Changing Our Perception of Reality

Changing Our Perception of Reality

How do we understand reality, and can we change it and so change ourselves?

There is an ancient Sufi story of an elephant and some blind men which goes as follows:

Once there was a city, the inhabitants of which were all blind. They had heard of elephants and were curious to see [sic] one face to face. They were still full of this desire when one day a caravan arrived and camped outside the city. There was an elephant in the caravan. When the inhabitants of the city heard there was an elephant in the caravan, the wisest and most intelligent men of the city decided to go out and see the elephant. A number of them left the city and went to the place where the elephant was. One stretched out his hands, grasped the elephant’s ear, and perceived something resembling a fan. Another stretched out his hands, grasped the elephant’s trunk, and perceived something resembling a snake. This man decided that the elephant looked like a snake. A third stretched out his hands, grasped the elephant’s leg, and perceived something like a tree. He decided that the elephant looked like a tree. A fourth stretched his hands, grasped the elephant’s tusk, and perceived something like a spear. He decided that the elephant looked like a weapon. Delighted, they all returned to the city. After each one had gone back to his quarter, the people asked: “Did see the elephant?” Each one answered yes. They asked: “What does he look like? What kind of shape has he?” Then one in his quarter replied: “The elephant looks like a fan. And the second man in the second quarter: “The elephant looks like a snake.” The third man in the third quarter: “The elephant looks like a tree.” And the fourth man in fourth quarter: “The elephant looks like a weapon.” And inhabitants of each quarter formed their opinion in accord; with what they had heard.

The blind men and the elephant – everyone sees only a part of a more complex reality, and tends to assume that what they see is the whole picture

It is easy to confuse the part of reality we engage with as the whole.

Everything around us is a system. And every system is part of another system. By understanding how things around us interlink we become better at seeing how things work together and how these same things can be manipulated, changed, modified to our advantage.

This process is called systems thinking .

There is a fundamental mismatch between the nature of reality in complex systems and our predominant ways of thinking about that reality. Structures of which we are unaware hold us prisoner. For instance, our current daily routine is a system (but we often see it linearly). We get up; we brush our teeth; we go to work; we consume information; we do actual work that earns an income; we talk to people, etc. If we do these same things for 20 years, we’ll probably do the same things for the rest of our life.

Our system defines both our present reality and our future reality.

Conversely, learning to see the structures within which we operate begins a process of freeing ourselves from previously unseen forces, and ultimately mastering the ability to work with them and change them.

Being aware of these things allows you to change them, and so your future.

So don’t be put off by the term – Systems Thinking – it is simply a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts. At its best Systems Thinking helps us to stop thinking from crisis to crisis and approach the issues we face in a more integrated way.

Systems come in all shapes and sizes and Systems Thinking now pervades many aspects of business, science, and government, because it helps us to better understand our problems and identify how to promote positive change. It also offers us insights and can be quite revealing!

Systems Thinking is concerned with revealing truths, where the unseen is just as important as the seen. Remember the elephant story.

Authors Linda Sweeney and Dennis Booth, out of years of working in this area’, defined a systems thinker as someone who:

• Sees the whole picture;
• Changes perspectives, seeing new ways of approaching an issue;
• Looks for interdependencies;
• Considers how mental models (paradigms of how things work) create our future;
• Gives attention to the long term;
• ‘Goes wide’ to see complex cause and effect relationships;
• Finds where unanticipated consequences emerge;
• Focuses on the structure of the system and not blame;
• Sees oneself as part of and not outside the system;
• Watches out for ‘win / lose mindsets, knowing that they usually make matters worse in situations of high interdependence.

One of the components of Systems Thinking is recognition that, ‘at different levels, observed phenomena exhibit properties that do not exist at lower levels. They are called emergent properties since they only emerge at that particular level.’

As an example of an emergent property, think of your favourite team sport whether cricket or baseball, netball or soccer, rugby, or grid iron. Many of those who follow a team sport would fantasise about the creation of a dream team by identifying spectacular individuals that they would include. This is essentially what team club management does.

But in reality, one cannot always predict the success of a team by looking at individual player performance.

It is really about what ‘emerges’ when these talented individuals come together as a team.

