Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Amazing grace!

Something really remarkable happened this morning...

It must've been around 5am. I'd not been asleep too long with having had a late night and the blistering heat and complicated night-time decisions about open/closed windows, the air-con, the fan and the duvet... I woke up, as I often do here, to find myself scratching a mosquito bite - oh God! If you've ever had mosquito bites you'll know what I'm talking about; no amount of scratching relieves it - you stop scratching, the itch returns with a vengeance and this can carry on for hours. My usual plan of action is to scratch and scratch until I'm exhausted, or get out of bed and run the bite under the cold tap, or apply some tiger balm to soothe it but, this time, I decided to try something new... 

As you well know, there are many things in life - mosquito bites being one of them! - that go against our ideas of what's "right" or "good" or "perfect" and when one of these things comes along it can really upset the apple cart. What I've been learning are various adaptations of a basic technique that allows us to handle these apparently negative life events in a way that prevents us from suffering. Thing is, as life has been going pretty well for me lately, I've not really had an opportunity to try it out. But the itching mozzie bite provided me with just that...

Here's what I did: I relaxed and allowed myself to feeeel the itching without resisting it. Without dialog, without giving it a label, or a history, without analysing or blaming - I just surrendered to the itching; felt it fully. In my head I sat right in the middle of the itching. And the incredible thing is, the more I did this, the less the itching bothered me.

Then, after about 30 seconds of this, in my imagination, I "peeled back" the itching to see if there was an emotion underneath - I found anger! Again, I didn't think about the anger, try to reason, justify or explain it, I just allowed myself to feel it fully; to sit in the middle of it.

And you know what? The itching stopped and I fell asleep - the whole process took less than a minute! A bit later, I woke again to find myself scratching a bite and so I did the process again and again it worked like a dream.

This probably sounds like nonsense to you - who cares that I did some sort of "mind over matter" thing to stop some itching, what's the biggie? But, it IS a biggie, my dear friend! Because this technique can be applied to anything and everything that upsets us, irritates us, angers us, makes us feel terrified or desperate or isolated..! If, instead of trying to numb, ignore, "treat" or push away the "negative" feeling, we allow ourselves to feel it fully but without attaching a story to it, no reasons, explanations or blame, just embracing the fear/sadness/anger/whatever and then let any other feelings come to the fore, again without a story, eventually the pain subsides and we come to our source; grace; peace - ultimate freedom!

This cessation of suffering through surrender is explained in The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and, I'm told, there is a similar technique used in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

I learned a fully comprehensive process based around this technique, called The Journey by Brandon Bays. The Journey utilises this concept of feeling (and therefore releasing) trapped emotions that cause misery and sickness, in order to become happy and healthy and move forward with our lives. A practitioner did a full Journey process with me and, in 45 minutes, I got over a huge issue that had been shadowing my life since I was a child.

So, when I say something remarkable happened this morning, it was the realisation that I can do this myself, at any time, with any issue. I'm not saying it'll always be easy but at least I know it's possible and therefore something to aim for - how amazing!

Monday, 26 March 2012

It's a bug's life

Last week when I moved into my rented bungalow in Thailand I noticed a few tiny ants about the place. Not many - maybe two or three in the kitchen, the occasional one walking across the bed, one or two in the bathroom. They were no bother, I figured they were looking for food and so was careful not to leave any crumbs or spills about as one ant can turn into hundreds at the mere sniff of a splash of orange juice.

I put my rubbish meticulously into a plastic bag in the bathroom bin and there was nothing more than a few pistachio shells and an empty cornflakes packet. Nonetheless the next time I looked there was a dual carriageway of ants marching purposefully between a small crack in the skirting and the bin. They carefully navigated the rim of the bin and some stood by while others made the death-defying, slippery descent into the plastic bag to retrieve cornflake crumbs and bits of pistachio nut.

I was amused and impressed by this display of organisation and co-operation but didn't really think it was ideal to have all these ants in the house so I took the bin bag outside to the main bins. A few hours later a group of about 50 ants was standing near the bin as though having a meeting about what to do next and then shortly after, they'd all gone. I decided to put a new bin bag somewhere they couldn't reach so I hung it from a sticking-out screw in the bathroom wall and went to make a cuppa.

While making the cuppa I spilled a penny-sized drop of soya milk on the worktop and quickly wiped it up before taking my drink to the bedroom. When I took my empty cup back to the kitchen I noticed a penny-sized group of ants on the worktop where I thought I'd wiped up the milk. This group was being joined by a long line of ants stretching across the kitchen worktop, round the corner, into the bedroom, past the skirting board, down the step into the bathroom, along the floor (always sticking to the edges) and into the small crack in the bathroom wall at floor level.

I gently shooed them off the worktop with the yellow sponge and gave the area a good clean and, within minutes, all the ants had disappeared.

