Hearing It As It Is From Men

Boy this article/post has taken a long time to come together - too long. I’m not sure why. I could probably blame writers procrastination, that blank white screen or sheet of paper that is just sitting there taunting you to dare to fill it with words. Perfection has probably also played a part…”gotta get this right,” and then I over think what I wanted to say (as is my introvert tendency). And really all that I have wanted to do is to touch base with you about is how the Gentle Men Discussion went which I hosted a few weeks back (actually just over a month ago), and which was the subject of my last blog post.

My aim in hosting the talk was to hear from men who did not identify with the dominant macho image of being a man. This might be because they were Introverts, Highly Sensitive People (HSP), or that they didn’t identify with any label but felt that they simply didn’t fit in. I wanted to bring men together and join me around a virtual table to talk about what might normally be unsaid in their lives. As has been said elsewhere, men have sat in circles for centuries, meeting to talk and share stories. That was my wish here. To create a circle of men exploring what it means to be a man in the world today. 

Specifically I wanted to start a dialogue with men who have a gentler way of being, and to learn more of what their struggles and successes are. What it means to be such a man today in our modern society? How they have coped and what is still a struggle for them? I feel the time is ready for a new story of what it means to be in a man in the world today. A more open and inclusive story.

My interest in holding such a dialogue was initially triggered when I wrote a piece asking where all the male introverts were? Since the huge success of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking the online world has lit up with dialogue about being an introvert in society, I would say especially in the western world where the extrovert way of being is more celebrated and seen as the way to be. However, a great majority of this online dialogue is by women, I am going to guess at 90%+ . There is some superb content out there. It has inspired and helped me in owning and living with my introversion. But at the same time there is a part of the dialogue missing - what does it mean to be a quiet and sensitive man living in an extroverted world? And what is missing especially about that dialogue is it taking place between men. Even the replies that I received for the blog post I mentioned above were all from women.

​If I was asked to offer a diagnosis as to the cause of this silence from men, I would speak to societal pressure. I see, experience, a message coming from society that says, “you have to act this way if you are a man and wish to be seen as a man. Any other way of being means that you are lacking in some way as a man.” If men show up in ways that are regarded as un-masculine, they can be spoken down to in disparaging terms (some of which are implicitly derogatory towards women) such as - “you are a wuss, or pussy.” The pressure of their natural way of being eats into how these men show up at work, with their families, at play, in the online world….and with themselves.

The conversation with men

So returning to the dialogue that I held with men at the end of February. Seven of us sat in a circle that spanned 10 hours in time zones. We set some ground rules in order to create a safe space for sharing, I had a few questions ready to prompt conversation if it waned, and then we sat down for 1.5 hours discussing a number of subjects:

  • At what stage growing up did individuals noticed that they were different from their peers in some way?
  • In what way were they different, and how did they cope with that difference?
  • What coping strategies did or do they adopt?
  • The role of shame in how they showed up in the world and in some cases destructive patterns of behaviour that that invoked.
  • Exploring the stories that we live by and owning _our own stories,_ i.e. owning and being who we are as individual men, and how easy or difficult that can be.

Probably the most powerful part of the dialogue for me was simply hearing the experiences from real men. For the most part thus far my experience of others’ experience of what it means to be a quiet and sensitive man has come from articles or books that I have read. I speak about my work with introverts, and the subject sparks interesting conversation, but delving deeper into what it means to be a quiet and sensitive man has not really happened. So while these stories that I read are true, they are still words on paper. I feel their power and resonate with the words shared, but there is a distance. Hearing the stories from men sitting in front of me, men who did not know each other an hour ago but are now willing to lean into their vulnerability and share their stories with strangers, I found very powerful. I was not thinking about my own experiences. I was not reading articles - like this one! :) - I was hearing the lived experiences of men who had lived the experience of feeling different as they grew up.