Another example is in chemistry, the taste of saltiness is a property of salt, but that does not mean that it is also a property of sodium and chlorine, the two elements which make up salt. Thus, saltiness is an emergent or a supervenient property of salt.

In our society a common emergent property is distortion of information when errors accumulate as information passes through a social network such as social media.

This emergent property reminds me of the party game of ‘telephone’, which starts by giving a secret message to one person in a group. That person whispers the message to a second person, and the message is whispered from one person to another. After everyone has been told the message, the first person and last person tell everyone the message as they understood it. To everyone’s amusement, the last person’s version of the message is typically incorrect in many ways, even though the last person is not a liar.

A failure to realize that a property is emergent, can lead us to serious errors of judgement; similarly, once aware of emergent properties, it is easier to for us ‘see’ what is really happening.

When something adverse happens, our immediate reaction is often to attempt to locate the cause and to apply a fix. However, this “fix” will have effects of its own, and very often these are not positive ones.

So emergent properties will affect the way we interact at many levels of existence. They sit at the heart of the concept of systems thinking as the behaviour of a system is an emergent property of its structure, not of its parts. As Donella H. Meadows put it:
Once we see the relationship between structure and behaviour, we can begin to understand how systems work, what makes them produce poor results, and how to shift them into better behaviour patterns. As our world continues to change rapidly and become more complex, systems thinking will help us manage, adapt, and see the wide range of choices we have before us.

Significantly, she writes that systems can change themselves utterly by creating whole new structures and behaviours.

In our Newtonian world we have been taught to think linearly using our rational ability to trace direct paths from cause to effect, looking at things in small and understandable pieces; but we can complement that way of seeing and thinking with a more intuitive way, a way that allows us to stop casting blame and to see the system as the source of its own problems, and find the courage and wisdom to restructure it.

Systems thinking is concerned with revealing truths of nature, where the unseen is just as important as the seen.

So, as a starting point, we do this through inquiry into the reasons, the foundations, the meanings, and the ways of the unseen. This both broadens our paradigms and allows us to transcend them – changing our beliefs and our attitudinal address to ‘life’.

• Systems Thinking allows us to appreciate the non-obvious as well as the obvious ways we are connected to each other.
• Systems Thinking helps us recognise the unintended impacts of our intentions, thinking, and actions on others as well as ourselves.
• Systems Thinking helps us apply this self-awareness to changing how we relate to others in our system.

The trick to succeeding in our inquiry is to recognise which of our behaviours result from systems and what conditions release those behaviours. In this way we can work to rearrange the structures and conditions of the system to reduce the likelihood of self-destructive behaviours, such as addiction, and encourage more positive behaviours.

This requires self-awareness.

To build self-awareness, we must try to sense our own boundaries and limitations.

By being clear about ourselves and our abilities, gifts, and limitations, we can see the larger system much more clearly.

Guest Blogger Dr Brian Gordon, OAM

See our awareness meditations under Health and Well-Being  HERE 

 

 

Ageing Gracefully

Ageing Gracefully

Ageing gracefully is so much easier if you are friends with your own body, thinking less about how you look and more about how you feel inside.

However, this is easier said than done, living as we do, within a society that glorifies youth and beauty.

We have entire industries who study and work to stop the signs and stages of the aging process through foods, cosmetics and skin care products, medicines and surgery. This is a response to the culture in which we live, unfortunately one that tends not respect or admire older people, and a society that sidelines and even denigrates them.

The World Health Organisation reports that ageism has a negative impact on physical and mental health, so it’s clearly something we need to address. 

Its said that ageism is experienced by everyone who lives a long enough to suffer it – and it can start very early! Ageism arises because as humans we ‘automatically’ categorise people as same or ‘different to us’ – the other main categories being gender and race. This stereotyping carries with it huge swathes of bias and conditioned responses that limit and effect how we think about and behave toward, those ‘different’ people to ourselves. This can lead to prejudice and outright discrimination.

Ageism is about being at ‘difference’ not only to those younger than the person, but also ‘at difference’ to the beliefs and behaviours of the particular culture we live in. In our case, it is a culture that upholds youth and beauty. 

Is it any wonder then that we all ‘fear’ or resent the perception of being seen as ‘old’?

