Letting go of the plan

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Let it all go. Let it fall. Let it out like a sigh.

First the gratification of being in control by making a plan. The excitement of how things will work out perfectly if everything goes according to plan. Then the rigid trying to keep to the plan and the rules implied by the plan.

As the plan does not play out as ‘planned’ the tension starts to build. The anxiety begins. The hand that wants to control turns into a fist of anger for things not working out as planned. The frustration irritates the body. The mind starts to search frantically for answers to the wrong questions. Why is my plan not working out? Why is this happening to me? If only things will work out according to the plan, then everything will be okay.

Then the idea, let’s be flexible and make another plan. Plan B. Again, the craving to feel in control. So the cycle continues until none of the plans work out and you realise the only option is to let go of the plan/s. Deep within you, you know it is what life is asking of you. Yet, you struggle to open the fingers that are tightly closed around the plan.

When you finally do open your hands, you feel the release. Vulnerability and sadness flows out of your hands like tear drops. You realise the more important question to ask is ‘What will enable me to let go of the plan?’ The answer – knowing you are not in control. You can’t control time.  You can’t control nature or the rhythm of life. You can (and must) do your part but then you need to trust in the unfolding of life.

Like a farmer carefully planning for the season. Preparing the ground so that when the rain comes the crop will grow. But after he has done everything that is within his control, the farmer trusts and believes that nature will run its course…

Be patient, trust the process of life. Let go of the plan. Let go of the ‘I’ and the idealised images. Like a teardrop, surrender and go with the flow. Life may surprise you.

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Breaking the silence

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It has been seven months since my last blog. Writing this blog reminds me of the moment when we broke the silence on the 10th day of a Vipassana silent retreat that I attended recently. At the retreat noble silence is maintained for ten days which means that you don’t speak to anyone (vocally or through body language). Any distractions that can possibly divert your attention are taken away (such as phone, books, writing material, exercise). You use the time to learn a meditation technique that enables you to quiet the mind, be in the moment and connect with yourself.

The first three days of silence is difficult because you feel the need to express yourself but may not. You want to check with others if what is happening to you is ‘normal’, whether they are also struggling. If you are making progress and being a good student. Instead of getting the external confirmation and recognition that you seek you are faced with your own habits of avoidance and fears of failure.

You realize that you tend to live your life from the outside in, instead of inside out. Before making a decision you first look outside of yourself to gather information, test the opinion of others and seek their approval. Rather than starting at the sensational level, your inner body of knowledge, and feel how the decision sits with you. Does it create sensations of craving or aversion within you? Can you look at it from a place of equanimity and respond objectively rather than reacting from your default pattern?

After the fourth day you start to settle in your body. Your eyes are not looking frantically around, they start to calm down and rest in the eye sockets. This enables you to begin to feel the sensations in your body from a physical level and not look at the sensations from the outside in. You start to come home to yourself. You come home to the moment as it is and not as you want it to be. In doing that you begin to accept and love yourself.

For me the journey back home was 5 cm inward, 10 degrees to the left and between 4 to 12 hours long. I realized I tend to live 5cm outside of my physical body. When we had to feel the sensations in our bodies I tried to look at it from a 5cm distance. The retreat enabled me to feel comfortable within my body so that I could feel the sensation as it arose and passed by. When you sit for 12 hours and meditate you become aware of your body posture. My head was tilted to the right side at an angle of 10 degrees. I was not looking straight ahead and facing reality as it was. At the beginning of the retreat my mind was always thinking ahead. I became aware that I was thinking about what I was going to do 4 to 12 hours ahead of time. I was not present at all. When you are not present you can’t be with life as it is in the moment. You miss out on the fullness of life and yourself.

When you start to speak after 10-days of silence you realise that you are engaging with others from a different place. A more loving and centred space. You are more aware whether you are connected to your truth or not. I stopped blogging for a while because I realised that my blogs became more about sharing other people’s opinions and insights than my own. The initial purpose of my blogs was to share my truth and how I experience the world with the hope that it will inspire others to do the same and just be themselves. As with the retreat I needed some time in silence to reconnect so that when I do speak up it comes from a place of love and authenticity.

