A friend of mine has just returned from a ten day meditation retreat where they spent the entire time in total silence. Between meditations they ate in silence, walked in silence, much as monks might.
He remarked how much learning he got from just being with his thoughts. For ten days, there was nothing else. He was able to pay attention to how his thinking worked. Noticing patterns in his thinking. Judgements, for example, of those around him. His fellow meditators judged for how they sat, ate, looked, or for what they were wearing. Thinking about conversations and meetings he would have, then reflecting and self criticising past conversations which might have gone better.
I contrasted this with a training session I had facilitated a few weeks ago. We asked the delegates to spend time , in silence, reflecting on their learning. After a short period we asked them how long that had been. The general concensus was seven or eight minutes, some thought more than ten. In reality it was four. Four minutes of silence with their thoughts and many couldn’t manage that. They wrote notes, checked phones, engaged in non verbal communication with neighbours…
We find it hard to notice ourselves. To be with ourselves.
Strange that something so simple is so difficult.
He offered her the world. She said she had her own.
There is no reality. There is your reality, my reality, his reality, her reality. The simple fact is that what we see, what we hear, what we pay attention to, what we interpret, what we delete, what we distort, what we generalise, what makes sense for us… is all uniquely us, even when we seemingly experience exactly the same thing.
His world, her world, my world, your world.
We’ve been for a walk this morning. Through woodland, around lakes, past meadows.
Nature is glorious.
A little red backed beetle scuttling across the path in front of us, speeding on his way at a pace seemingly unfit for stoney terrain and his diminutive proportion. A swan family with six brand new cygnets wafting gently across the water, staying close, staying safe. A robin resting on a gate post, observing our approach with head cocked, inquisitive and remarkably trusting. A heron majestically soaring above a copse, with just the odd beat of its wings, on the search for an impromptu meal. Cowslip reaching up through long grass and nettles to peek at the sun. A long since fallen tree, performing a new role in its deadened state, home to moss, fungus, a myriad of insect life. Water on a lake, gently gliding left to right, the merest ripple inspired by an unfelt breeze. A lively chiwawa, out for a stroll with its owner, racing ahead, standing proud and telling us what’s what, with a big dog syndrome beyond its stature. Little fluorescent blue dragon flies flitting in staccato jerks beside our path. An unseen fish, stealing a morsel from the watery surface, leaving an expanding story of ripples. A coot, nesting beneath a swooping bough, preening and tidying, busy and private.
Being present in our world is such a privilege.
“I might have told you this before…”
I say that quite often. Or something similar. Usually I’m about to tell a story. A story that makes a point, or enhances a previously made point. Or maybe it’s a story to support or refute the point you just made.
I know the story. I’ve said it before. I just can’t recall whether I told you. Or someone else. Or if it’s just a story I tell myself. One of those ‘in head practice’ stories. Or, one of those conversations where only I’m present. Me talking to me.
Usually I go ahead anyway. Mostly people are polite. Sometimes they say, “I know, you’ve said before.”
I’ve been on the receiving end too. Someone tells me a story. One they’ve told me before. Maybe twice before. Or five times. They tell it with gusto. Like it’s new. Sometimes the context is different. Mostly it’s not.
It’s as if we like our stories. Like a good book, we’re happy to read them several times. The story is what matters. The person we’re telling, not so much. The context and relevance, not so much. If those things mattered equally, we might remember. But no. The story comes out again. The story is what matters. It’s as if actually we’re telling ourselves. We telling and listening. The other person is incidental in this transaction.
What about our life story? Is that a story we tell ourselves? Over and over? Is that a story we share with others? Over and over?
Is that a good book?
I notice sometimes names escape me.
I’m not referring to a gradual onset of forgetfulness or dementia (I hope) but rather to certain names. Why is that?
At work there are a few people who, every time I meet them I struggle to recall their name. Other people I know less well I have no problem recalling their name, but for some reason it escapes me for a few. Then I notice I can’t remember, so that next time I see them approaching I’m already thinking ‘I can’t remember your name’… and so I can’t.
But it’s not just people. I was listening to some music today in the car and a particular band came on from my playlist. A band I like. A band I listen to on occasion. But I can never recall the names of the tracks. I don’t have the problem with other music, just some. Why is that?