Yet this has not always been so; historically older people, well older men actually, held positions of authority and stature. This influence was reflected out into the community and respect for the elderly became a society norm. Generally speaking this influence extended into this time through the patriarchal social structure and our legal systems. In the past (and the present for some cultures) women often had no authority or influence except through the male in the family, usually the father or husband.

This too is reflected into recent times in our western culture – for example the Equal Credit Act allowing a woman to open a bank account or obtain credit without the signature of her husband, or another man, only came into existence in 1970’s! Even today, women are often judged, and take or lose power, by the position and/or power of their partner – but lets be clear, both men and women are effected psychologically, mentally, and emotionally, by that cultural behaviour print and its associated expectations and paradyms. 

However, in the western culture things are changing rapidly in these last years in terms of gender and race, so let’s return to our subject of age now. 

As we grow old, the beauty steals inward. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Age is still revered in Eastern cultures, wisdom is prized and the older people who carry it, are respected. In Greece age is celebrated with the older members of family central to that celebration. In Japan older family members are offered the utmost respect inside and outside of the home, with major decisions still presented to them for their counsel. In China, respect for the elderly is a fundamental part of its deep history.

So, living in a culture, our western culture, that is riddled with ageism, its necessary and healthy for us to consciously take another perspective when looking at ageing, and ageing gracefully in the face of such opposition, even within ourselves.

So what does ageing gracefully mean?

Ageing gracefully means embracing age. Grace is a kind and lovely refinement. Grace is something that is freely given, even if unasked for or undeserved. An attitude of grace toward ourselves and others is key to healthy well-being as we grow older, and becoming more set in our ways.

We can extend that sentiment to the nature and quality of our thoughts, the things around us, the things we do, and the people we choose to be with. This doesn’t mean we become colourless, with no character or personality, no joking or being cross, cranky, or foolish – its more to just do it all, be it all, with grace.

Ageing gracefully means just that, as we move into different stages of life, let our behaviour match it –  learning to be comfortable within the maturity of your age is. 

Taking care of yourself.

We are all familiar with the general health advice of how to take care of ourselves as we get older: maintain a balanced diet, have regular medical check-ups, partake in social activities to keep the wider community connection, do physical and mental exercises to stay healthier and think sharper, and allow yourself more personal space and time to nourish your being and your soul.

So, what more can you do?

You can deepen relationship with you, using interoceptive awareness.

We are all familiar with external senses of sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing, the senses of balance and timing etc but what about interoception? What about the conscious or unconscious sense of the internal state of our bodies?

There is an ongoing connection and communication between our brains and the viscera – the soft internal organs of the body such as heart, lungs etc and the digestive and reproductive systems – and nourishing this interoceptive awareness, can make an enormous and positive impact on our lives.

Many clinical studies have been undertaken in this arena, particularly in terms of diet and mental health, and as organic, holistic human beings, there is great benefit to be gained by encompassing the whole being – mind, body and spirit.

By becoming more consciously aware of these internal communications, we can come to recognise, understand and regulate our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Let’s take a simple example of how it works. We practice to become aware of clenched muscles in the body, we think about possible causes for this tension, we recognise it and begin the process of seeking to understand what’s at play. This process in turn engenders mental balance and emotional regulation, resulting in a relaxation of the clenched muscles in the body and overall increased well-being. 

It’s quite amazing to consider that what we think about in the brain communicates to the body, and vice versa. Unless you are self aware, it’s probable that you wouldn’t consciously notice a concern or emotion until you were aware of the clenched muscles – so here’s a challenge then: why not try a practice of consciously relaxing your shoulders, by letting them droop whenever you think of it, over the next days? You will be amazed how much tension is carried in the body.

The good news is that the more you are aware of your inner body’s communications, and the more you come understand your ‘feeling response’ to what’s happening, the wiser the choices you can make, and increase general well-being.

The treasure from this practice gets richer as by getting to know the inner self, or deepening that relationship. Interoceptive awareness cultivates resilience, compassion, equanimity, and wisdom – all true jewels of the ageing gracefully process – and it all begins with gentle curiosity, you to you.

