Picking Our Battles (Part 2)

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There are so many great qualities that others possess, but if we don’t allow ourselves to see the fullness of their gifts, how can we invite them to come and touch our interactions? It is difficult to want to give to others when we are feeling invalidated by them. Faced with this repudiation, we will quite naturally withhold what we have to give, not because we are being punitive, but because we are being offered an experience of pain and unreceptivity as unwelcome rewards for our efforts.

In my experience, people are seldom reluctant to give to others if they are made to feel that their essence is being honoured by those others. When we can perceive the beauty of another’s spirit and honour it without condition, it makes it much easier to overlook those surface level things that we sometimes find irritating or distasteful. Part of the reason why we focus on these things in another is because they are the same things that we most want to change about ourselves. Sure, there might be some variation in behaviour, but it all exists at the same level that grabs the attention of those who are most unwilling to shine the light on themselves.

Evolving ourselves is hard but rewarding, and we will never really appreciate this if our attention is externally directed onto others. Criticising them in the hope that they will change, we are really only distracting ourselves, and in the process becoming more powerless in our capacity to change ourselves. How we orient this power in the direction of progress is giving ourselves permission to be bigger than the ego, and the things that prompt it to express negative emotions.

When we become more of who we were created to be, those things that once agitated us lose their power of control because they do not grab our attention as they once did. Focusing on the spiritual presence in all that which we encounter, we look for good in the world, and not those things that have the potential to take away from our peace. In the realm of relationships, this makes all the difference to their substance and quality.

With greater self-awareness comes a heightened ability to discern what helps our relationships and what hurts them. Observing ourselves in the moment that we are relating, we can bring more to the life of the other person, which only appears to be separate from our own. Connected at the spiritual level of being, we are guided by wisdom when we allow ourselves to learn the lessons that others have come to teach us.

If the gesticulations of others are capable of pulling our strings and leading us to suffer, we are being taught that we have more evolving to do. If we were more evolved, these things would not bother us, for the wise understand that suffering is voluntarily undertaken. Remember this the next time that you are tempted to sweat the small stuff in relationships.

The minor irritations on which we so often base our battles are not worth our energy. Sent here to love, understand and unite, our task is not as inconsequential as the ego would have it be. Being to reconcile the wounds of our unconsciousness, this is what we work towards in each moment that we purposefully relate to others from the heart. Each human being who is formed from the same spiritual fabric that animates our life, deserves our love and mercy, which is quick to excuse others for their misgivings, and never hesitant in its wisdom to forgo battle for freedom.


Picking Our Battles (Part 1)

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The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook ~ William James.

Scott Peck was right when he said that life is difficult. The opening line to his best-selling book The Road Less Travelled, he was seeking to articulate through that statement, that life is full of challenges that we are called to confront and overcome. With these challenges come conflicts that we must engage in along the way. Being waged both internally and externally in our environment, these tensions are where we must direct much of our precious energy, in order to evolve and reconcile the nature of our humanity.

Rather than resist this reality, we should just accept it, not passively but courageously, holding true at all times to our higher aim of fostering understanding, peace and fulfilment, for ourselves and others. A test of our willingness to become all that we were created to be, this opposition requires us to learn to draw the line between constructive and destructive battles. The former allows us the opportunity to grow and improve the quality of our existence; the latter, if we choose to take them on, can easily produce severe fragmentation, with disastrous consequences for our inner state and the state of our world.

We see this a lot in our personal relationships where we are taught to pick our battles. We will not agree with everything that other people do. Some of what they do will mildly irritate us. Other things they do, we will find completely unacceptable. But through it all, we must have the awareness to know that in each of these relationships, we are the other person to them. Not everything that we do appeals to others. Some things will grate on their nerves, while other aspects of our behaviour will have a harsher impact. The lesson then is to balance our expectations of others with what they would expect of us. Of course, not all expectations are reasonable, but we can assume that those with whom we choose to relate, expect similar things of us as we do of them.

