Why is it so difficult to embody love?

(Reading time 3 minutes)

I have a great friend whom I often have profoundly esoteric discussions with. Almost every conversation leads to a realisation of some sort, or at the very least leaves an unanswered question that simmers quietly in some obscure side-alley of the mind, until one day it emerges transformed, radiant, ready to shed light upon something else.

While I have always held that love (or some variant of it) is central to human existence, I have also always white-washed it somehow.

Let’s face it, love is not a “manly” term.

I don’t mean to suggest that it something that can not be related to, but rather that its full significance is elusive. I became aware of this after several conversations about the nature of the highest form of spiritual existence, which he always summarised as love, as does most of the literature on this subject. It noticed that this made me uncomfortable somehow, but I could never clearly work out why. It was as if that word was not the right descriptor, and in my mind I always sought to replace it with other words.

I have always been fascinated by the endless mutations of self-image and in particular self-doubt, and have always held this as one of the most fundamental areas where meaningful personal transformation begins. For a very large part of my life it is something that I didn’t even know was a problem, and it quietly left its trail of damage that I could attribute to so many other shortcomings. Once I figured it out, the only thing that changed was that I could attribute the damage to my self-image. The problem did not just go away, instead it revealed its true complexity. And this brings me back to the subject of love.

If you have any kind of trepidation about the word love – whatever your interpretation may be – and you begin to impose conditions and limitations to what and who it may or may not apply, I propose to you that you do not fully love yourself. By that I mean that we have gone beyond just accepting and forgiving whatever it is that needs to be accepted and forgiven about ourselves, and we actually have declared full and unconditional love for ourselves. We have signed that inner contract that formalises our irrefutable like-worthiness, our awesomeness and our flaws. We have vowed to care and nurture ourselves, to commit to doing what we love, enjoy, value and believe in, to put ourselves first. Above all, we have committed to treating ourselves as good and better than what we like others to treat us.

The reason for this is as simple as it is difficult. Before we can love ourselves fully, we have to confront and overcome a rather ominous entourage of demons. We have to address each of them, and defeat each of them. There is no way to your destination until every single one has been defeated, or perhaps the better term would be dissolved. And who are these demons? They are manifestation of our fears, our attachments, our guilts, our opinions, our vanities, the guardians of our comfort zone, and also the agents of suspicion, distrust, self-doubt, frustration and resentment. Sure we can claim that we do not hold a grudge, or that we are not materialistic, but somewhere deep within we know the truth. We are sh!tscared of loosing what we have, from our jobs to our loved ones. We buckle at the thought of forgiving someone we deem unworthy of forgiving. We mask intolerance with proclamations of personal values and principles that we know full-well we do not fully adhere to. We are daunted by social conventions that we neither fully understand nor agree with, and yet we comply. In that state it is hardly surprising that we can not fully love ourselves.

That last paragraph alone may raises the question – why bother?

The answer to this is personal.

Some may not think they should, or at least not at this time. You need to answer this for you only. But know that when we have faced and defeated each of these demons ourselves, the world appears different. Everything changes, in a good way. We can understand stuff. First of all, we can suddenly appreciate fully the severity and difficulty of the battles that others may be fighting, and the circle of what we consider worthy of love expands. We can recognise their journey in ours, and compassion becomes normality. When we finally reach that point where we love ourselves fully, the circle is infinitely large, dissolved, and we become also an infinite source of love. Sounds esoteric, perhaps you may even think it sounds un-manly. Loving yourself may seem difficult, but it is the foundation to truly love someone else. It is the foundation to forgiveness. It is the foundation to compassion. It is the foundation to tolerance. But most perhaps most powerful of all, loving oneself fully removes all fear, all self doubt. That is true freedom.

When we begin to truly love ourselves, we become the real deal, we are authentic and true to ourselves. We believe in the worthiness of our offering and contribution to the world, and are able to engage with that intention without hesitation, without apology. While our life’s circumstances may not start out as we wish for it is inevitable that they eventually become that. We are able to put one step calmly and confidently in front of the other, neither rushed nor hesitant. We may not know our life’s purpose, but we have a deep sence of confidence in our direction.

When I finally reached that point where I sighend that contract with myself, and declared this love fully, I understood, and the word made sense. And everything changed. While nothng around me physically changed, what I was able to see and recognise from thereon changed. Everyone is worthy of love, and no judgement, no opinion, no perception and no value can possibly challenge that.