People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old, no matter how long you live. Never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born. Albert Einstein

AL
See more about well-being on our About page, and try our Awareness meditations HERE

Pillars of Purpose series – Forgiveness

Pillars of Purpose series – Forgiveness

Forgiveness is good for us. It is a voluntary process of letting go of feelings of offence, anger, hurt, and resentment – whether the person deserves it or not. Forgiveness releases the victim (that’s you) from being a carrier of bitterness and suffering. It is a natural resolution of a grief process.

 If I develop bad feelings toward those who make me suffer, this will only destroy my own peace of mind. But if I forgive, my mind becomes calm. Dalai Lama

Forgiveness is an act of love, undertaken by the mind as an act of will as much as love and compassion, and is a tool for growth and development. As such, forgiveness is a ‘pillar of purpose’, and a powerful resource in our lives.

Most religions of the world offer teachings on forgiveness.

In the Christian church forgiveness plays an important role as the basis for acceptance by God with Jesus asking in the last moments of his life “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23;34). The phrase to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us” in the Lord Prayer offer a teaching of both asking and giving.

In Judaism a whole day is dedicated to forgiveness every year – the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. During this time a person is to reflect and atone for any wrongdoing. On receiving an apology, a person who is wronged is religiously bound to forgive the offender and forgiveness considered a pious act (Deot 6:).

The word Islam has root in the word ‘peace’ with forgiveness as a prerequisite position to obtain ‘real peace’. The Qur’an holds that “those who pardon (forgive) and maintain righteousness are rewarded by God. He does not love the unjust” (Qur’an 42:40).

The Baha’i faith believes all human beings are equal in God’s creation – “forgive all, consider the whole of humanity as our own family, the whole earth as our own country, be sympathetic with all suffering, nurse the sick, offer a shelter to the exiled, help the poor and those in need, dress all wounds and share the happiness of each one” (Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy).

Hindus believe in karma and reincarnation and that forgiveness should not only be asked for and given, but that proper reflection and acts of charity, meditation and purification have place in the process. Forgiveness embraces the concept of mercy, compassion and grace with unbound unconditional love.  Forgiveness is seen as a restraint on the power of intolerance and hatred.

Traditionally Buddhism does not recognise that human dealings are ‘transactional’ so the idea of being in debt or needing to atone are not directly applicable. However, an interpretation of Buddhist forgiveness is to ‘let go’ of an offence, be released from suffering and increase harmony in life, rather than asking forgiveness from a person or God.

It can be argued that the inclination to forgive is present in us all – but is it? Morally we are brought up in this world of dualism … the sacred and the profane, saint and sinner, right and wrong. But surely it is in the wisdom distilled from the learnings of our lives, the experiences, understandings, and the compassion of forgiveness found, that gives us perceptions and insights into the purpose of life itself.

Our perception of right and wrong is subjective as Tolstoy said:

 It’s not given to people to judge what’s right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.

Through the challenges of life, we come to realise that none of us are perfect, we are all affected by the conditions and experiences we face, and we all make mistakes. So, though the ability to forgive is in us, it can be challenging to identify the need for forgiveness in ourselves, and then bring together the ingredients and skills of what is necessary to enact it. It can take will power, emotional energy and effort to dig deep and find the reason why you do what you do; or to find the willingness and compassion to begin the necessary reflection to enter the forgiveness process.

Once we can ‘enable’ forgiveness in ourselves we can strengthen it by meditating on the reasons ‘why’ we should forgive, and when this achieved, we are able to bring the strength of this reasoning to the fore in times of weakness more readily.

So why forgive? Well, the main beneficiary is you and your well-being. It’s hard to live with unforgiveness and it can be very damaging. On a physical level it can disrupt eating and sleeping, and it can also affect you mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well as damaging other relationships around you. It can eat away at your peace causing suffering and bitterness that can affect your mental health, even changing the way in which you view the world at large. In the long term unforgiveness takes far more emotional energy, causes far more stress and unhappiness, than forgiving.

Learning to forgive, and letting go, is, as the Rev Martin Luther King, Jn said “…  not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude”

An analogy that helped me personally to identify a constant attitude toward forgiveness arose from Taoist story about the river of life, and ‘going with the flow’.  Recognising that unforgiveness blocks the flow of life energy, I began reflecting on the ‘wrongs’ of life that I held on to as bits of flotsam. With that came recognition that flotsam catches twigs and branches, which in turn snag or become a bed for stones. Following on from that, those stones build walls, walls become dams, and dams hinder or stop the flow of the river.