I had a nice packet of cashew nuts with my drink and put the empty wrapper in the cunningly-placed carrier bag in the bathroom - I was proud of my strategy - there's NO WAY they'd find it there!

But, I kid you not, when I went back in the bathroom an hour later for my shower, there was an organised army of ants marching between the hole in the corner and the carrier bag dangling from a screw about 5ft up the opposite wall. They came at it from above as well; they shimmied across the dado rail and slowly, being careful not to slip, climbed down the shiny, vertical, tiled wall, across the sticking-out screw and the bag handle and into the bag. But what really blew me away was, the ones coming back were carrying tiny pieces of cashew nut several times the size of their own little bodies! Out of a cashew bag, out of a plastic carrier bag, up a slippery tiled wall and across a distance the equivalent of a few miles to us. And they could make it back in less than three minutes! After a while the activity started to die down. As I watched them I noticed that every ant, as they passed each other on the way to/from the bin bag, would stop and interact with each other. This interaction was only for a second and consisted of them facing head on, waggling their antennae before carrying on their way although, sometimes the interaction would be followed by the ant who had been heading toward the bin bag now changing direction to go back to the hole in the wall... It was all rather fascinating and did make me wonder what they were "saying".

These ants, measuring no more than 4mm in length, displayed spectacular intelligence, adapting quickly to a new environment and reacting immediately to new stimulus, communicating efficiently to their group, yet I can bet most of us have never really considered them to be anything more than a bit of a nuisance.

The majority of us likely has at least a vague awareness of the intelligence of some household pets - cats, dogs, birds, etc. - but, what about the creatures we don't regularly interact with? Is it fair or accurate to consider them lesser beings simply because they're not human? I wonder, if you had the choice of hiring an employee with the agility, brain, brawn, commitment, communication skills, teamwork and tenacity of an average ant, or that of an average human, which would you go for?  

Friday, 23 March 2012

Pune intended

It's hard to explain how I ended up in this busy, polluted city for two whole months but something told me a visit to Pune was absolutely the right thing to do. 

It's hardly "typical India"; there's not a great deal to see, there are too many strange people (foreigners more so than the locals) and, for much of it, I felt I was wasting my time by apparently not doing much toward my goal of understanding happiness. Regardless, I trusted my inner voice and rented a flat and it turned out to be a great learning experience!

See, as well having met a truly wonderful man, taking a life-changing course (more another time), and writing and recording a song (I'll make you hear it soon!) because there wasn't much to do and nobody I wanted to make friends with, I spent a good portion of my time on my own. This made me realise some things about myself which has led to a more solid understanding of the basic requirements of different levels of consciousness.

OK, I'll put my plain English head on...

Consciousness is NOT about how intelligent we are, how good we were at school or how well we do our job. Consciousness is our awareness; it's the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. The most conscious people are called "enlightened" and they include people you might have heard of like Jesus, Buddha, a spiritual leader called Osho and a writer called Eckhart Tolle. There are probably LOADS more of them but enlightened people don't usually like to mention it... 

So, yeah, what I figured out is that people at different levels of consciousness have different basic needs:

The lower levels need constant stimulation in the form of gossip, shopping, smoking/drugs/alcohol, TV, and other similar types of entertainment and addiction. They often aren't aware of the benefits of good nutrition and exercise; either that or their diet and exercise become an addiction. They don't know the extent of their ability to change their own lives and believe they have to "follow the herd". They usually live in the past or the future (in their head) and are rarely "present", making them dissatisfied, bored, depressed or anxious. When things "go to plan" they experience extreme pleasure and conversely when things don't go to plan they suffer enormously.

The mid-levels, although often give in to one or two addictions, can usually manage without constant stimulation but still need five basics otherwise their well being suffers: enough sleep, exercise, nutrition, the company of friends/family, and a purpose. They're aware of the benefits of meditation, often know that they have the power to change their lives and have a thirst for knowledge about the mind and the universe because, once they start learning there's more to life than what's on the surface, they need to know more. Although occasionally they get excited about the "good" stuff and struggle with the "bad" stuff they're conscious enough to realise it's all in the mind and can usually get by without too much drama. 

The highest levels need none of the addictions and stimulants required by the lower and mid-levels. They live in a state of meditation - that's not to say they're always sitting in the lotus position but that they are present in all they do making them content. Their focus is clear and, although they feel and express happiness and sadness, they don't get overly-excited or upset. They have their minds and behaviours under control: when things don't "go to plan" they're able to accept it because they know that everything is perfect whatever happens. They deal with life without getting shaken up because they can see the bigger picture. 

So, the higher our level of consciousness the more content we are and the great news is that it's entirely possible to move upwards..!

Want to know more? Maybe start by putting "consciousness" into Wikipedia and see what occurs...