Where is the Button to #reset Our World for a Bright New Norm?

I spent a large part of my early life just wanting to be normal, to fit in and be accepted. Back then it seemed that I, along with many of my immediate family, did not fit in to the world we inhabited. There was always something that made us stand out. From our hand knitted school jumpers to being the only child who’s mother could change the wheel of a car, and her “you can take me as you find me” attitude meant that whatever group I was trying to be part of left me feeling like the outsider, the “square peg in the round hole”. I concluded years later that “normal” equated to “that which I have acceptance for”. So, however different, unique, strange, or downright weird I was perceived to be, I endeavored to celebrate it rather than hide under a rock of shame. I have to say that I was not that proficient at living from this awareness and it took many years to find acceptance for who I am. Even now I occasionally bump into something that needs embracing, accepting, and integrating into my world at large.

So now each day we wake to a world that does not resemble the one we lived in only seven or eight months ago. Now our world is anything but normal. It is hard to be sure of anything these days apart from what is directly before us or what we are feeling in this precise moment. I often wonder how my late parents would assess our world today. If only they were able to come back for the afternoon and take a look. Probably, only their generation who lived through World War II could make any sort of comparison to what we are experiencing today.

Finger pointing blame is rife wherever you look and it is easy to get sucked in. Yet, who is to blame and what are they to blame for? In seeking personal responsibility, we may find we blame others less. However personal responsibility can easily slip into self-blame. Punishment can be instantaneous when accusation to execution may only be a breath away.

The old way has been decommissioned, the terrain is unchartered and the new has yet to be established. Life seems to have become a strange board game without instruction, where the players, without option are making up the rules each time they pick up the dice. There is a strange feeling in the air; a feeling that normally accompanies the time between death of someone significant and the funeral where we get to say our final goodbye. During such time it’s feels like life has hit the pause button. Now the world is caught in a parallel experience, waiting, unaware of what is to come or when it will happen and once again the pause button is firmly locked on.   The word on the street… “When will it all return to normal”, is sandwiched between the hope of the dawning of a new age and the fear it’s the beginning of the end of the world.

As a young child I was perplexed by two major questions; why do so many old people die alone and why are there so many children in orphanages?  How far have we come, how far have we fallen from the dreams and aspirations of that child who only wanted to make the world a better place? What if we had a chance to press the #reset button, to return our world to factory settings? I doubt that many have much idea of what those original settings were. Even less awareness of the viruses that have twisted our innocent aspirations into unrecognisable corruptions of the programs we were all encouraged to download.

What if we have got it all wrong? What if the conclusions that we have made about life, love and the pursuit of happiness were fundamentally incorrect? Maybe now is a good time to put everything under the microscope and evaluate what truly matters and what is intrinsically true for each of us in turn. Earlier this year it was widely reported that if we took 3% of the American military budget, we could end world starvation.  Being that hunger and malnutrition are the greatest cause of death on this planet, it seems that something here is fundamentally messed up!

Historically the world has been orchestrated by guilt and blame, pointing fingers at one another, and bludgeoning the accused with a mallet of shame. To this day that approach continues universally and universally continues not to work. So maybe, once again, another reason to hit the #reset button and start asking some soul-searching questions to the person you see in the mirror.

So, what is the answer?  Well, what is the question?  To define the question do we first not have to define our intention and motivation? They say every cloud has a silver lining and if you look closely you might see how well that lining has been sewn into place. I have been waiting for something to come along and fundamentally change the trajectory of our world. I feared what that might look like. Now my fear is evenly woven with hope that maybe, at last, we have found a way to change the wheel of the car while it is careers down the road.

I could stop now, preferring to leave everyone, including myself, to start their own process of re-evaluation. Yet, where does one start such a monumental #reset? I have often thought that the most powerful statement in learning or doing something differently is “I don’t know” because from that place, there is something to be attained outside of what we have already gathered. From “I don’t know” there is hopefully a willingness found within to invite enquiry,  for the seeking of answers and the subsequent understanding that will enable us to live a more fulfilled, expansive life with more integrity and harmony. Whereas, staying in what we know just reinforces more of the same, which could go a long way to explaining why we are in such a catastrophic mess. Even today children are taught facts and information, unwittingly programmed to believe that success is their ability to catalogue what is being fed to them. No wonder the automatic response of an adolescent is often “Yeh, I know” when trying to explain something to them. “Yeh, I know” is a fear reaction, one that stops learning before it is given a chance. Imagine how much greater a child’s ability to learn would be if they felt completely safe and comfortable with not knowing.

So, from this unchartered territory that many are now calling the “new norm”, maybe we can establish what is true, from what we have historically subscribed to as truth. What would be left if we were able to press the button and reset our world? What would we actually know? What if anything from the old world would we like to include? Stop and ask yourself right now; what is it that I fundamentally know in this moment.

I am alive…

I am breathing…

I feel…

Each and everyday day starts and finishes with oneself. We are the first one we greet and the last one we leave. We know more about that person in the mirror than anyone else does. Of all the important people in your life where does the person in the mirror come on your list.  Treat today as if it is the first day of your new life in this new world. How do you want to live it? Remember that we are both our own saviour and our own saboteur.

Maybe its time to rewrite the rules of the game so that whatever the roll of the dice, we win. So now, all we must decide is what constitutes “the winning game”.

If you feel like you would like some help defining the rules of your game, please get in touch. I work both face to face and remotely via Zoom, What’s App and Phone. I always offer a free initial 15 mins phone consultation to see if I can be of help and assistance to you

+44 7811 374 923

Philipflanagan.co.uk

The Complexity of Compromise

While driving recently, I caught the tail end of an interesting interview on the radio. A chap discussing a long distance cycling vacation taken with his wife; stated how weight played a key factor in the preparation for such a complex trip. “Whatever you take”, he said, “you have to carry, albeit on your bike”. So like many others passionate about this pastime, he cut out the labels from within the clothing they were taking, gloating at the microscopic weight saved, trimming down their burden. Similarly in life, there are many things we can do to trim the load and lighten the burden we carry, from diet and exercise to jettisoning toxic relationships. So where else in life could we trim down, creating less drag, enabling us to move smoothly through all that life presents?

If asked to name the key elements within relationship, most would include “Compromise” in their top five. Compromise is often regarded as a cornerstone to many if not all relationships, both professional and personal; but what damage is being done by this seemingly innocent act?

What’s the difference between compromise and choice?  Is there anything to be gained by experiencing our compliance as choice, rather than as compromise? The result of either looks similar from outside, yet from within, the motivation and cost incurred is vastly different. Compromise is a form of restriction, where one sacrifices unbridled desire in order to make room for the wishes or needs of another. Our decision does not come from what we want but from weighing up the overall cost and benefit for the greater good of the situation or relationship that one is trying to navigate. Compromise is more commonplace for a person who is a pleaser rather than one who is a controller. A pleaser being someone who is more invested in being loved and accepted than fulfilling their own personal desires. A controller, on the other hand, is a person who is unwilling to surrender their desire for that of another or consensus of the many. They would rather stand alone, holding firm to what they wanted no matter the pressure or consequence.