It is now a regular practice for me to catch things by noticing my internal reaction to people and things, so that I can let it go. Reflection, meditation and journaling practices have helped me uncover some ‘stones’ of hurt or resentment from the past and I use conscious awareness practices, contemplation, prayer and meditation as a bridge toward deeper understanding. I have found that acceptance and letting go aid forgiveness and help build the bittersweet territory of wisdom.

 It is the confession, not the priest, that gives absolution so, ‘if you don’t forgive sins, what will you do with them?’ (John 20:23)

As forgiveness is about becoming the person you want to be, or your perception says you ought to be, here are some practical suggestions to help relieve the suffering of the future, by remedy today.

  • Consider your own behaviour – was it childish or adolescent in the light of you age and experience – are you thinking and acting out in an age-appropriate way?
  • Bring empathy and compassion into your pain, work toward insight and understanding it
  • Find something good about the person or situation that offended you, then add to it
  • Stop taking offence – discern what it is in you that needs attention, and then give it
  • Stop blaming others – about anything at all
  • Refuse to be critical or negative – if you can’t say something neutral or nice, don’t say anything
  • Practice being thankful anywhere anytime – for your health when visiting the doctor; for the food when in the supermarket; for the provision of education when at college; the fresh air in the outdoors and so on.
  • Be more aware, practice contemplation and mindful meditation
  • Do small acts of kindness – start with one per week
  • Believe in yourself, and then believe in something more than you

In closing consider that receiving forgiveness carries a responsibility to change behaviour. Its ok to make mistakes, but the response is to take the necessary actions to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

For how can we not forgive when we are part of a creation that gives us all we need to flourish?

How can we not ‘go with the flow’ of the rich experience of life, loving, living and forgiving, within the unity for which we were created?

AL

Helpful meditations on site here ... Loving Kindness, Working with Challenging Emotions, Reframe with RAIN, Gratitude of Body, Big Blue Sky – and why not try one of our contemplations…

Anger Energy

Anger Energy

Anger eats energy – your energy. Anger can range from mild irritations to a raging monster of energy consumption, and it can exhaust you.

When anger manifests as energy it becomes a mental formation, and this energy formation can cause lots of suffering if it’s not managed. Some things we act on or do feed into the anger energy, and some things can syphon it off or redirect the energy, allowing the system to calm down.

Anger is a natural response to ‘perceived’ threats – but not all threats are reality.

The amygdala, where the stress response leading to Fight or Flight begins, cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not – this is why you can get frightened watching a horror movie, even though you know it cant harm you.

As anger arises there are many changes in the physical body as powerful hormones are released and the adrenal glands stimulated, moving the body ultimately into that Fight or Flight preparation.

Breathing and heartrate increase to provide increased oxygen and energy, pupils of the eyes dilate to allow more light into the eye and improve vision, blood pressure rises, muscles tighten and can tremble or shake with the extra energy. The face can pale or flush as the blood flow and increased energy of the body rushes up to the brain; the muscles of the arms and legs are powered and other processes, such as food digestion, slows or stops allowing as much energy as possible to be available, to fight or run away.

It is a state of acute stress.

Anger is a state of the mind that is triggered and then powered by emotion, stimulating action. The passion of anger can be used to motivate into useful action but here the term anger is used to describe the potentially damaging aspect.

When moving into the anger state, psychological and emotional tensions are increased by physical tension, so relaxation is a key management tool in helping to reduce that tension, and thus reduce the possibility of enacted anger.

Relaxation can be used to help slow things down at any time during the build-up and experience of the anger state. Taking a few deep slow breaths is a good start. There are many relaxation practices available, and they flow easily into the introduction and practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing awareness on the present moment, and calmly acknowledging and accepting any thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations that are being experienced and happening at that moment. The ability to invite mindfulness in to change a mental state during an emotional event takes practice.