We can’t always go on silent retreats to reconnect with ourselves. What we can do is to create pockets of silence during the day or week. Even if it is just to focus on your breath for a minute. Doing that brings you back to the universal truth that everything in life arises and passes away. We can’t control life more than we can control our breath. The act of trying to control life contributes to our suffering. When we let go of the need to control and accept the moment as it is and not how we want it to be, we set ourselves and others free.

I know it is easier said than done and probably a lifetime practice,  but we can start with this breath…

Joy

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How do we live with joy amidst all the suffering? Is the question that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archpishop Desmond Tutu discuss in The Book of Joy. A relevant question in a world filled with so much suffering.  In this blog I would like to share with you what I’ve learned from the book.

All of us wish that we could find a way to be happy and avoid the suffering. Unfortunately that is not how life works. The beautiful things in life usually come from some sort of suffering. In fact it is the suffering that enable (or forces) us to grow and to develop.

“Discovering more joy does also not save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak’’ according to Desmond Tutu. However, we may not be able to control the unavoidable facts of life but we can control whether we want to add ‘chosen suffering’ with what we create in our own minds and heart.

In the book they highlighted that joy is a by-product of deeper qualities of the mind and heart. If we cultivate the following qualities it will allow us to experience joy:

Qualities of the mind

  • Perspective – We can gain a wider perspective if we take a step back, within our own mind, and move beyond our limited self-interest, look at the bigger picture and the perspective of others. This enables us to empathize with others and we start to see the interdependence that surrounds us all.
  • Humility – Comes from the Latin word humus that means earth or soil. Humility “brings us back down to earth” .
  • Humour – The ability to laugh at ourselves and not to be too serious. “If you start looking for the humour in life, you will find it. You will stop asking, Why me? and start recognizing that life happens to all of us. It makes everything easier, including your ability to accept others and accept all that life will bring.”
  • Acceptance – Enables us to stop resisting that life is not as we would wish and allows us to engage with life as it is in a more relaxed and clearer way. ” When we accept the present, we can forgive and release the desire for a different past”

Qualities of the heart

  • Forgiveness – In forgiving others we choose not to develop anger and hatred. If we forgive the person that harmed us we take back control of our happiness and free ourselves. It does not mean that we can’t oppose the action (that what has been done to you).
  • Gratitude – Allows us to see what is good in the world and not just what is bad. It enables us to see the gift in the difficult times and the opportunities that may exist.
  • Compassion – The basic human nature is to be compassionate. The word compassion means ‘suffering with’. “A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.”
  • Generosity – We are interdependent and need one another. Giving to others (whether it is our time, money, skills, etc.) brings meaning to our lives and is the fastest way to experience joy.

When we choose to heal our own suffering we are more able to turn to others and help them in their suffering. The more we are able to sit with and transcend our own suffering. The more we will be able to live with joy in a world filled with suffering.

Learning: I can choose to cultivate joy in my life no matter the circumstances.

 Healing question: How can I choose joy today

What inspires you?

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We only have one life to live. What inspires you to make the most of it and live it to the fullest?

To be inspired is a key factor in creating or doing something new. Whether you are creating a piece of art or want to be a better person we all need inspiration. The source of inspiration may differ per person.

The Oxford Learner’s Dictionary defines

  • inspiration as: the process that takes place when somebody sees or hears something that causes them to have exciting new ideas or makes them want to create something.
  • inspire as: to give somebody the desire, confidence or enthusiasm to do something well.

Life is full of inspiration. Numerous things in life inspire me of which some are:

  • Nature, beautiful spaces, landscapes, animals…
  • The arts, music, poetry, films, language, books…
  • People that show commitment and against all the odds achieve their goal whilst remaining true to who they are.
  • People that are passionate and believe in their dreams.