The concept of pleaser versus controller only gets more convoluted when you take into account that some people can be the controller in one situation and pleaser in another. There’s no golden rule as to the benefit or detriment of being either, as both have shortfalls as well as advantages. Decisions derived by compromise can often sit comfortably in place almost indefinitely, until another element from within the relationship is brought into question.

Mary didn’t mind occasionally picking up after her brother in the apartment they shared though she would rather he was more responsible and acted less like a child. She justified the “Compromise” by consoling herself that he would at some point step up, when something more befitting his abilities than hers showed up to be handled. Yet this unfortunately came crashing around her ears when they suddenly needed to move apartment. Expecting help with packing and manhandling all they jointly owned, she quickly became resentful when his half-baked apology stated he had to be out of town on business on the weekend of the move.

Like many, she had concocted a contract of compromise in her head, one that would eventually be cashed in for all that she was doing for him. Her mistake if any, came in the form of assumption, as at no point in the proceedings was he privy to the unwritten “Small print” and therefore could never give or refuse approval. So we can see that assumption can be as detrimental as compromise, a dangerous combination that for many is born out of fear. Fear that for whatever reason we cannot have what we want, so we avoid directly asking preferring to assume and hope for compliance sometime in the future. How many people hold on to relationships or jobs waiting for that time, a time that never comes? As a result it is easy to build up a backlog of resentment that sits seething within; creating unknown damage that sooner or later takes it toll.

Compromise is a contract,  though often only one side gets to know the conditions. The parameters may only be presented once they have been breached, so the accused only becomes aware of them, after the fact. Here we can see how transparency of any contract is paramount, yet all too often fear keeps the author from sharing its stipulations. Once again, awareness comes to the foreground in needing to play an active role, first and foremost from within. Maybe if we were to re-evaluate each contract that we held with another we might find at least one we could transform from compromise to choice, microscopically reducing the burden we carry.

As previously stated, compromise is a restriction, a restriction of desire and a restriction of our emotional heart. Like the physical, our emotional heart, in a healthy state allows everything to flow easily and freely. It is the place from where desire manifests as well as all emotion and feeling. A healthy emotional heart is also the place from where responsibility is born. The lack of being able to experience responsibility is due, in part, to our heart being compromised, leaving us no option but to view the world from an intellectual construct of guilt and blame. No wonder the world is in such a catastrophic state.  On closer inspection one discovers uncanny parallels between these two “Hearts”. The health of one is essential to the other,  a symbiotic relationship. Maybe there’s more truth than we realise in the old saying; “He died of a broken heart”.

So how do we transform compromise into choice? Well, rather than constrict through compromise maybe we could find a way to expand the reach of our heart to include what is being asked of us from without. When we feel our own abundance it is much easier to give and share. Our abundance becomes apparent when we view our world through eyes of gratitude, eyes devoid of assumption or entitlement. Yet looking at the world at large it might seem that this is far from the norm. When a few with so much deny and control so many that have so little. I was taught to lead by example and inspired by the words of the Catholic Saint, St Ignatius of Loyola; “To give and not to count the cost”. Maybe a healthier way would be only to give what we can without condition or expectation of return.

If in transforming just one of today’s compromises into one of tomorrow’s choices might we lighten tomorrow’s burden?

And if you think that something so minute could not make such a difference to your world, try sleeping with a mosquito!!!

To find out more about Phil, his work and how he could “Help you find your way”.

Contact him via this website – philipflanagan.co.uk

He currently sees clients in Both London and Canterbury and works remotely through Phone, Skype and What’s App.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art of Letting Go

Have you ever wondered why some people appear so chilled? Nothing seems to get them down and everything for them appears like water off a duck’s back. For others though, solutions to life’s numerous challenges often seem elusive until someone from somewhere turns up to advise then that all they really need to do is to “`Let it go”. Even Disney jumped on the bandwagon with it’s hit theme from the 2013 film Frozen which left parents world wide running for the cooking sherry whilst small people continuously serenaded them with the catchy mantra. Yet this seemingly simple concept may not be as simple, easy or in fact beneficial as many professing its merits make out. The mere suggestion one should just “let it go” can be damaging to the person who, for whatever reason isn’t. Letting go is never the solution, unless it’s a practical letting go of the rope, to allow the boat to set sail. Championing such philosophy, like “letting go of ones sadness” cannot only cause numerous problems but shows a total lack of understanding of our emotional world. It would definitely help to understand the mechanics of what it is that allows some to let go, while others are unable to do so.

So what makes it easy for Peter to let go when Paul, in a similar situation finds it impossible? An old friend once told me that after her mother died she just called in house clearance and had everything disposed of. I, on the other hand, held onto scraps of paper for years covered with my late mothers handwriting. So maybe in this comparison we can start to understand that there might be an unstated element underpinning a person’s inability to let go. It stems from our feeling world, our emotional backlog, this backlog of feeling that, for some reason, has not found healthy expression and has ended up locked within. Feelings and emotions just want to be innocently felt and expressed, literally given a voice, to be carried out on our breath. It is those unexpressed feelings inside that reach out, holding on to us like the hand unwilling to give up the handshake, making it impossible for our conscious intention of letting go to be reached.

From the outside looking in, it is easy to point out where someone else would benefit from letting go of something obviously not serving them. Yet holding on is often not what one wants to do, it just feels like the situation is being held in place by something other than ones conscious intention. The handshake only ends when both parties let go. I remember too well the feeling of being held hostage by another’s hand, unable to disengage until they finally let me go. Holding on, or our lack of being able to let go, is the handshake we are having with ourselves, where one hand refuses to let go of the other. One hand our conscious intention and the other formed from our backlog of feeling and emotion.

When there is no feeling or emotion wrapped around a particular situation letting go is never an issue. Letting go is a mental construct, concocted from our total lack of understanding of the value of our feelings and emotions, or how to operate within their presence. In our formative years we don’t all develop in the same way and as a result we may be vastly different to the person sitting next to us on the train. That being said, most people were taught how not to feel, rather than how to feel and express in a safe and healthy way.

Once again logic is trying to understand and shepherd our feelings, when obviously it has no clue to their value and importance. A case in point is the quote I read recently: “You know why it’s hard to be happy? It’s because we refuse to let go of the things that make us sad”. This is only one example where logic has tried to make sense of feelings. Happy and sad are not opposites or mutually exclusive. We don’t need to let go of what makes us sad in order to be happy. When we experience a loss the appropriate response is sadness. All we need is the space within and without to wholeheartedly feel and express our sadness. Only when we have felt and expressed enough can we move on. There is no internal meter to let us know when we have felt enough, although most of us have developed a gauge based on our upbringing, social conditioning and life’s unwritten rules. Yet the only guideline we really need to reference is: “Feel the feeling until the feeling no longer needs to be felt”. Enough is when the feeling is no longer present.

As a teen I can remember being encouraged to “Just let go Philip”. Surprisingly this suggestion came from my mother; a woman who more resembled a terrier down a rabbit hole than a chilled Zen monk, when it came to holding on versus letting go. So for me, this idea is anything but new. She had picked it up from overhearing platitudes my guru at the time had professed while sharing his so called spiritual wisdom. Like so many others she had no idea of what, why or how one was actually supposed to do such an elusive task, yet found it easy to preach its merits to others, of which I was only one.

