLP, meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, and engaged in all kinds of therapies. It was hard hard work keeping track of all the stuff that I thought I had to do to manage my emotions, and truth be told, I don’t think I ever really succeeded in any meaningful way.

In fact, I remember one day beginning to see the futility of what I was doing when I was an attendee at a personal development seminar. One of the core teachings was that it was important to ensure that we were in a ‘peak’ state. We were taught techniques for being in this high energy state, and at one point I really used to believe in them.

Then one day I was at one of these events meeting some of the teachers who were going to work with us. I went up to a few of them over the course of the day and simply asked them how they were:

“OUTSTANDING” came the answer back.

It took me aback and for the most part seemed relatively fake. In fact, one of the people I spoke to seemed so annoyed as they said this that it was soon after that my wife and I left that workshop – never to attend a similar event again.

You see, it is human for us to try and fake ourselves to being a certain way. Lord knows I had done what this guy had done many times. I probably do sometimes still if I think about it. We do it because on some level we think our lives are somehow going to be better – either emotionally or in terms of our performance at what we find ourselves doing. But it isn’t necessary. And nor can it ever really work.

Let me explain.

Years ago, when I first started to run trainings I used to get horribly nervous. As in palms sweaty, run to the toilet, blind panic scared! Often, I was barely able to eat during those training days.

Many times I found myself at one of these training events feeling the anxiety and nervousness come to the fore. I immediately went through my library of control techniques and started doing visualisations and breathing techniques to try and fake myself into being in a better place.

Sometimes it seemed to work, but often it seemed like it didn’t.

Invariably on those days when I was trying to manage my feelings, I was a pretty bad trainer. Why? Well how present do you think I was to the people in front of me? How much do you think I was really engaging with them?

Truth be told I was living in my head – getting lost in a sea of fearful thinking and tools and techniques to the point that I really wasn’t present at all to those dear souls. The feedback I got often reflected that.

After I had my “personal development insight”, I started to show up to my trainings a bit differently. I realised that since I was able to see how annoyed that trainer was at that event, despite his efforts to appear otherwise, the same was probably true of me.

So it occurred to me – why bother even trying to hide my anxiety from the delegates at the workshop, since not only would they likely know about my nervousness, it also didn’t seem to make me a better trainer when I tried to control the feelings anyway.

So I resolved that if I felt nervous when I went into the training room, I was just going to tell everyone and be upfront about it, and maybe even share what I had seen at that personal development training event.

But a funny thing happened. Realising that there was no point trying to hide my anxiety and being resigned to the fact that I might as well share it with the people I was going to teach, actually took a lot of pressure off. I actually found myself at peace with myself – even though I was still nervous!

Moreover, since I was much more accepting of the nervousness I felt, because it seemed pointless to try and do anything about it, that day was the first day that I didn’t feel on the edge of panic and like I had to run to the bathroom!

On top of that, my head was clearer. Yes the anxiety feeling was still there, but it seemed to pass much quicker.   On top of that so much space had been freed up because I was no longer trying to keep track of which technique I was going to use to keep myself in a ‘peak state’!

The result? Well, I was a much better trainer. Far more present to the group that I was working with. Far more creative too. In fact I remember that day feeling much more free about the topics I was covering, and was actually surprising myself with the creativity that seemed to be available to me. It was beyond anything I had experienced in a training room before, and the feedback from the delegates reflected it.

What I learned from that experience, was the idea that there was a state I had to be in to be at my ‘peak’ was an illusion! Creativity and the ability to be present with people were just natural when I was seeing clearly that the whole range of my emotions were truly valid. You see – that same intelligence that beats your heart or digests your food without your intervention?  Well, it’s responsible for bringing you new insight and creativity too. It’s always working and it’s always visible, when we aren’t busying our minds with all our ideas of how we think we should be.

You see the real problem with any emotion that we have labelled as ‘low’, is that we think that having those emotions is a problem!

But these emotions are normal and very human. There isn’t a human on earth who doesn’t experience them. Freedom does not lie in eliminating them. On the contrary, since our emotions are a reflection of our moment to moment thinking, and not our circumstances, any additional expectations that we should be feeling anything other than what we are simply serves to stir up that noisy thinking in our head. It exacerbates the uncomfortable feeling and creates additional suffering.

I would offer that not seeing this truth is potentially why people can end up being treated for depression for literally years and years. They get trapped in a cycle of fighting thoughts in their mind that are essentially beyond their control, and that keeps their minds and the thoughts that are creating that feeling locked in place.

From what I can see, no matter what, the sunshine of our wellbeing is always there. It’s just that sometimes there’s a lot of cloudy thinking blocking us from seeing it.  Those thoughts aren’t telling us anything about how well we are doing in life.  They are just noise and have no inherent meaning, and we are typically lousy predictors of knowing how quickly that noise will clear. But it is it’s nature to do so. When we know this, and that our mood is naturally going to fluctuate, then there’s not so much need to do anything about it anymore. We can be at peace.  This leaves us free to simply get on with life, unrestricted by the illusion that our moods are somehow stopping us from being okay, and from doing what we have to do.  It also means our minds our much more likely to settle, and our moods and experience are much more free and easy to change and flow.

With love,

john x

P.s. Here’s a great video that highlights what I am pointing to:

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