Practice can begin through a number of things; being mindful of the movement of your body as you walk – the contraction and release of leg muscles, the balance as you step, and the heal-toe placement of your feet; eating a mouthful of food noting the smell, textures, taste, movement of teeth and mouth; being aware of sound or absence of sound; or mindfully breathing and noticing how the upper body lifts, the chest and belly expand, and on the outbreath the drooping and collapsing.

This sort of relaxed observation is critical to mindful thinking, whenever you are mentally aware with understanding, you are meditating. If you find observation hard to do, just start with getting comfortable about relaxing – in your walking , eating, listening or breathing – before engaging the mind. Introducing relaxation and gentleness into your practice right from the start will help produce the ‘right’ attitude and energy when redirecting the mind to invite awareness in.

It can take a lot of mental effort and energy to be aware, and to maintain that awareness, during an emotional event like anger, and practicing will ‘building the muscles’ of your mind to hold and use that energy when you need the strength. The more concentratation expended on an experience, the more energy is used, so practicing being observant and aware in a relaxed way is both useful and conserving.

Eventually, practising to ‘be present’ in times of emotional extremity rather than ‘losing it’, will save lots of energy, and more importantly, lots of suffering – of self and others.

As we move into mindfulness and observe what’s happening during the anger experience, we siphon off energy from it, deflating it as we introduce and energise a new mental state. The changeover movement creates a little pause or space between the experience and the self, a sometimes-momentary opportunity to get the mind out of the flood of emotion, and make a choice about what can happen next.

You can choose to continue in the wash of the current experience, or take a few breaths and use the introduced mindful state to observe what’s happening in your body and in your mind. How does the chest feel? the stomach? how is the breath, can you deepen it? can you slow it down? As the emotion begins to steady, you can gain more awareness and may be able to see what thoughts were/are passing through your mind during the event. ‘No one ever understands me”, ‘it’s happening again!’ “I can’t take this anymore”. You may also be able to recognise how you felt underneath the anger – sad, frustrated, confused, accused, deeply hurt …

When you are in the anger moment and you invite mindful awareness in, remember that is all that is happening. You are not trying to control, restrict or enforce yourself to do something. You are just observing what is happening, and perhaps finding opportunity to change the usual outcome. As you continue to observe each sensation as a sensation, each thought as a thought, mental activity as mental activity, will eventually come to see their nature, allowing you to recognise that nature in future to manage and avoid anger.

You are not your anger.

Recognising that, and understanding the nature of something, is the aim of mindfulness rather than wanting to make it disappear, is paramount.

When you observe whatever you are experiencing, and are aware of that observation, you are also aware of the observing mind.

When you are quietly aware, amazing insights can arise and hidden fears, expectations, and hopes can be brought into the light of understanding. You can begin to see that generalisations, negative thinking, and jumping to conclusions, don’t help you stay calm, and that challenging negative self-talk can reframe and change the way you think about self and others.

Throughout it all, it is important to maintain that gentle attitude toward both yourself and the anger, an attitude that wants to ‘take care’ of you, and it. Some people find it useful to think of challenging emotions like anger as a child. A child who is angry and upset needs gentleness, a cuddle not a smack; open arms, not suppression; and calm questions,  what’s happening? what’s hurting or causing this suffering? How can it be made better?

This gentle concentration of self to self is what invites the carefulness of mindfulness in.

Once the issues underneath the anger are found and identified, action can be taken to help ‘make it better’. Meanwhile, be patient with yourself and consider taking up the practice of generating the energy of mindfulness simply by being mindful and noticing what’s happening in and around you. You may also find it useful to undertake some of the many meditations on the internet, and on this site.

The practice of mindfulness can be entirely non-sectarian. It is a therapeutic practice that can help us to become aware of what’s feeding the ‘anger monster’ that arises from our suffering, by paying attention and understanding what is motivating it.

In the meantime, if you can, try not to avoid challenging situations that will give you the opportunity to learn and grow and, as best you can – don’t feed the monster, starve it!

Finally, it’s important to note that this blog is not replacement for professional assistance. There are many professionals offering their services and they are a resource to be used.

AL
Mindful meditations, relaxations and contemplations here …

Nostalgia, Harmony and Belief

Nostalgia, Harmony and Belief

What happens when the past takes on an intensity that shapes our present behaviour? A backward-looking life, whether shaped by good or bad experiences, spells trouble, because your thoughts and feelings are the tools that will craft your personal world, both now and in the future.