So, let go if you can and if not, turn your attention to discovering and assisting your feelings to find healthy expression. In a world where we were able to feel and express our emotions in a safe, healthy and innocent way the concept of letting go would becomes a thing of the past. We have concocted a mental concept that has no place in a world where all aspects of us are honoured, valued and expressed.

Now, maybe the only thing we need to let go of is the mistaken belief that we need to let go…

If this piece resonates and you would like to find out more, please feel free to get in touch via my website. I work with clients face to face and well as phone and Skype.

A Life Without Shame

I wanted to explore with you how shame is the feeling that accompanies the thought that one has either done something bad or that one is intrinsically bad.

Today I felt ashamed; historically it’s a familiar feeling. I knew it would pass yet it’s never easy when shame raises its head. “Why couldn’t I just have been like everyone else?” These familiar thoughts screamed in my head as I faced what had triggered my shame. Then suddenly, my mind took me back to junior school, the sports field at lunchtime in early summer. There was much to be ashamed of back then. I’m not sure which came first, the feelings of shame or the feeling of being different and not fitting in. I’m sure it was not helped by my mother’s appearance for which I was ridiculed on a regular basis. Other mothers wore tights or stockings, mine wore white knee length socks. “Why’s your mum wearing white virgin socks” would be the battle cry from other children to shame and humiliate me. As I write this now it seems so petty, compared to what so many have to endure in our world today. Yet back then, the pain of the shame and embarrassment was all but physical and still I feel that memory today. Shame is an exceptionally powerful force and in the extreme can push a person to take the ultimate step to suicide. So I’m grateful that however bad the shaming got, from others or my own internal critic, I found ways to hide or keep out of the firing line as much as I could. Avoiding shame and fear at every corner became one of my greatest challenges as a child, yet unfortunately, like most things we try to avoid, it inadvertently followed me wherever I went.

I now endeavour to embrace all that I am, even the parts for which I may have previously felt shame. Most people form coping mechanisms to deal with aspects of themselves for which they have no acceptance. While these mechanisms may help with the symptoms, they can hamper integration and healing, in the same way that painkillers deal with symptoms yet can be detrimental in the long term. Many people don’t even realise that a particular behavior they engage in is actually a coping mechanism, a reaction to something held deep within. Healing is the place of balance. When one lives united, no longer suffering through internal battles we are void of conflict. Understandably this is the aspiration; to gently flow like the tides, not fixed and rigid, accepting and embracing all that we are. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have to “let it go” or as I used to hear all too often “get off it”. All we need is to express the feeling until it no longer needs further expression. Once the pressure of unexpressed feeling has been released through healthy expression we take a giant step along the path to healing.

Shame and guilt seem like close relatives, yet for me, guilt is the feeling of having done something which is wrong, whereas shame is the feeling that I am bad and wrong. I would say that over the years my feelings of shame have decreased, yet today showed me there is more, however little, still to release. So rather than push it into the shadows I invite it into the light and offer it here as a sign post to assist others to loosen the grip that shame has on their life.

Feelings of shame are either self generated or taken on from someone or some authority with power and influence over us. Much of this is put in place when we are young children. Apart from those who were directly told they were bad and subsequently believed it, many concluded that they must be wrong or bad in order to make sense of situations that they didn’t have the developmental capability to understand. For the most part, to young children parents are perfect, they cannot do anything wrong. So when something untoward happens like being beaten, abandoned or left, the child has to frame their reality to keep intact their unwavering belief in the perfection of their parents. This is achieved by making it all their own fault and as a result cultivate an underlying sense that they are inherently bad in one way or another.

“I must be BAD that’s’ why mother beat me”

“I must be to blame for Daddy leaving, I am not good enough for him to stay”

Shame affects us both mentally and emotionally and can also be detrimental to our physical health and wellbeing, potentially fatal. Without love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness for self we can never be free of shame.

So, how do we start to heal the wounds of shame?

It’s easier for us to deal with shame inflicted on ourselves by others than shame inflicted on self. We can only be shamed by someone who is in a place of power in our life, some one we revere. Once we have found a way to remove them from such a position they no longer can shame us. Neutralising shame inflicted on oneself is slightly trickier to navigate. The good news is that there are keys to unlocking the Shackles of Shame. Find some compassion for yourself. It’s easy to look back from our present vantage point and berate oneself, proclaiming that I could have or should have done it better or different. Unless we can guarantee that our decision had deliberate intent to harm, we can only conclude that we did the best with what we had available at that time. Maybe its time to entertain the idea that we could forgive ourselves for not being perfect.  Think about spending some time cultivating a kinder attitude to yourself so you can move forward with a more wholesome loving relationship with self and others. If you took what you are feeling ashamed of in isolation, as if it was unique, the first time it had ever happened, you might find it easier to find some love, compassion and forgiveness for what you had got yourself into. If someone you loved and adored had done the same thing that you are feeling so ashamed of, I wonder how you would judge them? Many of us are quick to forgive those we love yet even quicker to condemn ourselves…

Without self-love, everything and everyone else we love has something fundamentally missing…

The Courage To Heal

In my early twenties I suffered with what seemed like constant headaches, to the point where if I woke up without one, I’d be suspicious. One day while visiting a friend, I had to lie on her sofa hoping my headache would pass. Her mother, an eminent psychotherapist came into the room. As she stood over me, her hand gently resting on my forehead she said, “Philip, I think there’s a lot more going on here than just a headache that really needs to be talked about”. I wonder if the look in my eyes gave a truer answer than my half attempt at a silent smile. My thoughts, on the other hand, screamed in my head “You must be F……g joking lady! I’ve spent the last twenty years keeping all this well and truly buried and I don’t think I’m about to let it all out now!!!”  Within a year I had my first breakdown.

So I understand only too well when people say, “I know there’s things that I haven’t dealt with, but I just can’t go there right now”. Experience has helped me to handle those intimate moments, where possibly a total stranger has given me access, even for a split second into their inner world. Hopefully, without seeming too pushy, I invite them to stay in touch, leaving a door open for if or when they feel inclined or ready. Never pressing the point, I still wonder how long and how much suffering they endure by holding inside something that with the right help could find resolution.

There is much I could say about misguided advice from friends or family, to ill-advised professional help of which many report. The shocking discovery that in 2017 one in six adults in England were prescribed antidepressants, not counting the 70,000 children under the age of eighteen and almost 2,000 under the age of eleven. Surprisingly, this came after GP’s had been told to avoid prescribing antidepressants to children and adolescents where possible, after research showed that use of SSRI’s and SNRI’s are linked with suicidal behaviour. This protocol is like knocking a person out, by hitting them over the head with a hammer, when they came to the doctor complaining of a headache.

“Well at least she no longer has a headache,” the family are told. “ Don’t worry we have a great fracture clinic to deal with her extensive scull damage when she eventually wakes up”.

So, it seems that somewhere along the line the world has taken a humongous wrong turn. Distracted by amazing innovation much has gone unnoticed. Progress in technology seems inversely proportional to the degeneration of so much in our lives. Drastic rise in infertility rates, massive rise in homelessness, suicide now the number one killer in males under 45 and overall life expectancy has fallen for the first time ever.