Why then is there such a tear in the fabric of our relationships. So often it is because we hold others to a higher standard than we are willing to hold ourselves. Orienting our awareness externally, their shortcomings become the focus of our attention. Being sometimes large but more often minor, these flaws are what we criticise them about, in the vain hope that our righteous observance and accompanying notification will somehow raise their behaviour to a more tolerable realm.

Instead of having the desired effect, this approach drives their determination to not be imposed on, and they become defensive in the face of our attack. Retaliating in kind, their response is just as swift and brutal in their assessment of our faults. Invited to pervade our interactions with one another, these character assassinations will soon doom these relationships, unless one or both of the parties to them can practice functioning from a place of love, rather than ego.

The essence of this entry, we must learn to direct our focus towards what is important and meaningful, and pay less attention to what is superficial or trivial. What is important in relationships is being able to see the essence of who that other person is, and appealing to the best of who they are. It is raising others up by evoking the spirit in these interactions, and not wanting them to change, but to evolve. Relating with love is valuing the other person for who they are, rather than disparaging them for who they are not.

Such a large part of the process that love takes us through, is learning to overlook so that we may appreciate. Never can we appreciate what we criticise in the moment that criticism is being levelled. Focusing our attention on that which we are criticising, we take it away from that which we could and should be appreciating. I know that this can be difficult to reconcile when we are unconsciously acting out our relational scripts, but if we are to maximise the quality of these relationships, it is utterly necessary that we come to understand the connection between what we give our energy to and what we draw forth in others.


Teaching It Forward

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Pay it Forward is a really great movie. Very inspiring in its message, it teaches much about not holding onto the gifts that we have, but sharing them with others who may not be expecting it. While the film deals with acts of good will directed towards others, I would like to focus here on imparting wisdom that has been passed to us. I love quotes from great thinkers and inspiring stories that evoke the heart and challenge the mind. Shaped by the musings of those special souls who have illuminated my path, they are what I love sharing with others who I encounter on my journey of life.

In so many ways this is what these reflections are about. It is giving to others those things that have had a powerful influence on me. We all have the capacity to be agents of wisdom. This is because wisdom is an inherent part of our spiritual fibre. In this respect, it is akin to beauty. We are capable of appreciating it in the world because it is what we inherently embody. Being in alignment with our spirit, beauty is what we perceive in the world when we look upon it with the clarity of love.

As a lifelong student who has become a teacher in a university setting, I have come to observe something interesting about the learning process, which is this. Teaching something to another delivers a benefit to both the student and the teacher. The student of course receives the learning that the teacher has imparted, and the teacher receives the gratitude of the student, with the fulfilment this is inherent in giving something to another that they can use to improve their life in a powerful way. But even more profound than this is the revelation that the act of teaching strengthens the teacher’s understanding of that which is taught. By having to explain something to the student and making it clearer for them, it naturally becomes clearer for the teacher, who has had to become more closely connected with the essence of the lesson in order to articulate it.

Words can be very clumsy sometimes, especially when we are trying to articulate a complex concept or express something from the heart. Wanting to speak of the infinite dimension of spirit to others, words can often be inadequate as a means of expression. This is why we sometimes get lost for words when we experience something awe inspiring or transformational. Despite this being the case, we shouldn’t let this challenge in communicating interfere with the spirit’s intention to have us understand and accept each other for who we truly are.

There is so much of value that we can provide to others. In our hearts and minds, we have a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom that we are meant to share, not keep to ourselves. With this, I do not mean forcing our ideas on others and having them bend to our whim. That would promote misunderstanding and conflict which would not serve the spirit, but the purposes of the ego. Rather, what I am advocating for here, is giving of inspiration and information that will enrich others and enable their growth.

The success of a learning experience is determined in equal parts by the student’s openness to learning, and the teacher’s willingness to teach. Do not doubt that what you know in the depths of your being can lead others to a deeper experience of life. All you need is an interaction to touch the life of another in a profound way. Here, you have nothing to be afraid of. With grace as the facilitator of these interactions, the words you express are in the safest of hands.