What is beyond Humility?

(Reading time 1 minute)

Humility.

Every major religion promotes it as one of the highest virtues.
In executive-land it is deemed a highly desirable attribute of a great leader.
It is symbolic of sanctity, something that even a intensely materialistic person somehow aspires to master.

But what if it was not actually true? What if humility was in fact a symptom of an inflated ego?

One of the great rewards of coaching is that one continues a journey of learning that can digress into some unexpected and amazing “places”. I am privileged to coach some extraordinarily aware people, and recently this very question emerged.

Ultimately, all virtues are manifestations of the ego.

They are manifestation of the ego, because they are polar opposites of a less desirable trait. Humility is no more than the opposite to vanity and arrogance.

The act of recognising a virtue engages the ego. This very recognition is inevitably a public gesture of receiving veneration, of receiving admiration., perhaps even being an object of worship. This is not inherently a bad thing. Let’s face it, a person who considers humility a worthy trait is almost certainly likely to behave with compassion, respect and a sense of contribution towards others. But along our journey of spiritual development, it is necessary to also acknowledge that humility is only a step on the path to a higher fulfillment, and one that still demands of us to divide, to categorise, to judge. It is a virtue that is only possible within a dualistic mind.

How do we get past this?

The finger points squarely at the essence of mindfulness, at the essence of Zen: Be.

To simply allow oneself to be as one is implies full respect for oneself, a full unconditional self-acceptance, devoid of judgment. It is embodying fearlessness and true detatchment. It is a pure manifestation of love and of gratitude, neither directed at ourselves, nor away, but in all directions equally. The next higher state of being is simply this: to do what is necessary because it is necessary, not because it is good. It does not mean doing away with discernment, but does away with the need to be rewarded and recognised for what we do. It is being able to delight in the consequences of our actions not because they are our actions, but because they have brought joy to someone. And when gratitude is expressed in return, to be fully able to receive it without a sense of guilt, unworthiness or pride.

I am not sure that we have a word for this. But seek to practice this anyway…

10 Awesomely Simple Brain-Hacks That Will Give You An Unfair Advantage. Really!

(Reading time 5 minutes)

While people like Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Elon Musk and a group of other visionaries are developing AI (artificial Intelligence) to extraordinary levels, most of us fail to materialise even the basic capabilities that we are already endowed with. We are not applying the latest science to our education ad self development, and missing out on some serious goodness, both in terms of our own capacity to do amazing stuff, as well as the intensity and quality of our experience of life.

Fortunately, most of it is actually surprisingly simple. You don’t have to go to the extremes that Tim Ferris has experimented on himself in order to get more mileage out of what you do. And it is not about efficiency, productivity, paleo-diets or fitbit apps. Instead change a few simple things in your daily routine.

1. First of all, get smart about learning.
Before anything meaningful can improve you need to improve your ability to learn – and retain information. And since our information comes primarily from written and spoken sources, reading speeds and listening are essential.
Learning hack # 1: Do this simple 10 minute exercise 3 or 4 times over the same number of weeks and you will see your reading speed increase from 250 words per minute to 600 and higher (we know that comprehension begins to fall apart at about 900 words). If you double or triple your reading speed – will that have an impact on your life? I am assuming that you are not just reading pulp fiction but meaningful stuff that will refine and develop you.
Learning Hack # 2: Listen to podcasts at 1.5 speed. Again this does not affect comprehension – although it may take a little getting used to listening to what sounds like over-caffeinated speakers on helium, you will be able to either listen to a podcast repeatedly (and increase retention) or simply be able to listen to more of them. 1.5 times is .5 more than what other listeners are getting through.
Learning Hack #3: Do all your learning activities within 2 hours of going to sleep. In 2009 a study at Berkley University conclusively established the relationship between learning and sleep. Motor skills and cognitive skills are processed separately in different stages of sleep, but in any case, having a decent sleep after studying or practicing a physical skill will help you get better at it faster. If you want the condensed version watch this interview with author Josh Kaufman.

The reading exercise alone will be enough to get you fired up about consuming books, so start with stuff you always wanted to read but never have time for, or finish that book that has been collecting dust for the last six months on your bedside table. If you are studying this will change your life, and your results.

Before we move onto items 2 and beyond, the first question will possibly be “What should I learn/read/practice?”