Technology may not be the cause but it may have inadvertently brought to the surface many underlying problems. Historically, we found ways, consciously or not, to reduce the pressure that so many things in life produced. Yet, now there is no down time, no getting bored and no starring into space. In the pursuit of faster, better, more efficient, we have become more like a well-oiled machine and it feels as if our humanity is being sucked right out of us.

I’m not surprised that one in six needs to be drugged just to make it through the day, and I’m not talking about recreational drug use either, like antidepressants they’re at an all-time epidemic level. In London alone, 7.5 kilos of cocaine is consumed every single day and that translates to a street value of £300,000.  So now, more than ever, we need to learn about a part of ourselves that we know the least, which is how our feelings and emotions could operate healthily.

I remember the fear of taking a step into unravelling my feelings and my past. I used to call it “The Humpty Dumpty Syndrome “ fearing once I opened up I would fall apart and break into a thousand pieces and no one, nowhere, would be able to put me back together again. Scared that if I got angry I might kill someone or if I started to cry I would never stop.

In the decades following I often wished that back then, I had met someone like the person I had become. If only someone could have sat with me, educated and equipped me with the tools to deal with all the feeling that I had buried deep inside. I had no idea of how to handle what life had thrown at me. Far too many things that were imperative for my welfare were never taught. As for so many, the training for life stopped way too early.

If only I could go back in time and help him, the way I help others today. Explain why he craved love and acceptance, yet feared its absence. Why he carried misguided beliefs about himself that left him feeling less than in many areas, allowing others to treat him the way he did.

Young children (pre7-8) are unable to assess their world rationally. Their ability to think logically is limited, which somewhat explains why a small child will cover its eyes and shout, “You can’t see me”.  It’s a cute thing to observe yet shows how our thought process is at that point. Unfortunately many never go back and redress the conclusions that they made at this time, right or wrong much is established by this age. Throughout history several have been credited with the phrase “Give me a boy till he is seven and I will give you the man”. This may explain why many clients whose parents separated before that age, will at some time try to explain how they felt somewhat to blame for their parents getting divorced. This may further explain why many of us have underlying illogical historic feelings of being bad, wrong or guilty when there is no reason to at all, as we were the children, we were the innocent.

There is much benefit to be gained from being able to rewrite these illogical conclusions that we collated in those early years.

Fear and lack of understanding keep many from embarking on the journey to resolve the hurt of the past. Believing that we don’t know how to do it, is often enough to shut down the slightest murmuring of desire to open the proverbial  “Pandora’s Box”. Yet it’s important to know that Pandora’s Box has a hinged lid, that can be lifted just a little to take a peek, to let off a bit of pressure, if only for a second or two and then replaced. This can be repeated over and over until we feel safe enough to give full expression to something that might have been buried for a long time.

The truth is, and in no particular order…

  1. You cannot help what you feel.
  1. You cannot be too sensitive.
  2. It’s ok and sometimes necessary to talk about the same thing over and over again as it not only helps to give expression to the feelings, it is imperative.

3a. If the listener can’t handle hearing it over again, find someone who can.

  1. The difference between a trauma and a memory is discovered in how they both feel.

4a. It’s over when it becomes just a memory.

  1. What other people think about you is actually none of your business.
  1. Pain is not comparable; your pain is your pain.
  2. Self love is imperative for a healthy life.
  3. Love doesn’t need to be proved, fact’s do.
  4. Should and shouldn’t have no place in our feeling world, we either do or we don’t.
  5. Everything that we need to resolve, heal and move on is inside us already.

 

The art of how to navigate and bring together all the aspects to achieve this is what I would call “Good help”.

HAVE YOU EVER MET A RAT WHO WON THE RACE?

“I wish someone had explained to me that life was a marathon and not a sprint, when I was first told to get a move on, shortly after I had mastered that walking thing…”

It was only when I stopped running that I could appreciate I had been running in the first place. Only then could I comprehend that this, whatever this is, it’s definitely not a race. Subsequently, being able to pose the question “What’s the hurry?” and weigh up the pros and cons of a life lived in the fast lane brought about much needed understanding.

I had witnessed a fascinating process some years ago. A large group of people divided in two, lined up against opposing walls of a conference room in a hotel. The first exercise had only one instruction, “Run to the opposing wall as fast as you can”. For the second exercise the instruction was, “In a brisk yet orderly fashion and without bumping into anyone coming the other way, get to the far wall in the shortest time”. The results only gave weight to the old saying;  “Less haste more speed”. Yet the world strives to become faster in the yearning for more, with speed and efficiency being key components to so many proposed solutions. Yet patience and tolerance becomes the casualty, their demise inversely proportional to the increasing speed of life, extremes becoming greater by the day, polarisation everywhere we look.

I was watching a documentary about the plight of a group of refugees trying to escape untold hardship and danger. While filming the cameraman was directly addressed by one of the many. “Can you tell me please which direction is England?” he said. “Oh its about five countries that way,” responded the voice from behind the camera. He thanked him and continued to walk. Meanwhile back in England how quickly do we become angry or irritated when our “Sat-Nav” seems to be having some sort of a breakdown and sends us in circles and subsequently around the bend…

Watching people run down the road or up a flight of stairs we have no idea if they are running towards or running away, both look the same. The motivation is likely to be very different, yet they are still running. I wonder if anyone actually wants to run, unless they are out taking exercise? We spend so much time rushing around and the stress of doing so is often displayed like a badge of honour. The silent meaning given my those adorning such a badge leads one to surmise that they believe their action is something special, important, doing work of great value. Yet far too often, from the outside they look more like a chicken with its head cut off, busily running around achieving and going who knows where. The World Health Organisation stated that stress would soon become the number one cause of death. How much stress is caused by running through life at a pace we are unable to sustain without detriment?  When we finally get to what we want to be doing, we are often to exhausted.

Unable to answer why we constantly run, making everything into a race or a competition we keep running, yet often these races are futile like trying to out run our shadow, however fast, we can never win. “It seems normal”, people say “It’s just what you do”, yet few can seem to remember when or what it was that made them start running in the first place.

How much is missed when we run? The potential magnificence of the here and now is sacrificed chasing a goal that might have been better treasured had we taken the time and appreciated the journey. The few times I played tour guide to foreign or out of town friends, was literally an eye opening experience. It was only then did I stop and notice, viewing through fresh eyes and becoming aware of how much I miss while taking these routine journeys day after day.

“In rushing to get to where we need to be, so much is missed of where we are”

So many people seem still and calm as you look across the carriage at them on the underground. Yet inside many are revving away like a boy racer at the traffic lights, impatiently waiting for their station to debark. They are totally unaware, however educated they may be, to the damage this is having on them. More and more over the last decade or so I have observed a strange phenomenon that I have nick named  “Twitchy Leg Syndrome”.  They might be sitting still yet their leg is twitching at a pace like a dog scratching itself or an antsy athlete keen to dismount the starting block. A symptom historically connected to “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder” has become commonplace, even ignored by most. The unexplored potential damage I’m sure will surface in time, like the unseen damage caused by the continued revving of a stationary car, until finally the head gasket blows and everything grinds to a halt.