You can’t drive forward looking in your rear-view mirror.

An anagram for nostalgia is ‘lost again’. Indeed, we can become lost and disconnected from what the future holds for us when nostalgia gains a deep grip on us; and we become lost down a line of time. In this form it can become the precursor to severe depression, distorting reality. Nostalgia is a lens that simplifies many of the complexities of the past; it is not a holistic or integrated perception of the times. Nostalgia is a shallow emotion that can deny, in the present, the necessity for transformative thinking and action.

Whatever our past, we need to learn how to escape nostalgia’s gravitational pull, at least in the space where dark emotions lurk. Failure to do so affects our potential as participants in a greater existence. This being so let me metaphorically illustrate what happens when nostalgia or past hurts and disappointments begin to govern our lives.

This metaphor involves ‘God’. Unfortunately, the one concept in our English language over which wars are fought and communities split is the differing concepts of God. However, the reality is that in every mainstream ‘God-believing’ religion on earth, one of the core attributes of God is that God is an entity that one way or another touches or even permeates our existence.

For the purposes of this metaphor, I ask you for a moment to imagine God as creator of the universe, emitting a vast array of musical frequencies, notes and rhythms of life of which we are the potential receptors if we allow ourselves to tune in.

As babies we can receive and play back the odd note; as we grow older the notes become riffs[1] and melodies and then, growing into adulthood (with all the personal development that is implied), we begin to form a quartet and then an orchestra (although some of us may have more violins and others more drums). So we progressively become better able to resonate with the creative emissions of God and the universe in our lives; but then deep nostalgia or past experiences captures us and we go back in time to when we were just a string quartet or played solo.

In so doing we are reducing our capacity in ‘the now’ to play God’s song for our lives and be the fantastic orchestra we have the potential to be.

Yet, when playing in the full resonant and harmonic way that we are designed to play, our health, spiritual, relational and material prosperity and wellbeing soars.

As an internal condition, nostalgia may at times be a subtle but insidious obstacle to our reflection of the universe’s true harmonic. Another such internal condition lies in the challenges of our past. These challenges may have resulted in a legacy of bitterness or hardship, or poverty, or, more frequently, rejection. For many of us this can mean that we are now cautious about opportunities and relationships that lie in the present. We have all heard the expression ‘once bitten, twice shy’. As we respond to such sentiments we tune out of the musical frequencies of life.

Such emotional flotsam from our past becomes our baggage, a baggage of wounds, hurts, and outdated beliefs. Its legacy needlessly, and often unconsciously, causes us to drift in a metaphorical Sargasso Sea[2] of our own making, wary of repeating the same ‘mistakes’. As a result we increasingly become non participants in the construct of our future.

With a bit of self-reflection we can all recognize how often we allow the baggage of the past, with its pain, rejection, suffering or nostalgic moments, to create chains that hold us to a place, to a person or to a circumstance long since faded from the present. Such baggage reaches out, down through time and into our present world, eating at our dreams, denying our possibilities and binding our future with their legacy.

Back in the 1960s Paul Simon, of Simon and Garfunkel, wrote a song I am a Rock, which reached the charts in their Sounds of Silence album. It expresses the way in which we all can become self-limiting and emotionally insular, as we retreat from past hurts.

‘I’ve built walls,

A fortress deep and mighty,

That none may penetrate.

I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.

Its laughter and its loving I disdain.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,

But I’ve heard the words before;

It’s sleeping in my memory.

I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.

If I never loved I never would have cried.

I am a rock,

I am an island.

 I have my books

And my poetry to protect me;

I am shielded in my armor,

Hiding in my room, safe within my womb,

I touch no one and no one touches me.

I am a rock,

I am an island’.[3]

But consider for a moment that the world is also filled with successful people who refused to allow the hurts and baggage of their past to impede their future.

People like Oprah Winfrey who overcame a childhood of abuse and molestation to become the world’s first African American billionaire; or Walt Disney who went bankrupt several times before building his successful entertainment empire. People like Thomas Edison, who, when a reporter asked him how it felt to have failed 25,000 times in his effort to create a simple storage battery, replied ‘‘I don’t know why you are calling it a failure. Today I know 25,000 ways not to make a battery.’’ Notably Edison also made over 2,000 attempts at creating a light bulb before perfecting it.

