the hardest simplicity

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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.

 

just one day later…

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There was a sombre mood around yesterday. Whatever your perspective, whatever your vote, it seemed to me the nation was reflective. A realisation dawning. Not so much of the implications, because those are still unclear. Instead, a realisation that something significant has happened. Something historic. Some were sad, some shocked, some pleased, but many seemed quiet, reflective.

And so it should be. Reflection is an important human activity. It’s the process by which we recreate our experience and mull it over. We exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about our fundamental human nature, purpose and essence. We explore our emotions, our thinking, our actions, our options… and from this reflection of our experience comes deep fundamental learning. Wisdom and awareness.

Taking time to reflect is important. The learning crucial. The time to be with and assimilate our thoughts and feelings vital. The Ancient Greeks, like many wise ancient civilisations, valued reflection as a form of contemplation by which our personal truth could be found.

It disappoints me that some seek to act immediately. Seemingly unable to internalise and reflect, instead they hit out, they strike forward, they speak out their emotions and thoughts in an antagonistic, blaming manner. They rush to take sides, to point fingers, to exert power, to make claims, to advise, to draw attention to themselves.

Maybe if some of our politicians, media and activists were able to reflect, to pause, to be still, they might find their own truth, rather than live a life constrained by rhetoric, by sides, by division, by debate, by ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, by blame.

Let’s pause people.

the false memory in reflection


Listened to a really interesting talk by Dr Julia Shaw today on the illusion of memory.

The process in our brain by which we store memory and the one by which we imagine futures is largely the same. So we confuse the two. We all have what are termed false memories.

Proven in studies globally, eye witness recall is unreliable in that witnesses unwittingly lose detail or embellish the truth through imagination. This is not just the stress of witnessing crime – we all do it.

In essence every memory you hold might be untrue or inaccurate. Dr Shaw’s work demonstrates also how you can, simply, ‘con’ the brain into imagining a past memory. Watch here

I’m now sitting on a train looking at a reflection of the platform in a light cover. The reflection is upside down. Distorted. A bit like a false memory. But then, reflections are always distorted. Back to front or upside down. 

How apt. When we reflect on our experience, when we recall the memory, it has the potential to be distorted. Inaccurate. Missing key parts. Events that we imagined, added as truths. Events that actually happened, inflated or diminished in their significance, or removed totally.

Worth reflecting on?

when we are played with by our own emotions

Earlier this week I hopped on a bus in London.

As I found my seat, the bus pulled away and I noticed a taxi slowing next to the bus, as the gap ahead was too narrow.  He slotted in behind, but merely for a few moments, before accelerating alongside the bus.

There was an exchange of views through open windows. Thankfully mostly inaudible, but clearly both had a perspective on what had just occurred.  They drove together sharing their perspectives for a few moments before the taxi veered off.

The bus driver audibly muttered ‘stupid’, thumped his wheel twice and clearly, as he repeated the word at least five times over the next three or four minutes, his attention was directed inwardly to whatever emotions he was feeling after the exchange.  Certainly some anger, maybe some frustration, possibly some hurt?  Who knows?  Maybe not even the driver.

I reflected for a moment on the safety of his passengers, as evidently his mind was not fully on the busy London traffic.

There is a drought of compassion in our world, and a deluge of blame.

I wished for my bus driver to be able to step outside his emotion and notice what was happening for him.

His emotions and doubtless those of his fellow combatant, the taxi driver, trapped them in their blaming world.

Stepping into what he was feeling, and why, might allow him space to contemplate what the taxi driver might also be feeling; from that awareness comes the capacity for compassion, for self and for others.

Sometimes we are merely toys, played with by our own humanity.

denuding me

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Much in our lives is seemingly over engineered.

This is the ‘Velofeet’, a unicycle with stabilisers that the rider sits astride and walks. Yes, a sitting walking device.

I have a new electric toothbrush which throbs to tell me when to move to another part of my mouth and has a light which flashes should I press too hard. There are forks that do something similar if you eat too much, too quickly!

I saw an article the other week about a toilet that is internet enabled, so that you can raise or lower the seat using an app on your phone before you arrive at the bathroom.

There’s a ‘smart mug’ with a sophisticated temperature and light system to tell you whether your drink is still warm or is too hot to drink.

Don’t get me wrong, technology is a remarkable thing. I still marvel at the ‘magic’ that is… my microwave oven.

But this kind of technology led innovation, trumping any consumer led need is a growing phenomenon. Over engineering products, because we can.

It denudes us of our human reflection, thinking, judgement and decision making.

My toothbrush makes me lazy. It stops me thinking. I start to rely on the light and the throb, rather than thinking about what I’m doing. Personally, I’ve had this issue with SatNav for a while. I stop noticing. I become blind to my route, landmarks, orientations, distances. I stop seeing what is around me and instead become a slave to a voice, or a picture, telling me to turn now. The result being I have no learning. I don’t learn how to get somewhere, I just learn to rely on the technology.

This stripping away of the natural use of our senses, diluting our reading of the signs, removing our need to think, taking control of our judgement and decision making, denying us learning, is impacting our interaction with each other too.

Bit by bit we become less human.

 

meta to the meta

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Meta tags appear on web pages. They aren’t visible to the reader, they contain data describing the page. Data on the data, if you will. ‘Meta’ can also be described as a concept which is itself an abstraction from another concept.