The next dialogue

Following the success of this meeting, I am planning another dialogue. Some men have already expressed an interest in joining, but it looks as though there will be space if other men are interest. No date set yet, but it will probably be about a month out. If you are interested, reach out to me via email and I’ll include you in the email list for information.

An Invitation to a Discussion...

Invitation

I am sending out this invitation to men, or men who you may know in your life, to join me for a free discussion about what it means to be a gentle or quiet man who does not fully identify with the dominant macho expectations. I’d love to have a discussion about being such a man in the world today - the challenges, the joy, where you shine and where you struggle. ​ All said in our discussion will be held in strict confidence.

If you think it would be interesting to talk about this topic with like-minded men, I invite you to join me in a guided conversation. I’ll make it easy to participate, and quiet is welcome too.

Date/Time:

Monday, February 29th. - 11:00am (PST)/2:00pm (EST) - 4:00pm (PST)/7:00pm (EST)

Please indicate your preference. I will decide when to run the event based on the majority preferred time. If there is sufficient interest, I will consider running two discussions.

Why I am doing this?

I won’t be selling anything. I just want to explore this topic with others.

In many ways, this world is not supportive of men who do not fit into the dominant macho meme of today. I am offering this space on the assumption that there are other men out there with similar questions as to how we fit in and how our qualities are seen and accepted for what they are. This is not about changing who you are, but about honoring who you are. I imagine you know that your reflective nature, your love of the earth, or love of reading are valuable qualities. I believe that these qualities can help make this world a better place.

Let’s discuss how we can work with these qualities in the midst of a loud, macho, materialistic culture.

What will the discussion be like?

​This will be a meeting of like minded men coming together in the spirit of support, sharing and building community. I will share some questions with you as seeds for discussions.

The group will be limited to 6 people so as to allow everyone plenty of time to talk.

We’ll meet via an online video teleconference tool. I’ll provide easy instructions once you RSVP.

The meeting will last for 1.5 hours.

Who I am

Life has taken me on many journeys around the world.

Growing up in England, I was that reserved small kid in school that was easily picked on. I studied computer science at college and on graduating spent time as a computer programmer. Searching for answers in life I spent a few years traveling with a pack on my back. I subsequently lived in a Buddhist community, and Buddhist practice is still central to my life. I built an award winning ecological house and worked in the environmental field. I am on the Board of a Charitable Foundation based in my hometown in the UK, and most recently have been through the NWTA experience with the ManKind Project. I’ve lived in many places and currently reside in Hawaii.

Through all of these stages there have been searches as to how my nature fits into the world around me.

I’m currently a life coach with a strong interest in exploring what it means to be a gentle man in our society.

I’m excited to learn from other men like me about what interests them on these topics.

Ready to RSVP?

​Email me at info@crossingthethreshold.net to reserve your place as soon as possible.

RSVP deadline: Wednesday, February 24th.


Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
David Johnson.

Meditation and the Toothbrush

I find it interesting watching people clean their teeth. This is not a regular pastime of mine I hasten to add, but from time to time I find myself visiting friends and we happen to pass in the evening as we get ready for bed, toothbrushes in hand. I believe that observing how people clean their teeth can give a glimpse into how their mind is working…at least in that moment. ​ Some people have a long routine worked out. They use an ordinary toothbrush and spend many minutes using up and down, and circular motions to scrub their teeth. As the toothpaste becomes stirred up they froth at the mouth while front teeth grin brightly beneath the fast moving brush. Any attempt at communication with these teeth brushers is normally met with an incomprehensible “mmmmmmm mmmmm” noise, varying in tone as meaning is attempted to be conveyed.

Other people can’t get their toothbrush back into the cup or holder in which it sits during the day, quick enough. Pick up the toothbrush, on goes the toothpaste, a quick dab of water under the tap - up, down, roundabout, spit out the toothpaste, rinse the toothbrush and back in the cup - onto the next thing.