I draw from different sources depending on the type of inspiration I seek. The following poem by Mary Oliver inspired me to write this blog. I hope that it will inspire you today:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

 

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

If I have made of my life something particular, and real,

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

 

I don’t want to end up simply having visited the world.

 

Healing question: What inspires me? How can I be an inspiration to others?

Learning: When we open ourselves to be inspired by life our life can inspire others to do the same.

Inner Current

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The sea has a powerful current

let it move you

let it stir parts of your soul that you have forgotten.

 

Allow it to come to the surface

and surprise you.

 

You are so much more than you think.

Stop thinking,

stop limiting yourself.

 

Let the inner current lead you

to the place you know

the place that you call home.

Celebrating Diversity

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The past month I was privileged to travel to different places in South Africa for work. What was significant to me was the diversity I experienced. Every place had a different landscape, energy and feel to it. The food, people, cultures and ways of living differed.

In one of the workshops that I facilitated, we counted that between the group of twelve we spoke 11 different languages. For none of us English was our first language. The variety of accents contributed to the richness of the conversations we had. It reminded me of Nancy Klein’s component of the ‘Thinking Environment’. She states that diversity adds quality because of the differences between us. I could not agree more.

I realised that we don’t always celebrate diversity. We don’t invite it enough into our lives. Sometimes I find myself in places where it feels as if everyone had gone through the same cookie presser. Everyone dresses the same and talks about the same things. If one looks at David Rock’s SCARF model one can understand why it is like this. People tend to like people that are like them. That is the way the brain is wired. We feel more comfortable when we can relate to people.

Yet, in reflecting over this past month I’ve learned more in the uncomfortable moments than the comfortable ones. The situations when I was challenged to leave my preconceived ideas and open myself to the amazing diversity of our country. I would like to challenge you and encourage you, even if it is only slightly, to step out of the comfort zone and experience the gift of diversity.

Learning: Diversity contributes to the richness of life.

Healing question: How am I celebrating and inviting diversity into my life?

Life is chaos and order

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What a relief when I read the words ‘ life compress chaos and orderliness together’ in the book The way of the wizard by Deepak Chopra. I like to think of myself as someone that easily goes with the flow but if I’m really honest, I can be a bit of a control freak. I like it when things are going according to the plan and everything is in order. But life is not always like that. At times life is uncertain, messy and even a bit chaotic. Flights get delayed; thunderstorms damage internet routers; meetings get cancelled, we get sick, etc. Life can throw all our plans upside down.

The problem is that all the plans we make and the rules we set in order to make things perfect only create a false sense of control. When it does not work out ‘according to the plan’, we get stressed and struggle with the “whys” in life. Why don’t things work out for me? Why is life so hard? Why do I struggle so much when others seem to have it easy? We start to beat ourselves down. This reaction can create a downward spiral, it triggers our nervous system and we become less creative.

When in fact, it is just the way life is. Real life is unpredictable. Feeling off balance or uncertain at times is part of life. The struggle starts when we don’t want to accept what is real and work from that place. Deepak Chopra writes that ‘if you want to be in the flow you cannot struggle against it at the same time.’ This was a big ‘aha’ moment for me as I always thought that I’m only in the flow of life if things are running smoothly in my life. Now I realise that the waves that crash on me and the times when I feel that I’m gasping for air are part of what it is when learning how to surf. When I’m stumbling it does not mean I’m not in the flow of life. However, the way I respond to the uncertainty or unpredictable things that happen in my life influence how I experience life.

I’m not saying that from now you can just sit back and don’t make any plans. Structure and order is also part of life but it is not all that life consists of. Observe how you are trying to control your life and how open you are for other possibilities. Next time when something unpredictable happens, acknowledge that life is uncontrollable, surrender to it, trust that things tend to work out (even if it is not according to your plan), celebrate the situation you are in and be open to what comes to you. Ride the wave!

Learning: The flow of life is like surfing; there are times when you surf the wave and then there are times when you need to paddle to get to the next wave.

Healing question: How can I ride the wave of life with more ease?