Other examples might include Helen Keller who became the first deaf and blind person to graduate from college and Franklin Roosevelt who contracted polio as a young man and refused to allow his subsequent paraplegia to have an impact on his life, becoming President of the United States of America. In the process, he became a powerful symbol of an individual’s ability to overcome the ravages of one’s past.

History is filled with ordinary people, no different to you or me, who refused to allow their past and outward circumstance to dictate their future.

The baggage of our history and culture affects and shapes our beliefs and thinking. Beliefs are those things you hold to be true that change how you behave and so creates paradigms of our reality. These paradigms can keep us closed and unexpectant, blind to the opportunities of life around us. In a brilliant illustration of what happens when we are blinkered, my favourite poet, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, once wrote:

‘Earth’s crammed with heaven

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he, who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware’[4]

Most of us tend to be blackberry eaters, missing the fire of God (however defined) all around us, with its generative possibilities for a fulfilled life, as we live in our self-limiting sensate world, leaning into the past, unbelieving that life holds more for us. To see the burning bush in our lives we need to believe that it exists in the first place. Such celestial burning bushes tend to only exist on the periphery of our vision.

We need to enlarge our paradigms. 

Paradigms are based in what we hold to be true; what we hold to be possible. In other words, they are based in our beliefs. We must create paradigms of reality that are bigger than our experience and more than wishful thinking. We need paradigms that allow us to recognise the unseen universe, the nature of being and weaving the realities of the seen and unseen into a practical philosophy of daily living.

Much is made of the Law of Attraction and its alleged premise that thoughts manifest, or make tangible, a new reality (health, wealth, prosperity, opportunity etc.). This is a casual, if not sloppy, wording. Thoughts do not manifest so much as ‘beliefs’ manifest. Beliefs are those things you hold to be true that change how you behave. Thoughts are mental processes. Dominant beliefs manifest, or make tangible, a changed reality. The belief that because you have been hurt once you will be hurt again will preclude you from opportunity. A belief that life was so much better ‘way back then’ leaves you locked up in a past that can blind you to the present.

But a belief that you can move mountains, shape your destiny, unlock riches, achieve new heights whether creative, spiritual, relational or temporal, such a belief will change your future and take you into a new dimension. Such a belief, as will be demonstrated, calls down the intervention of forces in your life that are greater than you; forces that are drawn, or are attracted, by your belief as it signals to the universe.

‘What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve’, (Napoleon Hill – Think and Grow Rich).

Belief gives an emotional quality to our thoughts, and that emotional quality has much more power for change than our thoughts alone. This is so because such belief will also encourage you to take the steps you know are necessary in your life to realise your dreams.

Beliefs are broader than material facts.

Beliefs give us confidence where the presenting ‘facts’ might lead us to doubt. It’s been said that if you want to attain your dreams, work with ideas, not facts. Dwell upon the end result, not the ‘hows’ of it. Do not worry about the logistics, the people or the money you need to make the result happen; but think of the end result you dream of. The ‘facts’ of apparent difficulties and lack of resources will be overcome by the creational storehouse of the universe.

Our subsequent actions, which actualise our new life, are the tip of an iceberg, the hidden base of which is formed by our beliefs, and between the two are our values layered with thoughts and emotions.

Beliefs form the foundation and bedrock of our being.

Change your beliefs – and you will change your life.

Do not be afraid to recognise your ability. Move past nostalgia, or saudade, rejection, bitterness and fear and become the destiny that is yours.

Guest Blogger: Dr Brian Gordon, OAM

[1] short, often repeated series of notes in pop music or jazz

[2] The Sargasso Sea is famous in mythology for its images of fleets of derelict sailing ships, crewed by bleached white skeletons, and trapped in dense mats of clinging seaweed.(http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2000/05/11/125857.htm?site=science/greatmomentsinscience)

[3] Lyricsfreak Retrieved 17 July 2008 from http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon+and+garfunkel/i+am+a+rock_20124809.html

[4] Browning, E.B. 1856 The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning Thomas Crowell and Company New York p134

Health and Well-Being meditations here