I suggest keep it simple. Don’t try to over-reach, pick one thing that you always wanted to learn or get better at, and commit to that one thing for a couple of months, longer if necessary. Why? Because the most difficult thing will not be the learning part, but developing enough discipline to do it regularly. Your practice needs to become habitual. If you don’t get to that then most things will not get past the attempt.

Besides learning to learn, here are a few more proven brain-enhancing hacks.

2. Add a musical instrument to your learning palette. Music is by far the greatest brain-enhancing activity. It improves all sorts of things from spatial awareness to self-awareness, from the the ability to stay calm to becoming better at maths, puzzles and geometry. Above all, you will suddenly comprehend jokes and the universe in a way that can only understood by other musicians.
3. Reduce your screen time to the absolute minimum necessary, and have one, two or even 3 screen free days every week. Seriously, I dare you. If the world ends on day 3 we’ll all know, otherwise let us all know how you did via the comments below. Screens are the antithesis to a brain-hack (with the exception of your kindle and reading important posts like this one)
4. Meditate daily. Start with 10 minute breathing exercises, and if you really want to alter your brain physically (all good ones) then work towards 20 minutes or longer in a single session every day. There is that famous Zen poverb: “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”
5. Put your to-do list in your diary. To-do’s take time, so if you are not scheduling some time for it, it is unlikely to ever happen! Besides you will learn really quickly to prioritise when you begin to run out of time-slots in your agenda. I could go on here about the power of saying no, but that’s best left for another post.
6. Write important stuff by hand. It has been verified over and over again that writing stuff by hand goes into your brain and stays there, in other words handwriting has a much higher rate of retention than typing. It is probably no big deal that the appointment you typed into Sunrise Calendar on your iPhone is forgotten until the reminder pops up, but it matters when you are taking notes at a meeting. Having important information stored in your brain will ensure that you solve complex problems more effectively. And don’t worry – it is extremely unlikely that you will ever get a notification from your brain saying “Brain full. Would you like to archive old files now?”
7. Dictate to your devices instead of typing. Not really a brain hack, but yeah, why not use technology to your advantage. Typing is slow, speaking and listening back will actually help with retention when your favourite notebook and pencil are not at hand. Besides, its the way of the future (for now). Most devices now do a pretty good job at this, and many of them learn to recognise your way of speaking. Spooky, but very very cool.
8. Get/keep fit with a 10 or 15-minute daily regime. No excuses here, there is a plethora of decent programs out there, find one and refine it as you get a routine going. The simple fact is that your brain works way better if it is carried around by a fit and healthy body. Slouching in a chair, mouse in hand for 8 -15 hours a day staring at a screen is not just destroying your body, it is also destroying your mind, which brings me to the next point.
9. Take breaks. Your thinking ability begins to decline rapidly after 45 minutes at the same task, and is totally zapped, zero, nil, at around 90 minutes. My personal favourite is the Pomodoro Method, where you work for 25 and take a 5 minute break, meaning 5 minutes of doing something away from the desk that has absolutely nothing to do with what you were doing before. If you can go outside, breathe some fresh green air, stare at the clouds and hear cows and birds in some kind of vegetated space even better. But beware – use a timer for this. Time flies when you are getting stuff done!.
10. Eat and drink well and regularly. Up the leafy greens and veg big time, more whole foods and less processed, ditch the sugars where you can, and don’t be afraid of oils and fats. your brain needs them! And of course keep up the water (or green tea).

That book you always wanted to write? A language you wanted to learn? Whatever it is that you have parked because it is to difficult to learn, you now have no reason not to start. It may not make you rich overnight, but I am certain that it will make you happier.

In closing, if you are a parent teach this stuff to your kids. I hope this helps look at your life and theirs in a different way.

You don’t need to be Lucy on performance enhancing drugs to overclock your brain, most of it is simple science, a little discipline and a lot of fun.

The Secret to a Fearless and Compassionate Life

(Reading time 3 minutes)

From the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep we are bombarded with reasons to worry.

We worry that the kids will dawdle and we may be late for that important-yet-earlier-that-desirable work meeting.

Worry that we won’t have enough food for our diner guests, or that they may not like coriander.

Worry that the pay will not go in on time to cover that pesky overdue bill in time.

Worry that our wardrobe choice may be an unpleasant mismatch.