Many people seem to have a mantra that keeps them running. “Once I’ve ……. Then I can stop”; yet miraculously for most this is not the case. Once achieved the agreement seems to get mysteriously hijacked by a caveat that sees us continuing to run. While others look on perplexed at what might actually happen if we just stopped… For the rare person who does stop, the world often looks on with sympathetic eyes, perceiving that there must have been some sort of breakdown that precipitated such an act. Yet maybe what we are actually witnessing is a person having a breakthrough, a break out, someone who dared to jump off the wheel to face the unknown fear of the consequence of such an action.

I watched a TV show that played pranks on the general public. A man would run past someone in the street and shout “Quick” as he continued to move past. It was amazing the amount of people who without any more information started running after him, never knowing why.

I wonder if birth should be renamed The Starting Block and death The Final flag. The life threatening Big C may in fact be Competition, yet no one seems to know the rules or whom they are supposed to be competing against, never mind a chance to train before we have to start the race.

Think back… When were you ever not in some sort of race or competition?  I’m not asking you to stop, just observe and be aware. From the moment we are born someone is monitoring our progress making sure we develop at a pace someone other than we have set. Unconsciously flung into competition, not only through the stories that mothers tell to each other about how advanced little Johnnie is for his age, our everyday world is built primarily on competition. With each step of our development more competition is thrust under our nose. Comparisons made to motivate us to do better, often create more damage than good and remember, only one person can win the race, however many started at the beginning. A recent report found that motivation by competition is actually detrimental in the workplace and the scars of making siblings compete with each other can be seen into old age.

For most the race called life is more like a game of cards played with a five year old than competing in the Olympic trials. She deals you your cards and explains the rules but as you start to win she changes them to secure her win. With each hand played the rules mutate so eventually the last hand looks nothing like the first.  Maybe the only way to win the race is to make up our own rules, to take control from the dealer to have a race where we are the only runner, guaranteeing winning every time.

I once said to an academic that maybe life would be easier if we  “compared everything only unto itself”. In the ensuing verbal “dog-fight” I was told this was not possible. Technically, she may have been correct but maybe I was in fact inferring that a paradigm shift was needed, one that would neutralise competition replacing it with something far more beneficial and rewarding.

Our world is based on competition, with few winners and many losers. We are told that it is not the winning that is important, just the taking part. Well then, why do we only remember the winner and how many remember hearing “Winning isn’t everything but losing is nothing”?

From shopping in Sainbury’s to brushing your daughters hair the pace of the world has become faster and expectation of the time anything takes has created a population that does not know how to wait and take a breath. So we rush to the gym, yoga or relaxation class where we fit in “Me time” like a pit stop from the real world.

This machine called life has become more and more efficient and those “time wasting” processes have been mechanised allowing the more “important things” to be prioritised. Yet maybe we don’t realise the value of those boring mundane chores. In the same way that the pharmaceutical industry has taken natural plant remedies, balanced in their creation, extracted the active ingredient and produced a highly efficient and lucrative drug. So if what is discarded is of no use why did nature put it there in the first place?

Some say that they love the fast pace and who am I to say that anyone should slow down. Yet, please just ask yourself one simple question;

“Why?”

The Benefits Of Erasing Our Assumptions

It is a common employment practice to be put on a three month probation when first hired, to see if one up to the job. Although invariably for the benefit of the employer, it allows both sides to assess if person and position is a good match. By instigating such a process it neutralises the need to assume or take anything for granted, however obvious these may appear on first view. Once past probation, periodical appraisals will make sure that everything develops in a positive and productive manner, advantageous to both sides. Yet in other areas of life this is often not the case. Many things, people, relationships or situations are taken for granted, set in stone, never questioned after the initial process of discovery and integration into life, has taken place. Often only after something has been excluded do we start too appreciative or be grateful for what is now lost. Even though some assumptions may be beneficial, others can bring about untold and seemingly unrelated damage. It is only once we put assumption under the microscope can we begin to appreciate it’s pro’s and con’s.

I remember age fourteen, aimlessly wondering around the school yard, pondering life’s many questions, questions more fitting for a psychology major than a teen. On one such walk I concluded,  “The only constant thing in the universe is change” and here in lies the nub of the debate regarding assumption. If change is constant what place in life is there for assumption? The more concrete and fixed something may be, the more chance that assumptions attached to it can be a fairly safe bet. That Stonehenge can be found two miles from Amesbury or that Big Ben can be found at the north end of the Palace of Westminster is two such examples. That said, even the physical landscape of London has changed drastically since I was a student.  The more we ponder assumption the more paradoxical its presents itself to be.

As I stood at the basin and turned on the tap I had no doubt as to what would happen next; water would imminently gush out ready for my morning shave. I had been struggling for some time with writing a piece around assumption, tussling how best to explain the pro’s and con’s of something that many never question or even think about. Yet assumption although inevitable in one form or another, can in many areas of life be detrimental, dangerous and even deadly. Then in a flash, a perfect example jumped out at me, the hook my piece needed was right before my eyes. My relationship with this basin in fact the whole of the bathroom was quite different to that of most other people. For I had literally built this bathroom myself piece-by-piece, in a room that in its previous incarnation had been a bedroom. I remember with child like excitement the first time I turned on that tap, setting sail on its maiden voyage, hesitant yet excited at what might happen next. Logically knowing the outcome but emotionally fearing a failed mission, I waited. The following moment seemed to stand still, as the nectar of life gushed into the sink following an initial spluttering of air. I was very, very pleased, my goal achieved and not a leak in sight.

I’d always been amazed by installing anything new into a place previously devoid of facility, be it tap, light switch, electrical outlet or as in this case a whole bathroom. Some might say that I have not done enough of this sort of work to loose that sense of wonder, of child like excitement and magic I felt, every time I completed an installation. That may well be true but which position would you prefer to find yourself in? One where you experienced magic in the mundane or one where repetition has turned the magical into the mundane? You see when I turned on that tap I had an overriding sense of gratitude. Not only for the fact that is had worked and was not leaking all over the floor but for the privilege of being able to have water come to me. Finally this room had gone from bedroom to bathroom from no running water, no tap, bath or toilet to literally having it all at my fingertips.

For some a tap bringing water would not only be magical it would be a miracle. For the one in ten people on this planet who don’t have access to clean running water this would be the greatest gift. Yet how quickly does it all become normal and just something else needing to be cleaned?

As I look back I could cite enumerable examples where assumption has taken precious gifts in my life and turned them into “just stuff”, stuff so taken for granted that it no longer registered as I went about my day. Like that amazing feeling of freedom when you first pass your driving test, no longer beholden to another to get from A to B you aimlessly take to the road just because you can.

So where did that amazing feeling go, what happened to the magic of motoring?  Well the thief came and stole it, the thief known as “Assumption” and with it he took our gratitude, our sense of wonder and the ability to just be in the moment and enjoy this newly discovered freedom.