So much of the confusion and lack of fulfilment in relating that characterises the human experience at present, stems from our unwillingness to open ourselves up to the presence of spirit, and being unreceptive to the presence of spirit in others. Resolve here and now to be a part of the solution by embracing your role as a teacher of others. Teach what you learn from relating with your spirit, so that the consciousness of the world may be elevated by the wisdom that you have found yourself to be.


The Relationship Wake

What is your relationship wake? Concerning the people that you share time with, do you leave them in a better position than you found them, or worse off for having encountered you? Do you lift others up by your contribution to their life, or do you tear them down? Do you make them the focus of your attention when you interact with them, or do you make yourself the focus of these interactions? Each of these are potent questions, when you consider that the quality of one’s life is determined largely by the quality of their relationships.

A wake is a trail that is left behind. The mark that we have made on the world, it illustrates the path that we have taken from one moment to the next. The by-product of our being, it attests to the maturity of our character, and our willingness to grow as we were created to. Embodying the thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that have shaped our interactions with others, this wake is what they will remember us by, even after we have long forgotten the dynamics of those interactions.

With this, picture yourself standing on a cliff and looking out into the ocean. Spotting a small boat in the distance in front of you, what is observable to the eye is not only where the boat is, but also where it has been. Moving atop the water by the power of its engine, what it leaves behind is a wash of white water that tells a story of its own. The wake of the boat, it contextualises the picture that otherwise would have remained obscure to an observer with a more limited perspective.

Now extend this metaphor to your relationships. Have the boat represent who you are to those who you interact with, whether they are loved ones, business colleagues or acquaintances. What wake have you left behind? Is yours one that has seen you give to others what they needed from you in those interactions? Has that path been consciously created and expressive of who you truly are, or does it provide evidence that you have not shown up in the world authentically as yourself?

Rarely do we give thought to the kind of relationships that we would like to create as we are participating in them. Most often we shape them unconsciously, and then look back at what we have effected. This is not something to regret if what we have created has been positive and fulfilling from both our perspective and the perspective of others. The real problem comes when we look back and have the realisation dawn on us that we have left a path of destruction in our wake.

Seldom is the case that we intend to cause others to suffer in relating with us, but this is what we nevertheless create when we do not direct ourselves consciously, and make others a part of our focus. Leaving them on the periphery of our concern, what we create is unsatisfying and incapable of nurturing the best of what is both given and received in these interactions.

The beauty of relationships is that they hold great potential for individual and collective growth, but we will struggle to see this beauty and facilitate this growth when we are so focused on ourselves and where we are going that we forget to take the time to look behind at our wake, and the story that it tells not only about the quality of our relationships, but ultimately the quality of our life.

In your awareness, stay on that cliff looking over the vastness of your life, even after you have stopped reading this, so that your perspective is one that adds depth to your ability to relate to others in the here and now, and into the future. We can’t do much about the wake that has already been created, but we can create a new wake from this day forward. Your power, joy and wisdom are that which you give to others as you relate to them from the depths of your spirit. Be sure to integrate this lesson into your wake, so that others can learn from your example when they look upon your boat from the precipice where they now stand.


Doing it more often


When was the last time that you celebrated an achievement, whether it be personal, or as part of a team? If you are like most people who tend to reserve celebrations for traditional occasions such as birthdays, weddings and Christmas’, understand that you are missing out on opportunities to experience more fun, fulfilment, and gratitude in your life. Every time that I finish a project, whether it is large, like a thesis, or small, like a presentation, I take some time out to reflect on and celebrate that accomplishment. Having channelled the extended effort, focus and dedication into something that means so much to me, it feels so good to finally bring to life what was once an idea seeking worldly expression.

Creating something new that is pregnant with possibilities, I want to not only express gratitude for the journey and contemplate what it has taught me, but also to continue harnessing the inspired energy which got me to that point. Finishing something that really means a lot to you can produce a hollow and depleted feeling. Languishing in that emptiness, purpose and direction can be lost as we ask ourselves the question, ‘where do I go from here?’ Not knowing the answer to that question, we do not move as we should, with the effect that the utility of our creation is greatly compromised.