The electric toothbrush users offer similar patterns. Some sit or stand there, moving the brush around their mouths seemingly completely preoccupied with their toothbrushing. Others quickly buzz the brush through their mouths before replacing it in the recharger.

Through all of these, you sometimes see people attempting to multitask. Toothbrush busy in one hand while a draw is being opened, a cell phone tapped, a stove turned down with another, all the while trying to prevent foaming toothpaste from dripping onto the floor!

I have been guilty of all ways of brushing that I have mentioned  above and probably many more in between.

For myself, I currently use a Philips Sonicare toothbrush. This post is not a product endorsement but a suggestion for an aid to help with your meditation that came to me while I was brushing my teeth one evening. For those of you who have a meditation practice, this can be a way to build on it while off your cushion. For those who are trying to get started with meditation it can give you an extra tool to help build your focus. Or on those days when it can be difficult to squeeze in a formal meditation session, cleaning our teeth is a daily ritual for all of us and so opens up a chance to not miss out on our regular practice.

Use it or adapt it in a way that works for you.

For those who do not use a Sonicare, the models that I have had (I am onto my second) have a built in 2 minute routine. You can brush say the top front of your teeth and then there is a slight change in the motor sound. That is a signal that 30 seconds have past and at that point you change to the back of your front teeth. This process repeats itself over two minutes, taking you through the back and front of your upper and lower teeth. For those two minutes you know that you can focus thoroughly on cleaning your teeth.

Meditation asks us to focus our mind. To not engage in any other activity. To let thoughts arise, note them, not get caught up in them, and then let them go on their way. For the 2 minutes of a Sonicare program the stage can be set for a meditation practice - a micro retreat perhaps?

  • The area of focus is brushing your teeth. You must only brush your teeth. No attempted communication with others. No trying to multitask.
  • You can sit or stand, whatever you usually do. I normally just end up staring at myself in the bathroom mirror.
  • If while you are brushing your teeth a thought comes up, something that you _need_ to do, something that you _need_ to say, just note that thought and let it go. Return to the job in hand - brushing your teeth. There is plenty of time afterwards to do. After all, it is only 2 minutes.

You obviously don’t need an electric toothbrush to do this, the electric brush just aids in the timing. If you are brushing your teeth with a manual brush, I would suggest being disciplined with a longer brushing routine. Perhaps have a clock at hand to help time how long you are brushing for?

One of the knock on effects of meditating while you are brushing is that you’ll end your toothbrushing feeling lighter and clearer than if you tried to do other things at the same time, or than if you simply rushed your brushing to get onto the next thing. When you rush your mind is never focused on what you are doing, rather it is already moving onto the next thing that _has_ to be done. With time the habit of rushing makes the discipline of focusing much more difficult - we are trying to build a habit of focus, instead we are building a habit of movement.


What other daily ritual in your life might offer itself up as an opportunity for a regular meditation practice?

Introversion - In the Cradle of the Night

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night”

~ Solsbury Hill, by Peter Gabriel

​Solsbury Hill is an Iron Age Hill Fort to the East of the city of Bath in England. From the lyrics of this well-known song we know that Peter Gabriel is on the Hill with the darkness of night surrounding him. I imagine him standing up there by himself looking out from the Hill’s peak, shrouded in darkness, anonymous to everything around him, gazing down on the lights of Bath. As you read on in the lyrics there is a sense that he has gone up there to be by himself and reflect.

The darkness around him affords him the solitude that he wants.

Gabriel’s song came to me a couple of weeks ago when I went up to the summit of Haleakala, one of the two volcanos that make up the Hawai’ian island of Maui. In an hour and a half you can drive from sea level to the summit of Haleakala at 10,000ft+. For me it is “the other” side of the natural forces of Hawai’i. You sit on the rocks and cliffs that go out into the ocean and you are sitting on a lava flow that centuries ago grew this island, these islands into the what they are today. The size of the volcanoes and the forces that grew the Hawai’ian islands, indeed continues to grow some of them, is humbling.