“Ah yes, being in the moment!!!”  I spent many years meditating following the wise words of a spiritual teacher, hoping he would help me find my way to Nirvana. Yet till that moment in time the easiest way to be totally in the moment was when experiencing extreme pain. Like the tennis ball served at me from the racket of a very tall and strong opponent finding contact with my nether regions before my racket could intercept. At that point nothing else existed, past and future were of no concern, only now existed, only extreme pain. Assumption of what is to come can so easily take us out of the moment. Assuming the next moment, the next day, steals our ability to be present, racing ahead planning scheming, declaring that once I had sorted out… then I will be ok. But that moment often never comes…

 

Like many things in life, assumptions can be helpful at times and    hinder at others. It would be all but impossible to eradicate assumption from the human psyche and even if we could would it actually be of benefit? We may not be able to affect the assumptions of others but we can take stock and re-evaluate our own and how they have molded us into the people we are today. If we were able to enlist the assistance of hindsight how often would we discover that assumption had hindered more than it helped? As we continue with assumption under the microscope we see that they can often take us off course, erasing appreciation, negating gratitude. So rather than trying so hard in life to be grateful and appreciative and often falling short, maybe all we need to do is to stop assuming.

Assumptions may not always be of our own making; some may have been handed down, one generation to the next. Assumption is often the fertilizer that many things including prejudice are cultivated in.

Assumption is the thief who steals away appreciation from an act of kindness or generosity, demoting such acts to mere expectations. How often do mothers feel taken for granted? How much is silently assumed on the part of her child who asks yet silently assumes compliance to their instruction? “No” is not an option that they are prepared for. In such an exchange both parties loose, both parties denied the precious jewel found within giving and receiving. This is the gift that assumption brings. Assumption can make meaning where meaning is lacking, a meaning that may be far from the truth.

The more we probe the more we see how invasive assumption can be. In the search for inner peace and tranquility many strive for the here and now, the perfection of the moment. Yet assumption has no place in the here and now, no place in this moment.

So I invite you to notice your assumptions, to ask how valid or in fact true each one is and how different life would be without it.

How would life improve if we reduced our assumptions and how much more would our appreciation and gratitude grow, enabling us to enjoy the wonder of this precious present moment?

 

A Mental Health crisis or a symptom of a far greater crisis?

A recent survey carried out by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week concluded that six out of ten MPs questioned feared stigma over disclosing their own battles with mental health and the resulting public backlash. The report went on to show that 80% of Parliamentarians had either suffered mental ill health themselves or supported a family member through difficulties. So why would such eminent people be scared of being associated with issues that the world at large is trying so hard to embrace with open arms? Could it be that the term “Mental Health” is not only confusing but also misleading and potentially harmful? With such a profound lack of descriptive language in the area of “Human Wellbeing” much is left to vague interpretation.

Traditionally, when one referred to mental health it was a term used in the context of mental illness to describe particular, defined psychological conditions that rendered a person unable to continue life with mental clarity and thus making cognition difficult and leading in some circumstances to a form of psychotic breakdown. Today though, when you look up the term Mental Health the definition does not only include recognised mental conditions but also makes reference to emotional health and social wellbeing. These extremely important areas need to be given equal billing and not listed as sub groups or aspects of mental health. This clumsy clumping together creates more confusion than it does clarity to areas of life that already have highly blurred lines of demarcation and definition. This could explain why numerous professionals I have talked to comment that there is no way they would want any reference to mental health mentioned anywhere on their file.

Many are now saying that society is in the grips of a mental-health crisis, documenting days lost at work and the resulting enormous cost to commerce. While it may look like we are in a mental health crisis we are in fact in the midst of a crisis of feeling. This crisis lacks understanding and acceptance for the complete expression of our emotional spectrum. It is bringing more and more people to their knees, expressing symptoms that previously were only seen as a result of mental illness. It could be argued that this crisis of feeling has always been running, like a low-grade virus that never quite takes you to your bed but just has you feeling a bit under the weather. As a result of several key factors in recent times this condition has gone from bad to worse to critical.

Feelings and emotions are not only categorised as good and bad. They can also be categorised based on false assumptions about gender. If a woman is seen sitting in a bar crying, some might conclude that she probably had one too many or it was that time of month and not think any more of it. If it were a man sitting crying it might draw more attention and awkwardness. Whereas when a guy gets angry and even raises his voice it’s more often than not labelled as just a hard day at work but a woman angry to the same extent could be labelled “psycho” and given a wide birth.

Having spent more than thirty years helping people navigate themselves through issues in life, be they physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, life purpose, or personal and professional relationships, I can say with my hand firmly on my heart that what we are calling “mental health” is for the most part the wrong label, an incorrect classification. I would agree that unaided and without help and support many experiences in life can develop and mutate into what would be labelled a mental health problem but most did not in any way, shape or form start out that way.

In order to gain understanding, as we look further into this complex situation, it is important that differentiation is made between our thinking and feeling world. It’s also important to point out that we all individually interact with our thoughts and feelings in a unique way. Yet for the most part, thoughts are logical, they make sense and you could almost say they are mathematical in nature. Whereas our feelings can be random, spontaneous, artistic, often making little sense and may not follow any pattern that can be mapped out through logic. The biggest mistake and one of the fundamental flaws is trying to understand feelings with logic. The answer will almost never make sense, “Why do you feel?” is always the wrong question. Feelings just need to be felt and expressed in a safe and healthy way. They don’t need to be understood, judged or categorised, just felt and voiced.

If our feeling world had a motto it would be: “Feel and express your feeling in a safe and healthy way UNTIL your feelings no longer needed to be felt or expressed.”

Only our feelings know what they need. How would you react if someone else were to tell you when, what and how much to eat, sleep, use the bathroom or in fact any other function of our human experience?  Yet it seems quite acceptable throughout society to police another’s feeling world. Such policing eventually imprints on us, a system of checks and balances that has us automatically dividing our feelings into categories of good and bad, right and wrong. Society has learned to morally outlaw some of our feelings, yet it cannot make the feeling disappear. It just forces them to hide away under a blanket of shame or guilt.

Like the story of the man walking the hills with a stone in his boot. After a short time of walking he feels a pain, but thinks it must be just his new boots that need walking in and continues, walking through the pain. Alongside the fact that it’s raining, he’s running late and his buddies keep telling him to stop complaining and being such a wimp. What would eventually happen if he never stopped to remove his boots? Sleeping in his boots and continuing day after day, the stone unreleased would create a blister which untreated would burst and bleed. Ignoring it further it would become infected and eventually gangrene would set in. In advanced stages he would go into shock where his symptoms would become life threatening and maybe then his friends would take his complaining seriously and medical intervention would be sought. In this comparison it is the gangrene or shock that is the “mental health”, the stone an ignored feeling.

A monumental problem has been created out of a simple need to address a situation. The lack of awareness of the existence of the stone in his boot has become a life-threatening situation. As he is finally rushed into the operating room I’m sure that none of the medical team could comprehend that what they are faced with is the result of a stone. A stone that in itself is totally insignificant, to the point that no one would probably even notice it falling to the floor as they scramble to take off his boots. I am in no way saying that mental health is not a serious issue, an issue that needs much more support. But what I am saying is that more understanding is needed to comprehend the connection between symptoms that present and the underlying cause.

Like many areas of life, this mislabelled topic of “mental health” needs to be turned on its head and a paradigm shift of monumental proportion needs to be activated to bring our awareness to a level where this confusion can be resolved. This paradigm shift could be aided with the introduction of a very simple yet profound concept, which is: “YOU CANNOT HELP WHAT YOU FEEL”, a concept that is for most outside their experience. Whether the judgment is self inflicted or directed by another, the best that most of us can hope for is to suppress the feeling and keep it hidden, but that won’t make it disappear. Like the stone in the walker’s boot, a hidden feeling can create untold damage.