Celebrating also the destination that we have reached, we remain driven to succeed, and with that momentum we can more easily transition into the next stage of our journey where another challenge awaits to be tackled. This lesson I learnt from Jack Welch, the retired CEO of General Electric, who made celebrating success a part of that company’s great culture. What Welch realised was that his people performed better when they were allowed to celebrate and be celebrated for their hard work that delivered positive results for the company. Far from advocating for a hedonistic approach to work, he was wise with his leadership style for rewarding his people with fun for their hard work and superior performance.

Fun should be an integral part of everything that we do, including work. In saying this, I know that there is a time to grind when things need to get done, but when we reach a goal, there should be scope to sit back and reflect on what the journey has meant. What good is accomplishment if we can’t bask in the joy of it, and enjoy the other fruits of giving ourselves fully to something that truly matters? A sad part of our culture is that we almost see it as slacking off, if we were to take the time out to celebrate our accomplishments. Always focused on the next thing to do, we remain unconscious participants in the societal rat race, with its endless demands that promise a life of stress and dissatisfaction.

How different the quality of our lives would be if we learned to love ourselves by honouring our efforts. Cultivating the space to see how we have touched the lives of others in a positive manner, we grow in our capacity to serve the world. In and of itself, celebrating doesn’t serve this purpose, but by engaging in it with a receptive spirit, we find greater fulfilment and harmony within ourselves, which not only enriches our experience, but the experience of others with whom we interact.

Without stopping at the appropriate time to pat ourselves on the back for what we have accomplished, our passion for life begins to dry up. Don’t let this happen to you. Fight against the force of the ego which says that you can’t celebrate until you have arrived on its terms. The day will not come when it allows you to step off that depleting treadmill, and what it wants for itself is immaterial to your happiness. The sooner you can appreciate this truth, the sooner that your spirit can meaningfully engage with life. Your being is cause enough for much celebration, as is your flourishing that will provide a potent example for succeeding generations to celebrate and draw inspiration from. I for one salute you, and I hope that you enjoy the time you take out to salute yourself.


The Boomerang that is Happiness


‘When you seek happiness for yourself it will always elude you. When you seek it for others you will find it yourself’ ~ Wayne Dyer

Of all the lessons that I have learned in my life, this is one of the most profound. Why this is the case is because in worldly terms it is so counterintuitive, yet in spiritual terms it makes perfect sense. The world preaches the virtue of action as a means of attaining happiness. It says, move about externally and bring to yourself that which will make you happy. This is problematic on so many levels. Firstly, this flawed thought is underpinned by the assumption that we know what will make us happy. Secondly, the belief that happiness must be acquired is one that originates from the ego mind that will deny, for the purpose of its preservation, our innate ability to know happiness by giving the spirit a voice in our life. Thirdly, that which the ego guarantees will deliver happiness never truly does.

A sure way not to know happiness is by indulging the selfish desire to experience it at the expense of others, or going after what we believe to promise happiness with blinders on. Often confusing an experience of happiness with one of pleasure, we chase physical sensations, rather than allowing joy to arise from within. Thinking that experiences of pleasure will make us satisfied or whole, we go out and get ourselves addicted to the things of this world, not knowing that in the process we are numbing ourselves to the love of the spirit, which is the true source of happiness in life.

This, we will not be able to comprehend in the company of the ego because it is too myopic in its focus. Seeing only the potential for its enrichment, the ego is blind to the needs that others have for our being. Perceiving only a small part of a much larger picture, it fails to understand that happiness is born of reciprocity. What this universal law teaches us is that it is not what we receive that leads to happiness, but that which we give to others and the world. Here, I am reminded of a quote from Marianne Williamson which says that, ‘fullness has no potential for fullness, only emptiness has the potential for fullness’. A lesson in the value of having a beginners mind in learning, it also speaks to the need to prioritise serving others with our natural gifts.