So that evening on top of Haleakala I could see across to the summits of Kilauea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island. As night fell the lights from that island’s towns became visible 30 miles away across the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel. With the sun down the temperature fell quickly - it was freezing and the wind chill ate through my clothes. People up there for the sunset started to leave to head back down the mountain, and apart from car headlights, discernible figures and objects slowly merged into the darkness. The lights of Maui townships became visible through the cloud, which I was above, and in the sky above the stars and Milky Way slowly revealed themselves. Satellites and pieces of space debris tracked across the sky. Comets burnt up on their passage through our atmosphere. With plenty of clothes and coats on, and a blanket wrapped round me, I just wanted to be up there and take in the experience - the silence, the isolation and detachment of the night, the raw experience of nature in this wild space…but there was also the image that Gabriel created in Solsbury Hill and the reminders that that brought me of similar situations in my own life.

There are times when I find something deeply comforting in being able to look out on the world with a sense of complete anonymity. My introverted nature craves periods alone to rest, recharge and rebuild, but having that sense of anonymity afforded to me by the darkness of the night along with no electronic contact, Haleakala has little or no cell phone service, allows me to go deeper. Standing on the “Hill” that was Haleakala, I was not just shrouded in my blanket but also darkness, and within my secret and unknown presence I could sit and watch the world going on beneath me. For a couple of hours I was apart from it, free to rest in the quietness that the isolation afforded to me.

Knowing that I would not be disturbed, indeed could not be disturbed, let my level of rest and letting go of mundane concerns run deeper.

Looking down on the world I thought of the people heading out and enjoying their Saturday night, it was Halloween, being with the kids (trick-or-treating), others staying at home watching television, reading a book, sharing a dinner party. There were doctors and nurses working in hospitals, chefs and wait staff busy keeping customers fed in restaurants, others keeping us in water and electricity, the police keeping order, the homeless sleeping or watching all this with their own perspective that I can only guess at.

Looking down I could feel the busyness of the world and felt the relief to be away from it. To be able to wander into my own thoughts and musings without fear of being interrupted.

Retreat

The great spiritual and philosophical traditions hint at the importance of retreat - Jesus’ time alone in the wilderness, Buddha sitting in meditation under the Bodhi tree, Muhammad spending time in silence, prayer and retreat in the caves around Mount Hira. But we do not have to follow any such tradition to take part in and benefit from retreat time.

Retreat time is alone time where we disconnect completely from the outside world for a few hours, days or maybe even weeks. No phone, no electronic communication, no personal communication, no business…no nothing. A place where the noise and worry of everyday life can be allowed to settle, like a glass of muddy water. The noise might still be there in the back ground, but not stirred up by life’s busyness it is given the space to take a rest, and with it afford you rest from it.

One thing you find with a complete disconnection is how the world gets on perfectly OK without you. Don’t worry, you can catch up later.

The complete disconnection allows you a deeper recharge and rest, and time to reflect on that which you want to. Maybe you are looking for time to be creative, time to just be, or time to just rrreeessstt.

Look for opportunities to build retreat times into your life. Timetabled into your life - twice a year, once a month, for a few hours or few days - will add to their power. You are giving yourself permission to take this time off, and you know so in advance. No last minute frenetic plan making, but more of a wined down towards your retreat. The mind starts to calm down laying a foundation for your time alone. Involve family and friends in your plans for added support before, while you are away and once you get back (you don’t want to walk in the door and be deluged with demands and requests). Also build in a plan for if you _do_ need to be contacted. Then breathe, thank all concerned for their encouragement and head off.


If you take retreat time already, what does it look like? If this is something that you would like to build into your life, what do you need to do to make it happen?