Alongside this very simple yet profound idea it might be important to confront the very well established concept regarding the labelling of emotion into good and bad. For many years now I have offered a prize for anyone who could tell me “Who was the first person to conclude that anger was bad?” I’m still waiting for someone to step forward and collect the prize. In all areas of life the classification of emotion seems to be clearly defined. Be they parents, teachers preachers, doctors, or just those who think they know better, almost everyone will have an unwritten reference to good and bad emotions cross-referenced with healthy and unhealthy ones. This polarisation leaves us all handicapped to ever be able to live a truly healthy and contented life.

I believe that is it not our feeling that is at fault but the framework and context that the feelings are trapped and imprisoned within. I’m sure, if you were to make lists of good and bad feelings and ask a group of your contemporaries to do the same you would find similar results. The judgment around emotion that most of us have been unconsciously sold is totally wrong and it is from that judgment that the crisis of feeling has been born.

Words… A torch for peace or the greatest weapon of mass destruction

Why were we never taught how creative and yet potentially damaging and possibly fatal our words can be? For words can save lives yet words can start wars. Words can enroll others into one’s life and words can expel someone forever.

The spoken and written word is probably the most powerful tool that any human being will ever have in their lifetime. As the English novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote in 1839 “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Unfortunately the other old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” could not be further from the truth. It’s easy to see the impact of nasty words in the school playground or coming from the mouth of a stressed out mother screaming at her child in the supermarket. However, sometimes the right words said at the wrong time, in the wrong place or context, or even words said in jest, can be more dangerous than the nastiest comment.

I wonder if people have any idea of the potential harm they could inflict when they open their mouth, put pen to paper or post something on the Internet. I recall the wise words of a mature lady I met in my teens: “If you can’t say something nice, best just talk about the weather,” she said. This prominently sits alongside several other supportive comments in my memory under the title of “Wise words worth recalling.” Next to that sits another list of negatively impacting phrases, which I call “Platitudes of Punishment”: –

  • Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.
  • Eat up your dinner. There are millions of people around the world starving while you sit there playing with your food.
  • Oh it wasn’t that bad.
  • Why are you doing it that way?
  • Stop complaining, you’re making yourself a victim.
  • If you can’t do it properly then don’t bother.

That last phrase, which may have been said off the cuff or out of anger and frustration, had a resounding negative impact on me as a child and stayed imprinted inside my head into adult life. Subsequently, chasing perfection in every endeavor became a torment of monumental size, making perfection the only acceptable passing grade in my life. Understandably life had, for much of the time, been scored and scared with numerous failures.

Now it may need to be mentioned that for some people the words of another are nothing more than just that, another’s words. While for those who crave love, acceptance and approval, these words might be a major component in the making of a tormented soul. Although we have both aspects in our character, in that we want to please in some situations and control in others, most will predominately lean one way or the other. Therefore the reaction or response to these words will be profoundly different for the pleaser than the controller. While the controller will ignore or neutralise the statement by concluding “Oh she’s just off on one again”, the pleaser will attempt at whatever cost to follow the words to the letter. It’s a shame that words, like food in the supermarket, don’t have a sell by date. Then after a short period of time things said to us would be erased, no longer carrying a charge and as a result the need to continue to adhere to such words in any form would cease.

I read and hear on social media words and platitudes from people trying to give help and guidance. In the name of science, spirituality, self-help or personal growth, much is said that may be true for some, but is touted as truth for all. The words of an acclaimed and respected author telling them not to complain can topple the reader. Statements sold as fact, that lack acceptance or compassion for the position that some reading their words may find themselves in and their newly found voice which finally dared to complain is once again silenced by the sea of shame that rises up to drown not only their voice but possibly so much more. Those who protest the innocence of such words through their endorsement leave me perplexed as to why anyone could endorse such criticism, loosely masked as help and guidance. Over many years, people have shared what others have said under the guise of trying to be helpful and I have been deeply shocked. I conclude that “Help, is only help, if it’s helpful.” How can trying to be supportive through judgment, criticism and protesting ultimate truth, really be helpful? Making someone feel wrong or bad might make them change, but motivating a person by dunking them in a sea of shame will ultimately create more damage than good, doing the recipient a massive disservice.

There is obvious connection between word and action. “Please can you close the window?” is hopefully followed with the window being shut. Yet many don’t understand the connection that words have to our feeling world. I knew someone who would spontaneously name out loud the feeling he was having. He said it helped him to move on from a particular feeling he wanted to transition through. It first occurred before he had explained this process and came as a surprise to some of us around him. We were driving down the road when unprovoked a word popped out of his mouth. ”Fear” he said, in a slightly raised voice. Now you may think that his response does not make any sense and you may be correct. We need to realise that as we step into the realm of our feeling world we may need to leave logic behind. A client told me he spent a long time tormented by guilt around his girl friend’s parents. They were hard to deal with and spending time together was very difficult, to say the least. One day she came into the bedroom to find him head in hands. He was again feeling bad about having to go and pretend to play happy families. She enquired as to how he was, since his stance obviously said something was wrong. For once he was unable to say the “right thing” and in a voice of submission and failure expressed his truth. He was surprised, as she not only agreed but also suggested he not go this time, but rather go and hang out with his friends. As he stopped to ponder her suggestion he noticed the intensity of his feeling change. It seemed, he said later, that all he needed was to voice how he felt. Once expressed, his feelings seemed to transform. As a result he was able to accompany her from a loving openhearted place in himself, rather than a shut down resentful one.

In other situations just voicing may not be enough and action may be required. Until you go through the stage of voicing the feeling i.e. “I Feel…” you won’t know if that’s enough, or if another stage is needed for resolution. Most of us in our formative years have had our relationship with our feeling world confused and complicated by the way others have either tried to control or misguidedly support us. Then as adults we may have been bombarded by “Help” that turned out not to be very helpful. There may be many reasons why we have learnt not to name and voice what we feel. For some, as children, it was not ok to be anything other than “Fine” or “OK”.  How many remember being told “don’t upset your mother, she’s got enough on her plate,” so we bite our lip or swallow our feelings?

In conversation with clients I have often been asked what good would it do to talk about certain things with me, since they already think about this stuff a lot. This is another situation where our feeling world leaves the road of logic. Perhaps the person listening may only be needed to bear witness, not to judge or comment on what is being said. The potency in such an exchange may come from a person hearing their own words, as if one aspect of them selves needs to inform another.

I remember as a child feeling the disappointment of a broken promise, how ever small or insignificant the subject matter might have been. Once said, I took it as given that whatever had been promised would occur, so the fact they just forgot never made up for the disappointment. I have always been shocked at hearing what some people say in front of their children as if they were not even there or at least deaf. Children don’t miss a thing especially the words coming out of their parent’s mouth. Potentially those words stay imprinted for a lifetime. I always thought it ironic how parents would spend so much time teaching their children to talk and understand only subsequently to convey, “Children should be seen and not heard”.