The ego resists service to others, preferring instead to be served by them. Wanting to preserve what it believes to be fullness, it blocks us from a genuine experience of fulfilment. Hoarding the things of the world that the ego values most highly, the joy of the spirit is prevented from entering. Having our hands full of things that we do not need, we have not the capacity to receive anything that we intentionally want. Maintaining this internal imbalance, it explains why we often want things to get better in our lives, but they rarely do.

To bring enrichment and abundance into our lives, we must subscribe to a more evolved paradigm which is focused on meeting the needs of the world. Taking care of others, we will be taken care of. Doing what we can to bring happiness to others, it will surely, as the night follows the day, come to illuminate our heart. This is not a complicated but a simple process, for reciprocal flow is the spirit’s way. Coming from the ego, we have to strive for happiness through effort, but when we allow ourselves to give from the heart, it takes no effort at all. Only when we resist giving do we expend energy needlessly, but this we can move past when we focus our eyes on the bigger picture, and respond to what love prompts us to do.

The boomerang is such an apt metaphor for this concept. What we toss out into the world builds momentum and returns back to us in greater amounts. Fill your heart by giving of it authentically, and trust that the universe will play its part in manifesting your highest intentions. There is so much more to happiness than what we have been taught. There is not much more to happiness than giving of the highest parts of ourselves that nourish the world in ways that the lowest parts of ourselves cannot fathom.


Wilber’s World


The other day, I learned a very interesting lesson about the process of evolution. Watching an educational video, the presenters got to discussing Ken Wilber, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of modern time. Being the man behind integral philosophy which blends body, mind, soul, culture, nature, and the spirit with self, he believes that if we are to evolve, we must take a holistic approach that does not deny any aspect of life. The author of such titles as The Spectrum of Consciousness and A Theory of Everything, Wilber’s work has changed the lives of many around the world, teaching us much about where we have been, who we are now, and where we are going on our collective journey.

A strong proponent of individual and collective evolution, Wilber posits that to grow into someone new, we must disconnect from our previous selves that we have identified with in the past. Being different people at different stages of our life, we hold ourselves back when we cling to who we were in the past, in the present moment. Like wearing a pair of shoes that we have outgrown, we inflict upon ourselves discomfort at best and suffering at worst, when we move against the natural tide of life by keeping alive remnants of the past that once served us, but now only hinders our progress towards wholeness.

Like the cocoon that allows the caterpillar to elegantly transform into a butterfly, so must we cultivate a space within ourselves that is at peace with the death of the old and the birth of the new. Giving ourselves this psychological, emotional and spiritual freedom, we can evolve more consciously and rapidly than those who are willing to remain comfortable constituents of the herd. So often we are reluctant to let die the parts of ourselves that keep us bonded to the past because they are the familiar pillars on which we have built our identity. Wanting to feel like we are in control of our world, we make the mistake of staying the same persons today that we were yesterday. While on the surface this appears to present a solid foundation, it is in reality the most fragile of footings because it does not cater to the fact that the world in which we live is in a constant state of change, never staying the same from one moment to the next.

Honouring the call of nature to growth, it is a potent lesson that we can learn from the world when we choose to move as it does. Creating different identities for himself as he has evolved with his work, it is Wilber who understands better than anyone that we die as we stand still in unconsciousness. Ignorant to the evolutionary pull towards the realisation of potential, we are asphyxiated in an environment that is unmotivated by progress and cursed by apathy.

To find greater meaning and success in every area of life, we must become more fully integrated people. With authentic power flowing from the conscious integration of our being, it is the development of our inner life that holds the potential for flourishing in our external world. By sharpening our own saw, we can cut through the limitations that held us back yesterday, and create a world today which puts into practice the wisdom that has emerged from our growth journey. With the individual being a part of the collective whole of humanity, it is the realisation of our own promise that fulfils the vision that the world has for itself. Being for fear and lack to be overcome by love and abundance, it is what we work towards in each moment that we allow ourselves to express new life.