Introversion - Life in the Rear View Mirror

When looking at my life as an introvert and HSP, I can spend a lot of time gazing into the rear view mirror. Why? Because for the greater part of my life I had no formal reference point with which to frame how I have felt in different situations. While growing up my heart knew what I wanted, what I felt comfortable with, how best I worked, the outside world gave me different messages. ​

Listening to my heart was not something that I was brought up to do, and so to a greater and lesser extent - _I didn’t completely ignore the messages that I was receiving_ - I went with what I thought society wanted. So although my heart said one thing - _see, I was listening_ - the outside world said something else and I would pathologize how it was that I was feeling…”there is something in me that needs to be fixed,” I started telling myself. My approach to being in the world was wrong.

If you have spent time in your life not having a reference point for your introversion and sensitivity, it can badly undermine your self-confidence. Even if you are reading about the strengths and qualities of introverts, you’ll find yourself questioning and doubting. Transforming your past experiences, looking at them with fresh perspective can be helpful in moving forward. Look on those past experiences as compost, as the birth place for new outlooks and fresh ideas. This way the trials of the past become the genesis of a new you.

That’s not to say that things will change overnight, most likely they won’t. The Buddhist tradition that I have trained in emphasizes the importance of hearing, reading and understanding the meditation practices before engaging in them. It might sound obvious, why do something before knowing about it? All the same sometimes we don’t look before we leap and excited enthusiasm can get the better of us. Even if we do spend time studying, it is easy to mistake that intellectual understanding for having the subject licked. All too quickly, and rudely, we  discover that what we have just read about is not manifesting in our personality however much it resonated with us. The compassionate feelings that welled up in us while reading about the subject, appear to be the last thing that we are feeling right now after that put down!

It is very easy to get an intellectual understanding but there is another stage…bringing the understanding to our heart and integrating it within ourselves. Making it a part of who we are.  It takes time and patience, and ultimately an understanding of and compassion for ourselves. As the saying goes, old habits die hard, and what we are asking ourselves to do is to change the habits of how we see and experience ourselves.

The View from My Mirror

So for me it has been a gradual process. Even now I find myself reading articles about introversion and sensitivity, things that I understand and know, but now I see them in a deeper light than before because I have had the opportunity to integrate the understanding more into my own life.

So what does the landscape in the rear view mirror look like now with the benefit of my better understanding of introversion and sensitivity? Well the landscape hasn’t so much changed as I obviously can’t make the past different. What has changed is how I look on what is in the mirror and how I have integrated that into my daily life.

It might be that in places that rear view mirror is foggy. A lot of time has passed since my childhood, and so not all the stories are clear, it’s more just fleeting memories. I see quietness at times, having fun with friends. I see bullying, time spent in nature, enjoying time with family and I see inner conflict as I feel lost in what I perceived was expected of me. What learning about introversion has given me is  a smoothing out of the past road. It is now no longer a noisy presence from the past that hovers around me at times like a specter. It now has a quiet presence as it has been given context and is now held with compassion for the one who at times felt lost.

Making Choices

One time that I did choose to listen to my heart was after college. I packed a rucksack and hit the road for a couple of years. My heart was telling me to get some space and that felt like the best way to do it. Plans were there, but sketchy. Destinations were in mind, but I was on no itinerary and open to what might happen. I would be standing by the road hitch hiking, just me, my backpack and a destination in mind. Someone would pull over, pick me up and say that they were going somewhere else, normally somewhere part way to where I wanted to go. Did I want to come along with them, stay with their family, go camping with their friends,….?

We make plans, we have them set up in place, and then another opportunity presents itself. We take it and new experiences are had, new opportunities present themselves. Back in the hustle and bustle of everyday life that perspective can be lost, but opportunities are never far away if we look closely. We just have to be observant, listen and be ready to jump in when the occasion presents itself.

Where does this fit into my introverted nature?

The rear view mirror shows me a world that was. It has happened, it has past. With perspective I can now see myself standing by the road with choices as to how I act. Ultimately I can choose how I want that experience to be in my life now. It does not need to rule my life now, but looked on with the right perspective it can be helpful and inform where I go from here. I can look back with my better understanding of introversion now and give myself context for how I felt and compassion where there was pain. And with that new understanding I can stand stronger in myself now and the actions that I choose to take going forward.