Worry that our partner may not love us as much as we like to.

Worry that the annoying ache in our back may be getting worse.

Worry that we cant find our car keys.

Worry that we will not meet that work deadline.

Worry that we haven’t studied enough for that exam.

Worried that we may not secure that next all-important lifeline client.

Worried that the backers will withdraw funding if our venture does not proceed fast enough.

Worry what our colleagues may think of our demeanour, or our last crazy proposition.

Fear gets in the way of nearly everything we do in life. It stops us from picking up telephones, from voicing our views, of unleashing our imagination, of being authentic. Fear of something is without a doubt the reason why your life isn’t quite what you expected. And it is also the thing that will continue to stop you from getting that life.

Nearly all religions declare in some form or other that we should practice detachment, and that it is necessary to attain whatever state of enlightenment, grace or wholeness that one may aspire to.
And for good reason.

Detachment kills fear.

And the irony is, we are inherently fearful of this idea of detachment. There is this sense that it means not caring, it means becoming disengaged and unemotional, it means becoming heartless.

The truth is precisely the opposite.

Not only does detachment kill our fear, it also fills us with gratitude and allows us to fully experience the present moment.

The thing about detachment is that it takes our attention away from what is not yet – and may never eventuate. It means removing the fairy-tale that is continuously forming in our mind, evaluating risks, anticipating wins or losses that may never materialise, or create judgements about what may be be going on in the minds of others. While this may be important and relevant when you are planning something, it gets in the way any other time. And so our attention is inevitably on what is instead of what may -or should- be.

When we allow ourselves to not get attached to the outcome of an activity, we can act with absolute clarity and good judgement.
When we allow ourselves to not be attached to the idea of needing to be loved or even acknowledged by someone, we are able to recognise and accept the love that comes our way with complete gratitude.
When we are not attached to the need for a partner or child, we may cease to fear loosing them, and instead it is possible to completely immerse ourselves in the experience of their company at the present moment. It becomes impossible not to act with complete and selfless compassion and overwhelming respect for them.
When we are not attached to the accolades, promotions or recognition, we can serve our intended purpose without limitations or restrictions (which are almost always self-imposed).

Next time that you sense any kind of anxiety, change the question. Don’t ask what it is that you are worried about, or what you fear.

Look instead for what it is that you are attached to.

Then, when you make the connection, release it. Let it go. Allow it to take its course, give permission. It is a form of respect and complete engagement with what is.

What you may experience can not be described in words. It must be felt. Elan, joy, liberation, grace. But above all, a deeply caring sense of gratitude and calm. Fearlessness. Clarity.

Of course uncovering what you are attached to may not be a simple thing, and may take some time. You may find that there are other hurdles in the way, other attchments. But as you gradually break each of them down, uncover them and cut that rope, you will get better at recognising these attachments. and some may not show up without a guru or teacher. But whatever it is that you need to do, do it.

That is the secret to a fearless and compassionate life.

To Be, and not To Do

(Reading time 2 minutes)

Somewhere in the last century, as manufacturers faced increasing competition, the need to differentiate lead to increasingly preposterous claims and assertions. Slowly language has been misappropriated, words have been misused, and messages have become garbled. The payload – its’ meaning -has been diluted, taken for granted, sometimes contradicted and sometimes outright and violated.

Think about the contents of your refrigerator…

From pasteurised milk and packaged salad mix to frozen vegetable packs and tv-dinners, the word “fresh” is hardly a appropriate descriptor for a product that has undergone some form of industrial process. The fruit juice labeled “squeezed daily”, or the bread “baked daily in grandma’s kitchen” may sound evocative of intangible attribute, but the reality is that a large factory can ill afford idle days.

But it is not just freshness. In the same way that everyday terms have been hijacked by advertising, and in perhaps more sinister way by politicians, some big words need to be brought back to their true essence, because they are about our essence as human beings.

Three of these big words are “respect”, “honesty” and “compassion”. I have always considered these as words that embody an attribute, as adjectives that describe a timeless, immutable quality about a person. It was with some surprise when I recently heard someone use the word “compassion” to describe their actions, in this case inferring that another person had been bestowed with “enough” compassion, and therefore they felt it was appropriate to withdraw any further compassion towards that person.

In a single breath, the word had ceased to define a quality of the giver to instead become the privilege of the receiver.

Two other things also happened in that instant.

