which side are you on?


We place fences everywhere.

Fences between our houses. Fences delineating our gardens. Fences alongside railway lines. Fences around yards, car parks and compounds. Fences to keep the animals in, fences to keep them out. Fences around parks and ponds. Fences marking out the route the country pathway takes. Fences shaping fields and grazing land. High fences around prisons. Low fences around vegetable plots. Fences between thrusting motorway carriageways and their speeding contents. Fences on bridges. Fences at the stadium. Fences at the racetrack. Fences at the top, or bottom, of the stairs. 

Some keep us out, some keep us in. Some are to indicate the way. Some to stop us meandering off the way. Some show possession.   Some deny access. Some deny exit. Some are aesthetic, some very functional.

Which side are you on?

And what about the fences of your mind?

The fences that determine choice. The fences that set out appropriate or inappropriate behaviour. The fences that inform us we can’t or we shouldn’t. The fences that motivate and drive action or tell us inappropriate or unachievable action. The internal fences that keep us safe. The internal fences that restrict our growth and learning. The fences that allow us to see potential, the fences that blind us to reality.

Invisible fences, but often just as effective.

Which side are you on?

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it’s all #fakenews …

As human beings we live in two worlds.

There is the external physical world. The world where we can touch a tree, watch a wren dart from shrub to shrub, scratch our elbow when it itches.

Then, there is the world of our mind and imagination. The world where we can feel hurt by what that person said and imagine what they meant. We can dream about our tomorrow and recall distorted truths of our past. A world where we believe the stories and myths of our mind. Our own fake news generator, if you will.

This second world is a virtual reality that can appear and feel just as real as the external physical world. The shoulds and musts are powerful, motivating, compelling.  Indeed, when it comes to your emotions and your imagination, the virtual world of your mind can be more real than the real world.

Our mind seems to muddle these two worlds. What is true? What is real? What is imagined? What is story? What is fake?

It seems too that our society is slowly shifting to value this second virtual world more than the first real, physical world.

For now it seems, in our modern media enabled world, we not only create our own virtual stories and myths, not only listen to those of our family and friends – those we might meet within the real world – now, we are bombarded by the stories, myths and imaginations of billions of others from around the globe. Real people we will never meet, with all their distorted stories of self and associated experience.  And we believe them. Or respond to them. Or worry about them. Or take them on as ours.

Recently, I read that more than 15% of Twitter’s 319 million users were not human. So not only are we engaging with the thoughts of other people, people we don’t know; we are listening to robotic programmed outputs from 48 million unknown devices. All adding to the melting pot of real and unreal, true and imagined, solid and distorted.

Yet each interaction is enhancing our own virtual sense of the truth. Augmenting our own thoughts and emotions. Building a more complex, layered perception of self, our place in the world and all its global dangers and intents. Causing us to be more curious, more mentally stretched, yes. Enticing us to respond, to debate. Yet also to worry, to feel pressurised, scared even. It drives a need to know. A need to be part of. Inclusion not exclusion. Powerful emotional draws deep within our ancient animal brain.

I wonder if this contributes to the rise in mental health and well-being issues? I wonder what this holds for our future as a species?

The internet increasingly drives our lives. You’re using it now to read this. We read reviews of products from unknown people and trust them. We read tweets from unknown people and respond to them, emotionally, cognitively. We scan page after page of Facebook posts, skipping across our timeline like a never ending movie.

You are reading this blog. In one sense it’s not real.

I am of course.

But these thoughts are the creations from within my mind, my virtual world. True, you can choose to ignore them. You might see reason in them. You might concur. You might though, above all else, wonder what else you interact with in the world that isn’t real?

Challenge yourself to be curious; to question what you hold in your head and how that in turn impacts your thinking and how you feel. Is it real? Is it your imagination? Or is it a distortion of someone, or something, that doesn’t serve you well in maintaining your mental and emotional well-being? Maybe anything that does that, whether true or not, is the real fake news?

Maybe take time to stand with your hand on a tree.  Ground yourself.  The tree is real.

Go well people.

a different perspective

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If you don’t like something, change it.
If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

Mary Engelbreit

Life sometimes throws up simple things which frustrate us, or annoy us, or frighten us.

Like having to wait in a queue when we want to get somewhere, or getting caught in the rain without a coat or umbrella.

We can allow these things to grasp us, to own us if you will. The displeasure, discomfort or disquiet with the situation becomes more than it warrants. Whereas we have choice. We could see that rain shower as a wonderful chance to connect with nature, that queue as a chance to be with our own thoughts or to meet someone new.

Changing the way we think about it, changes how we feel. Thoughts lead to feelings.

So think differently. Feel differently.

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.

 

trapped in my own mental construction

lifts

Yesterday I was at a conference. A hotel in central London.