Going ‘meta’ to a situation can also be a self referential place; stepping outside of oneself to observe oneself.

An example might be to ask “What do I think about my thinking?” Or perhaps to explore, “How do you reflect on those reflections about that?”

Sometimes, creating a different physical perspective can help still further. Try this out…

Sit and think about a problem or issue you are currently grappling with. Notice what you’re thinking and feeling as you explore this difficulty.

Now, get up and stand across the room, looking at the original chair or place you were just in. Here you are no longer thinking about the original problem, instead you are considering the thinking about the problem.

Ask yourself “What do I notice about that thinking?”  Ask yourself “What do I think and feel about that thinking and what do I hear in that thinking?”

Notice what comes to mind. Perhaps you think the thinking was a little negative or judgemental? Maybe you notice uncertainty or confusion? Maybe you notice more than one perspective in the thinking – like an internal dialogue? Notice whatever comes to mind?

Now, stand in a third place; another part of the room, still further from the original chair. This time look at the place where you were standing a few moments ago; the second, reflective place. From this new third place, ask yourself “what do I notice, what do I think, how do I feel about that thinking in that place?” The thinking about the thinking, if you will.

Here you may find new insights. New meaning. New significance. New awareness on the original issue… as you go meta to the meta.

 

pear and Nutella please

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Today is pancake day, or Shrove Tuesday. In some cultures referred to as Mardi Gras. Translatable from the French as “Fat Tuesday”.

Today is the day before the fasting period of Lent, marked by Ash Wednesday, tomorrow.

An age old period of gluttony before fasting. Fatty foods consumed in excess, party and celebration before a period of reflection and abstinence. Highs and lows. Excess and frugality. Glut and lack.

A time perhaps to review areas of our lives where we have abundance and insufficiency? The things we should be grateful for? The things we might share? The things we aspire to have more of? Where we might strive to change the balance?

A time perhaps to reflect on ourselves and others. Neighbours, strangers, those from another society or culture? Haves and have nots? The wealthy few and the impoverished many? The lavishness of the world and the poverty that still shackles it?

If you are having pancakes today, or any other form of indulgence, enjoy.

But pause in a moment’s reflection perhaps?

 

looking back

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If you were to replay your last 24 hours in reverse, what might you change?

Would you add something in? Something you meant to do, or with the benefit of the ‘end of day’ hindsight, something you would have slotted in?

Would you take something out? Something that didn’t add value or which, with the benefit of knowing the whole, the end point, you might just simply not do?

Would you change the sequence? Swap two pieces around?

Would you start something earlier or later? Or maybe finish something sooner?

Would you change durations? Do more of something or less of something?

Do you have any regrets?

If we start from the end of our day, looking back, how might our choices be different? Tomorrow, imagine you are starting at the end. What choices might you make, before you begin?

Then, at the end of tomorrow, review your day. Anything different?

Sketch by: Joe Nammour

 

the passing of life

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When we hear the sad news of a celebrity or significant public personality passing, it reminds us of our own past.  Often our connection is to a shared time – the music we listened to, the films we saw, the events we witnessed.

It is the memories of those days, those shared times, the recollection of our own dim distant youth and the good times therein, that often brings the sadness, the emotion, maybe the tears.

When people close to us pass away, the number of connections is more, the richness of the memories even brighter, deeper, warmer.

It is at these points of passing, that we reflect on our own mortality. When lives end, we pay attention to the passing of our own years. Time slipping away.

Yet life is passing with every moment.

Each passing hour, minute, second is a moment of our own lives; and so many we let go without conscious thought.

So many pass without reflection to their significance; so many pass in the blink of an eye; so many slip away without time to relish their part in the contribution to our own evolution, our own personal learning and growth.

So many pass without awareness to the contribution we make to the richness of others memories. The people we touch. The difference we make. The memory making moments our existence has had, to those around us who will be here long afterwards.

The passing of life isn’t about death, it’s about now. This minute, this moment.

 

RIP David

 

how do you know about pass the parcel?

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I wonder sometimes if life is like a game of pass the parcel?

The music starts. Life runs.

The parcel moves around the circle.

In the party game, the parcel moves from child to child. In life though, maybe we are handing off one life moment to the next life moment? Passing our life to ourselves, experience by experience? That same self sitting next to us in the circle, about to live our next life episode?

In the game, the music stops. The anticipation of a gift, palpable. The joy of revealing it, effervescent. The pleasure of tasting the ‘sweetie’ within, satisfying. Feeling like you’ve won. Our child eagerly tears off the wrapper. Desperate to discover what lies within.

In the game of life, as an adult, we are however too keen to move on to the next scene, the next task, the next phase. We essentially restart the music immediately. No time to reflect on our personal learning. No time to even notice if we had any learning. No curiosity about the ‘sweetie’; that insight into ourselves. Move on. Pass the parcel of life to your adjacent, same self.

If we viewed life as a game of pass the parcel, where we stopped the music and enjoyed the self learning, the insight into how we’re growing as a human being, who we are, who we are becoming, where we’re going; how much richer would we be?

What if you don’t know about pass the parcel? What if you have never explored yourself, how you tick, how you come to the world, how you are evolving, your gifts, why you are here…? What if you just pass the parcel of life on to your same self neighbour? What if the music keeps playing?

Start now.
Play the game.
Tear open the gifts.
Learn to learn.
Learn to grow.

The game never ends.
The learning never stops.
Until the music does.