First of all I felt dissapointed. Not for the recipient, but sad for the person administering the gesture. In one sentence they had gone from being someone who I believed to be genuinely compassionate, to someone who “did compassion”. Clearly no only did they “do compassion”, they also felt they had the authority to administer compassion – and withdraw it – as they saw fit.

Secondly, their trustworthyness was suddenly compromised – it had become conditional.

In an age when words are being increasingly misused, abused, and misconstrued, sometimes by accident, but more often with the deliberate intention of forcing misleading associations with a deeply significant idea or quality where clearly there was none, it is important that we protect our clarity and understanding of the basics.

Doing something that demands wholehearted acceptance, respect and non-judging openness from time to time at our convenience and branding ourselves respectful does not make us a respectful person. Ask yourself what sort of person are you in the time when you are critical and not respectful of others?

Telling the truth from time to time at our convenience and labeling it honesty does not make us an honest person. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not practicing honesty?

Doing something kind for someone from time to time at our convenience and labeling it compassion does not make us compassionate. Ask yourself, what are you in the time when you are not being compassionate?

An respectful person always respects, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. An honest person will always speak the truth, regardless of who or what they are dealing with. A compassionate person will always be compassionate regardless of who or what they are dealing with. These three qualities are attributes of the giver, not privileges of the recipient.

Don’t do respect, honesty or compassion.

BE respectful. BE honest. BE compassionate.

Embody these, make them a fundamental part of who you are, instead of just doing these as a momentary public gesture that is conditional on you assumption of the worthiness of others.

How the Motivation Candy Epidemic it is making you fat!

(Reading time 3 minutes)
Picture a beautiful sunset, golden clouds reflecting on the ocean. Or waterfall photographed with a wide angle lens through the mist. Or a climber contemplating the view from mountaintop. Or crystal clear waters washing onto a white sandy beach, complete with a near-cloudless blue sky and leaning palm trees.

In bold, or thin, or delightful cursive writing is a famous motivational quote.

 And right now there are a few hundred, if not thousands of these every two or three posts apart on virtually all of your social media feeds!
Let’s face it, we all feel warm and fuzzy and uplifted when we read these.

Or perhaps not?

Motivational quotes are useful. But like most things, they become extremely harmful when consumed in excess.

And right now I believe we have a motivational quote obesity crisis.
As people go on with their every-day life struggles seeking to gain some reprieve, brightening an otherwise dull day with a inspiring quote or two, the gap between the message and the real-life circumstances progressively widens. The quote looses its potency, its message becomes diluted, and its payload is delivered to a mind that is not ready to act. Instead of becoming high-performance fuel, it is a sugary candy that does little more than mess with their spiritual insulin: their self-confidence.
As the gap widens, a person’s ability to believe the quote, to feel its true power and meaning, becomes eroded. Instead, self-doubt increases, and a lengthy downward spiral of questioning their own ability to convert such a simple truth into a result in their life. They increasingly begin to ask themselves what may be wrong with them, as any wins and accomplishments if any, have been modest. Victories, accomplishments and success becomes something reserved for others better than them. And so the cycle repeats and they sink a little lower.
So what is missing? What is needed to turn that quote from sugary candy to a green-energy smoothie?
I believe that two things are needed.

The first one is a motive. The second is validation.

Most life and success coaching is based on the assumption that these are already known, but in my experience this is precisely the part that keeps people from beginning, let alone achieving. Finding your motive is not easy. Having it validated by peers who are equally unsuccessful is even more difficult. This is affects not just low achievers or high achievers only, in fact great for high achievers the frustration and pain of un-fulfilling and misplaced success is all too common. In fact with that great success also comes a profound and often inescapable dependence on that very thing that has been a success. A change at that level often demands an extraordinary price.
Knowing your life’s purpose is made extraordinarily difficult in our society as the expectation to follow and comply with a social framework is embedded in our thinking from an early age. While those frameworks themselves do not necessarily restrict us from following our passion, the demands of time and energy that tend to envelop us generally overwhelm us, and result in our passion being put in the too hard basket, and eventually promoted to the impossible basket. The tragic consequence of this is that most people end up dis-associating from their real passions, until it becomes a deep sad ache, a frustrated and sorrowful festering memory of a parallel universe that they believe they were never meant to be in.

Before you can be motivated, you must know you true burning deeper purpose. And you must believe it is an absolutely worthy pursuit.