Part way through the day I headed for the ‘facilities’ (strange how we invent words to hide our embarrassment of a normal human function – I needed a pee), only to discover that it was being cleaned. I wandered around the ground floor looking for alternatives. A man dressed in a ‘hotel concierge’ style approached and I sought his guidance.  He directed me to the reception area and the bank of lifts, suggesting I travelled to the first floor, where I could exit, turn left, left again and find the required room.

I headed off, conscious that I would soon be missing the start of the next break out session.  Finding the lifts, I pressed the button and the lift on the right of four opened its door. I entered and pressed the button marked 1. The lift door closed and it surged into life; well, actually it dribbled into life, but I could sense movement. I stood reflecting on the conference so far.

The lift juddered to a halt.

The door didn’t open.

Panic flashed into my body. Surely the lift hadn’t broken down? I glanced at the panel seeking the alarm button. I’d seen them before, but never had cause to use one. Into my mind came the conversation I would need to have, ‘yes lift on the right’, ‘yes, between ground and first floor’…

Thoughts swam in an ever quickening whirlpool in my mind… ‘how long might I be here?’ ‘what would I miss?’, ‘did I have water in my bag?’…

Then I turned around.

Behind me was an open door and an expansive empty corridor.

The lift had doors on both sides.

I tutted to myself, gently chastising my stupidity, glancing around to ensure nobody had noticed my tardy lift exit, or worse still witnessed my elementary mistake. I felt so silly.

Of course I have been in a lift before with doors that open both ends. Tube stations, hospitals. Usually large lifts, never a small 6 person lift in a hotel though. Lift doors normally ‘ping’ or are noisy enough for your attention to be drawn.

I noticed how my thought stream had moved from the panic of entrapment, to masking my embarrassment, to rationalising and justifying my inability to spot an open side in a four foot by five foot space.

For a moment, only a moment,  I had been trapped in my own mental construction – the lift and where its door should open.

Now I was trapped in a different mental construction – the need to hide and the need to make sense and justify.

 

it’s intentional

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Have you ever been driving somewhere and needed to get there on time, or you’re simply in a hurry, keen to arrive?

Ahead of you on the motorway, vehicles slow. Hazard lights are pulsed to warn you of rapid deceleration. Stretching into the distance is a long line of red dots; blinking illuminations signalling stationary or slowing modes of supposed transport. A queue.

How do you respond? Maybe your mind turns to being late? Maybe to the impact of that? Maybe you feel frustrated? Maybe annoyed? Maybe you sense a loss of control, your destiny in the hands of circumstance? Maybe that creates anger? Maybe your thoughts turn to those you are driving to? Maybe you worry? Maybe you begin switching lanes in an attempt to get some advantage over your fellow car crawlers, telling yourself you are winning and outsmarting those around you? Thereby generating a somewhat false sense of progress and movement. Maybe that makes you feel good?

Once your thoughts lead to a state change. Once the thoughts and feelings are connected in dubious harmony, you have set your intent. You will be anxious. You will be frustrated. You will be angry. Whether you want to or not, it will happen. It won’t get you what you want of course. It won’t move you forward. And not just literally.

If instead you were able to think about enjoying the scenery, or listening to some stirring music, or calling a friend to catch up. If you were able to set a positive, productive, happy intent. Leading to a positive, productive, enjoyable state. How would that queue be different?

Our thinking creates our state.  Our state determines our thinking.

Setting your intent, for how you want it to be, can make it so. On the motorway and elsewhere.

Today I co-facilitated a learning session with 50 people. As facilitators, we both set our intent to learn everyone’s name … and we did.

The act of setting intent, directs our attention to where we want it. We have choice, rather than simply being at the beck and call of our thoughts and feelings. We are driving ourselves, rather than being driven. Intentionally.

thinking our way out of the darkness

out of the darkness

Farmers used to think that it was in the nature of chickens to peck at one another, that they were basically loners, unsocial animals that couldn’t mingle without being nasty.

On some farms, their beaks were clipped, but this only made it more difficult for the chickens to eat – which made them hungrier, so they pecked at themselves and one another even more. Then a chicken farmer somewhere noticed something exquisitely simple that changed everything: chicken coops were dark, and the absence of light was what was causing the chickens to peck at themselves and one another. As soon as that farmer introduced a light source into his coops, his chickens stopped pecking—it was as simple as that.

People are not all that different. When we don’t know what our minds need to think well together, we are like chickens pecking around in the dark. This isn’t as far afield as it might seem. When we are communicating and thinking well together, our faces actually “light up.” When our minds don’t get enough light, our thinking breaks down and we begin to peck at one another and ourselves.

Humans can no longer afford to think in division and darkness. Collaborative intelligence is the light that is necessary for our individual and collective survival. We have no choice now but to think together.

Dawna Markova & Angie McArthur