Actors and actresses too. Some, no matter how good their performance or regardless of the quality of the film, I simply can’t put a name to the face.
Maybe it’s about connection? Emotional or otherwise?
What makes us selectively ‘forget’? And what holds us in that pattern?
I threw a cup of tea over myself today.
This afternoon I nearly did it again, but this time only a few splashes landed on the same shirt I had dried out only hours earlier.
That completes the curse of three. Earlier this week I tripped on the stairs carrying a tea without a lid and the hot tea cascaded over my hand, burning me, as well as creating a slip hazard on the stairs, which I limply attempted to mop up with the remains of a toilet roll from a nearby facility.
Three teas – one week. Impressive huh? They say ‘bad luck comes in threes’. I don’t know who ‘they’ are in that sentence. But whoever ‘they’ are, that’s what ‘they’ say.
I wonder if, unconsciously, the existence of that ‘rule’ creates the reality. Having spilled a tea, does my brain go – hang on a minute, one isn’t enough, we need to comply with the curse of three rule? Let’s make the body stumble twice more, that way this dope can continue to believe in that rule about bad luck coming in threes…
I wouldn’t put it past my head to do that.
Or maybe it’s a form of that thing we call confirmation bias? The notion that I will notice only the things that confirm my beliefs or hypotheses. Maybe dropping my first tea creates a hypothesis that I’m getting clumsy or a belief that teas without lids are dangerous? So I notice the other two tea incidents. Maybe there was a fourth episode or a near miss I’ve somehow deleted?
Anyhow… everything is fine now. In case you cared.
I have done it thrice. My curse of three is done. I now believe it won’t happen again, so whether it be confirmation bias, or the bad things rule, I’m done.
It struck me today…
There’s an irony that shadow can only exist where there is light.
Worth reflecting on, if you have a sense of shadow in any part of your life. Where is the light?
The other day I crossed the road, joining the opposite footpath at an elbow. A ninety degree corner in the road.
Coming towards me was a man.
He made a beeline for the apex of the corner.
That was my trajectory too.
We were on a collision course.
I looked at him, trying to read what his decision might be.
We can work this out, together, I urged.
No obvious signals.
No eye contact.
He stared steadfastly at the corner.
I looked straight at him.
Engage me, I said with my eyes.
Let’s work this through.
A second had passed.
He stared at the corner.
No eye contact.
Collision seemed imminent.
I broke my stride.
Created a gap in our flight paths.
He pushed on through.
I passed safely a pace behind him at the apex.
Still no eye contact.
No recognition of my existence.
Strange how eye contact allows the other person in. Denying it seems somehow to keep us safe. Protected. No need to feel any responsibility. Any connection. Any trust. Any shame. Any emotion at all.
The man got the corner.
I got more.
We have seen this road sign many times – it is familiar as an image.
We don’t need to read the sign. We are conditioned to know red means stop. The words are somehow irrelevant.
We have seen this context too. Roadworks, queues, lights, single file traffic…
So, if this sign said, “WHEN GREEN LIGHT SHOWS WAIT HERE”, would we stop? Probably not.
I wonder how often in life do we ignore what we are being told, verbally or visually, because we have been programmed to create our understanding, our awareness, by what we have experienced before?
How often might we delete, distort or generalise the information, because our programming tells us what we need to know?
In reality, how blind are we to reality?
I’ve just taken delivery of a new car.
It’s the same as my old one. Same manufacturer. Same model. Same specification. Same colour. Sure a couple of minor details have changed as they have updated the styling, but essentially it’s the same car.
I’m really excited though. Strange how the smell of a new car is so good. I feel like a child at Christmas.
I’ve walked around it several times and lovingly stroked it or removed an imaginary blemish or tiny sign of dirt.
I’m driving carefully too – around a car park, at least. Strange because it’s the same shape and size, yet I’m being ultra cautious.
Given so little is different.
Given so little has changed.
Why is my behaviour so markedly altered?
How we respond to change. How our behaviour is connected to our thoughts – real or imagined. How our senses influence our reactions and our imagination. Weird, but very human.