If you have been able to figure it out on your own, you are in an extremely rare minority.
If this still eludes you, know first of all that you are normal! Next, have the courage to ask for help. Most never will, and that act alone sentences them to a life of disappointment, mostly in themselves. No amount of motivational quotes will ever fix that. The motivational quote becomes the sugary candy that only fattens their self-doubt.
You will need to invest time and effort, and possibly even money to get help in discovering your big motive. You may need to get uncomfortable and surround yourself with people who will validate rather than weaken your true vision. Be mindful here that I am not referring to people who have a vested interest in your success in a venture that is not your “own”, but instead the people who will selflessly instill faith, credibility and confidence in you and your aspirations when they have nothing to gain from your success.
As you real motivation takes form, know that almost certainly you will get it completely wrong, several times. You will have false starts. You will make mistakes and it will take some fine-tuning. And once you get going with it, you will face hurdles. Only this time your mind is ready to act, the mix of ingredients is right, and those motivational quotes will truly be your green-energy smoothie.

This time they will all makes sense, and infuse you with strength, belief and confidence, because you know where you are going, and why.

Stop impressing your boss (do this instead!)

For the larger part of the adult population, the single biggest share of time is spent almost exclusively in the company of work colleagues, clients, and bosses. And because of this idea that our relationship with them is pivotal to our life, these are the people who we are most likely to make efforts to impress, or at least, not get unnecessarily off-side. The majority of them are people who we have never deliberately sought to share time with, they come into our life as part of a career (and usually leave with it when we change direction). In many cases they may even people who we are in direct competition with, who perhaps may even be a threat, requiring us to be even more impressive.

The relevance or lack of relevance of these relationships has a profound effect on our lives, but even more so on the lives of the next generation. When they look at you do they see substance in your purpose, in your relationships and your actions?

It is easy to jump to answer this and say “Of course!” – but the perspective from which this must be answered is not our own, it is from theirs.

That changes everything.

One very current example is this: As parents we naturally expose kids at an early age to natural icons. Rhinos, Giraffes, Elephants, Gorillas, Polar Bears, Whales. Bees. There are adventures of journeys through untouched wilderness. For most kids in primary school now, these icons are becoming increasingly likely to be extinct when they become adults. And they know that. They also know that we are somehow responsible. Perhaps not directly, but indirectly the finger points squarely at us.

This is why it changes everything:

We have inadvertently sent a very clear warning to the next generation to not follow us, to ignore our advice. We have inadvertently sent a clear message to the next generation that we don’t really care what happens to them. We have created a role-model vacuum. We have created an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, of defeat before they even begin their race. We have created a toxic environment (real and figuratively) into which they have no choice but to walk into.

But we can also change everything.

While the role-model vacuum is being filled by escapes into digital worlds where battles can still be won and where heroes still exist (for better or worse) I believe we have a moral obligation to reclaim this space. It is simpler than you think, although it requires some work – possibly difficult work because it is mostly work within ourselves.

It is simply this: Begin to shift your focus away from trying to impress your colleagues, and towards impressing your kids, whatever their age. It does not mean that you take up extreme downhill cycling, or mask up at night to become a vigilante. Here are some suggestions that won’t put you in hospital or jail.

  • Do stuff that matters. Not just to them but also to you. By spending every “free” hour entranced by a TV with a drink in hand you are declaring that you have given up yourself. Failure and defeat does not inspire, it robs others of hope, it kills possibility.
  • Show the value of life by valuing yours, and everyone else’s that you come in contact with.
  • Show respect for the natural world that they are heirs to by treating it as if it was theirs.
  • Invest ethically, into ventures that are not in conflict with their inheritance.
  • Consider who you work for. Perhaps it is time to work in an industry that is not engaged in socially or ecologically destructive practice.
  • Be kind and compassionate, not just in their presence.

There is no measure to the respect that these simple things will earn you.
There is no measure to the outlook and hope you will give them.
There is no measure to how much greater your life will become as a result.
There is no measure of how great a change is possible when many people do simple little things that matter.

And that will change everything.

Can you get as good as you give?

Giving.
Compassion.
Generosity.

The list of words that describe this simple gesture pervades all kinds of teachings, from spiritual and religious to conscientious entrepreneurship to success stories and life habits of extraordinary people.