I know many would say that we live in different times and that so much has changed, that there has been a “Paradigm shift in the consciousness of mankind”. Well I have to say I’m not really quite sure what people mean by that, and therein lies one of the biggest problems. It is important to understand what is being said to you and make sure that others understand what it is that you are trying to convey. When a conjuror does a trick it is in the slight of hand that the illusion is created. If you could get them to slow down the trick, you possibly could see how it was done. If only we could do the same with what people say. Rewind the tape and replay what they had just said, except slowly enough to ask for conformation and validation of what they mean. There are often many assumptions woven into the fabric of what a person is trying to convey to another. Apart from the unspoken compliance that is often presumed in the silence of the listener one surely needs to enquire as to the intention and motivation of the speaker in order to be engaged in the conversation. But, is there really a conversation going on? Or is one person “holding court”, giving a speech while the other nods and smiles in the appropriate places including a random word here and there, so the speaker knows the other is still paying attention?

Maybe life would be much simpler if we were all programmed to “Say what we mean and mean what we say” And if that don’t work, best stick to the weather…

Are your choices really serving you?

One of the most fascinating things when talking to someone about their life is hearing about how they arrived at where they are today. By chance or intention, we find ourselves at the end of millions upon millions of major and minor choices.

Often, only from the outside, can one see the power, intention and motivation in the choices we made. On closer examination, we may see themes or patterns in the tapestry of our life, sometimes operating from deep within our subconscious. Some of the patterns, often in place since childhood, may still be active and playing themselves out today in our life.

So why did he turn left and not right?

Asking a person to remember why they made a particular choice many years after the fact is often not that simple. With the passing of time accuracy of memory can be tested. So what makes us choose the things we choose and would it be helpful to understand the process by which we come to decide which road to take? How many people look back with regret and remorse at the decisions they made, stating how differently they would have chosen given the chance again. As we all know we can’t change the past but we can change the way that we relate to it. Maybe the best way to relate to the past is to learn from it and move forward, clearer to make the most beneficial choices.

There seem to be many reasons why we desire and choose what we do. It would be understandable to assume that choice is the next step after desire, but that said, why do we desire what we desire and what are the criteria for choice? Both desire and choice may need greater scrutiny to be able to answer these questions.

First comes the desire, or does it?

Are we free to desire anything, or are we limited by other parameters? Some people were raised being told that they can “Go for whatever they want,” while others are told “Be realistic, not just anyone can be the president!” So you see, both desire and choice may have hidden trip wires, waiting to catch us up at any moment. Totally individual, our framework for desire and choice is as unique as we are. On many occasions I have tried to encourage someone to:- go for that job/relationship/challenge, citing how totally perfect and completely qualified they are for it.  But for some reason, maybe not even known to themselves, they find enough evidence to justify why they would not stand a chance of even getting an interview/date/call back. So you can see by their comment that they have already decided that its way out of their grasp. If only we could take a close look at our own set of rules and guidelines pertaining to desire and choice. We may discover some useful insight, not only understanding more about how we came to end up here but how we could move forward in life with a greater sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.

Babies and young children have a very limited range of choice within their command. As they grow and develop they are either given more choice or they reach out and take it. How we expand our repertoire of choice largely depends on the unconscious stance we adopt to get our needs met. Even though both aspects reside in each of us, most will have the tendency to lean one way more than another. I’m referring to the seesaw of “Pleasers and Controllers”, the two opposing stances people can take if they should find themselves short of what they need or desire. A pleaser seeks approval, needing to know what another desires before they choose their next step, enabling them to make the correct step towards the acceptance they so desperately need.

“Hey Phil, do you want to go eat Indian or Italian?”

“Oh I don’t mind, what would you prefer?”

If a pleaser presents a plate with two different biscuits, the pleaser will always ask which biscuit the other person prefers and then take the other. Obviously there is nothing wrong with giving to another before yourself, giving the one you love your last chocolate is a sweet thing (haha) but giving is a action free of agenda. As the saying goes “Free to give and not to count the cost.”  Pleasing looks very much like giving but has a hidden agenda stuck to the gift. If the agenda is to please another, there is much more going on under the surface than there is in the conscious exchange. I have often felt the weight of unspoken agenda when receiving something from another, knowing at some point this so called gift will come back to haunt me.

The controller on the other hand, would not think twice and will take the one they want and give away the other. Now similarly there is nothing wrong with control, just who and what are you trying to control. Control over yourself and your world is your Human Right.  Here I define the word “Controller” as someone who tries to control another for personal gain, not the wellbeing of the one they are interacting with. Controllers always try to take charge, grasping control with both hands. If not complied with they may withhold in an attempt to force compliance. Rather than accept and show compliance themselves controllers would prefer to go without or even exclude themselves. This behavior, often unconscious, is a way to make you feel bad for denying them what they wanted (Control). This classic adolescent stance I often refer to as the controller trying to “guilt you” A form of coercive behavior.

So as we start to question choice and desire we can see that it’s not as simple as it seems.  “When they know what you want and desire,” he said, “Then they know how to control and manipulate you.” The words of a man who had experienced being controlled as a child through punishment and reward and who knew he could be controlled by having what he desired taken away as a punishment. He learnt to disengage or hide from view what he desired so they could not use it as a way to punish him. For people controlled in this way, there are side effects. Desire is not only hidden from the view of others, but can also be hidden from self. It’s often less painful to disengage from our desires, in the presence of those waiting to use them against us or those we fear will. The programming can be so hard wired that even years later, supposedly broken away from parental controls, we may still have that programming in place, ready to spring into action at the slightest “would you like…?”

So for a controller choice is heaven and for a pleaser it’s hell. I remember screaming in the back of my parent’s car “PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE”. At the time I could not have told you why it was so devastating to choose, I was only being asked to choose which suit they were going to buy for me but the feeling was all consuming and my scream made it sound life threatening. Years later it became crystal clear. How could I have chosen? I was a pleaser. The correct answer for a pleaser always sits with the other person and our compliance guarantees approval and therefore getting our needs met. So for a pleaser control is nothing short of torture.

If you want to give a pleaser the total choice you have to preempt the offer by saying: “Darling I will still love and support you whatever decision you make about university”. A controller is more concerned about having control than reaching the goal. The child being guided by the hand to the swings pulls away from mummy, exerting control, showing whose boss. Control rather than playing on the swings being more important for that child.

Every decision that we make is a stitch in the tapestry of life and we don’t often realise their importance or relevance in the bigger picture. Decisions are made for many reasons, with some like driving a car being automatically taken without a second thought. Understandably, it might feel like an overwhelming task to stop and question our choices, but there is probably a good argument for at least trying to start.

Simply put we decide or choose either because “We want” or because “We Fear” No wonder we get tripped up when people say; “Well what are you complaining about you chose…! Maybe choice does not always equate to what we want. So whether you feel that you lean more towards being a pleaser than a controller the acid test is still the same. Pure choice is for personal gain or benefit only It has no intended impact on anyone else. Pure choices do not need to be known by anyone else. Polluted choices are taken based on the impact it will have on the way that another views or relates to you. So the question is, do you choose because you desire or do you choose because you need to affect the relationship that you have with another? Both motivations are valid but it’s important that you can differentiate between the two.

With the awareness of the motivation and intention behind your choices you may find that what you choose could change drastically or at least you will be more conscious of what and why you chose. So maybe the next time you are faced with a choice, stop, take a breath and ask yourself:   “Why am I choosing this?”