For most people this concept, even if not necessarily executed in daily life to its full potential, at the very least rings true, and is something that is unanimously understood to be central to good character.

But giving has another side, and it is one that most people are profoundly uncomfortable about – if not completely averse to.

That other side is getting. Receiving.

Sure, when we are grateful when we receive gifts and more formal offerings, but how comfortable are you really with receiving?

The problem is deeply ingrained in most cultures, where the receiver is often plunged into a deep sense of unworthiness, entitlement, guilt, even haunted by resentment and jelaousy from others. We are trained from an early age to feel bad about receiving. It is the barter of good behaviour, it is the currency of appreciation, or more sinisterly, the emotional burden of a debt that expects to be repaid.

But for humanity to function on a simple basis around the principles of giving, compassion and generosity, for each gesture carried out someone necessarily must be a willing and grateful recipient. And sometime we must be that recipient. In fact the more frequently we show generosity and compassion to others, the more we must be prepared to receive it in return.

By refusing someone’s offering, we also do these three things:

  •  We short-cut the entire process of generosity – we effectively neutralise the other persons right and joy of such kind gesture. If we are not receiving, they are unable to give.
  •  We show disrespect towards the giver: we inadvertedly tell them what a poor judge of our character they are, what a looser they are for considering us.
  • We declare ourselves unworthy recipients, and are unable to immerse ourselves fully in the joy of the offering. We can not possibly feel gratitude or respect towards the giver. We make it clear to all that we think as little of ourselves, as we do of the giver.

It also applies to how we conduct ourselves in business, this simple reluctance to be open to receiving has a terrible price: it naturally causes us to undervalue ourselves and what we offer.

Refusing an gift is not a gesture of humility, it is a sign of arrogance, ungratefulness, disrespect and insecurity. To make our world better we must teach oursleves and our kids to be great receivers as well as great givers. We need to teach, and practice receiving with deep gratitude, understanding fully the depth and significance of the offering, emapthising with the giver, and allowing ourselves to feel the true value of what has been offered. We need to teach that with that gratitude and willingness to accept, we are affirming the giver’s right to generosity and compassion.

Give, and get. Yin and Yang. When we are able to receive with reverence, gratitude and respect, we give something profoundly meaningful back to the giver, and allow the entire transaction to become whole. Without it, generosity too is stopped.

Be whole, be wholesome. Get as good as you give.

The fights we do not have to fight.

Gratitude.

Its a big word, and like many big words, it has become diluted through mis-use by all kinds of motivational and spiritual experts. so perhaps it is appropriate to attempt to reclaim it’s true potency.

It is often said that the character of a person is shaped defined by the challenges he or she has faced. But that is only half the story. The other half is the things that they do not have to face.

I am reminded constantly of this, and you can too. It is simple, just pay attention to those around you.

For example the semi-trailer rig that stood near stood near a local shop this morning: it had a spoiler engraved with white calligraphy words “RIP ZAC” followed by dates. Those dates told me that Zac was 16 when he died. Perhaps this was his father’s truck.
Or a conversation I had yesterday afternoon with a good friend who some years ago was hit by a car and knocked off his bicycle, sustaining nearly fatal physical and some brain injuries. When we talk, I can sense that his world has different limits to mine, and the challenges that I take for granted are sometimes mountains for him.
Or closer to home, our hot-water unit broke, and for a few days we were inconvenienced with hot water rations until it was replaced. This may sound trivial, but we must not take for granted the privileged circumstances that we live in. I mean we as inclusive of you, reading this, and I, writing this.
Every day we wake up in a world where we are faced with challenges. But we also awake into a world where we are spared some pretty severe challenges. Here are some of them:
  • We do not walk two or more hours to collect a drum of water and then walk for two more hours to cook, or perhaps wash ourselves or our baby.
  • We do not wash our only items of clothing by hand every few days.
  • We do not go hungry simply because we have no access to enough food.
  • We do not require (at least not yet) someone to assist us to move around, or perhaps are dependent on a machine in order to stay alive.
  • We do not need to constantly flee from frequent violent attacks, and have to hide to stay safe, or keep ourselves and our families alive.
  • We may not need to mind what is in our food, least we have an allergic reaction that could kill us.
The reason I have made this list, is because I know people whom I respect and admire who have fought or are fighting some of these battles. But the point I wish to make is simple: the list of things that you do not have to deal with is far longer than the troubles that you do have to deal with. And with absolute certainty someone you know is dealing with something that if it were on your list of challenges would crush you.
What does this have to do with gratitude? It’s this: as we wake each day we face challenges that consume us, they are the essence of our day. We curse, we stress, we perhaps let them colour our mood, tarnish how we deal with ourselves, and how we deal with others. How often do we stop to consider what it is that we are being spared from?
Perhaps this is the question we should begin each day with. It is enough to change your perspective, enough to create a genuine deep sense of gratitude for the challenges that face you. It is this deep gratitude that makes it possible for us to take those challenges on with eagerness instead of reluctance, with energy instead of fatigue, with joy instead of resentment, and with courageous authority instead of fear.
Knowing this, and acting on this power is the true essence of gratitude. It is far to rare, but fortunately it is also highly contagious.

I’d like to invite you to become a carrier of true gratitude. What a different day you would have, and what a different day you would be creating for all those fortunate enough to come in contact with you.

The awesome things that mindfulness does to your brain!

“You can’t run that fast.

He/She is not going to be interested in you.

You look frumpy.

People are not going to like your haircut.

Your voice sounds funny.

OMG is that a wrinkle???

They will never accept those terms.

Blah blah blah.”

 

“Oh, hello, this is your inner voice speaking.

I am going to make sure you second guess yourself.

I will remind you of the impending dangers, and cause you anxiety about an upcoming event or meeting.

I am your personal reminder to worry, stress. assume.

I am here to tell you a story, to pre-emptively inform you of your story.”

Mindfulness.

Your inner voice is silent. Or at least out of hearing range. There is no pre-written plot here. You chose.
Ok, so what was that all about?
Last week I promised to reveal what happens in your brain when you are “mindful”. What you have just read is an example of what actually happens. Many studies have been done to find out what goes on in your brain during and after meditation. Although meditation is not the same as mindfulness, it is one of the most common – and easiest – ways to practice mindfulness, and develop it. From that practice we can then apply it anytime, anywhere. Next week I will go into more detail about how you can easily begin to develop mindfulness as a habit, but for now, lets get back to the brain.

Two important things happen in your brain during and after meditation or mindfulness practice:

First, the inner voice is muted.

Your inner voice, or story-teller uses the information it receives from your reticular activating system (see my post on this here) to develop stories that are strictly speaking fantasy. These stories are generated by our language centre based on past experiences, assumptions, live information that comes in through our senses, and “stuff” that is floating around in our subconscious.
Mindfulness separates and severs this link.
At first that may sound like a bad thing, but it is not. This severing allows the more evolved parts of our mind to engage with the information that comes in through our senses, and effectively bypasses our more primitive flight-or-fight type brain functions and stop the behavior triggers. So what that really means is that instead of second guessing, doubting or deluding ourselves by way of this creative story-telling , our awareness is actually processing the information that comes in “clean”, in other words, without emotional bias, not altered by our past experiences. It does not mean we don’t “feel” emotion, it simply means the made-up story does not undermine our perception with assumptions. Our inner voice is powerful, and our ability to silence it and bypass it means we will worry less, stress less, abstain from passing judgment preemptively, draw foregone conclusions and so on. It means that we are able to work with untampered information and as a result we will make better decisions. Its that simple, and it has a very direct effect on our body and our health.

The second thing that happens is we become more empathic.

This is not some warm-and-fuzzy theoretical thing, the areas of our brain responsible for empathy and compassion are stimulated and become more active. We are able to connect with our surroundings better (not just people) and it increases our awareness as a part of a greater whole. The benefit of this needs no explanation. Because of this, meditation is being used as a highly effective way of helping people recover from depression – meditation instead of medication!
Although significant and lasting physiological changes to the brain take some time to reach, (the first real changes begin to occur after about two months of regular daily meditation), you can quite literally change the experience of your day on the spot by either meditation or mindfulness exercises. And that does not require preparation.

So in summary, your brain will reconfigure itself to reduce stress and increase health, and you will become a nicer, kinder more authentic person.

I deliberately left the heavy science stuff out, but I will post links next week to some relevant scientific publications and media if you wish to immerse yourself the clinical and detailed explanation (no pseudoscience!). Next week I will show you simple ways to tap into this wonderful state of being, and give you a starting point towards a healthier, happier, mindful life.
Enjoy, share, comment…