I am forever standing beside the road with options as to which ride I take. One can read about how as an introvert your qualities make you a better listener or a better this or that, but your past life, your past habits can undermine your self-belief in what you are being told. So you fall back into old habits. You put yourself back in the cage - you want to be out of it, it is not very comfortable in there and you can’t breathe so well, but at least it is familiar. Instead trust in what you are reading, what you are hearing about your introvert strengths. Allow yourself to feel them in your heart. Next time you feel challenged remember that bit of advice that you read or heard and try it out. The ground could well feel shaky for you, but try it anyway. Once you have tasted the results of your work, you’ll have more faith in the advice that you read and be more willing to try it again next time that you are called upon to use it.

All the advice that you read and hear becomes yours when you have taken it from the page and made it a part of your own life.​

You will start to feel the efficacy and truth in what you are hearing and stand more firm in what you as an introvert and sensitive person are able to offer. You don’t stand any less than your extroverted friends and colleagues, having to shy away in the background with excuses, rather you stand alongside them with your complimentary skills and personality.

What does life look like for you in the rear view mirror? How have you managed that view with the benefit of your learnings around introversion and sensitivity?

The Silence of Male Introverts & HSPs?

I wrote this piece to explore some thoughts and observations that have been going through my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about introversion and sensitivity, as it is defined for a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), and men. Specifically the visibility of introverted and/or HSP men online, and what that might say to how these men are handling this aspect of themselves in their lives. I have included a question mark in the title of this blog as I also ask myself if I am asking the correct question?

Is it a silence or is it something else…though right now I don’t know what that something else is?

As we spend our time online we search out and are drawn to websites and groups that speak to interests that we hold. I spend some of my online time in forums for introverts and HSPs, but I do not see many men in them. At least there are definitely more women visible than men. Now I recognize that the online world is not for everyone, but I’m guessing that ”not for everyone” is not the reason that introverted & HSP men are not as visible as women online. Also just to acknowledge that I am using the word _“visible.”_ I can spend time online reading but not replying to threads or offering my comments - I remain invisible. But this does not get away from my experience of more women in these online forums than men.

In this post I explore some possible reasons for this apparent discrepancy and would be interested in hearing your own thoughts on the subject.

For me, acknowledging my introversion and sensitivity means making myself vulnerable. Or perhaps I would say that it is about stepping up a ladder of vulnerability.

I am not good with heights. I don’t bound up a ladder. On some ladders I am fine if I do not have to climb too high. However, if I am being asked to climb to a certain height, once I get so far up the ladder I start to proceed with more caution, feeling my way up to each new rung before proceeding to the next. One might ask what I am doing climbing a ladder in the first place if I have a fear of heights? Well a couple of things there. One, if the height is just too high, I won’t be going up. And two, if the choice is there, if someone is there who can do the work instead of me, I’ll let them go ahead. But when those options don’t present themselves, a job needs to be done and I think that I can manage the height, I’ll go up. If someone is around to steady the ladder or help in any other way, I’ll let them know I am going to proceed with caution. No heroics here. The head space that I find myself in at heights prevents any of those. I’ll go up and get the job done, but those below will see the caution and nervousness with which I proceed.

Sharing my introversion and sensitivity with the world has been like climbing that ladder - I can open to it so far, and from there on it has been a rung at a time. Perhaps sometimes a couple of quick steps, but inevitably there is a pause. Circumstances and company will determine the degree of my opening. This has changed over the years as my own confidence and understanding of what I am dealing with grows, but the challenge can still arise, sometimes when I not expecting it.

What causes that pause? Why not just step out and say who you are?

I believe that in no small part the answer to those questions is because I am a man. The terms introversion and sensitivity carry or embody for modern society meanings that are not what these personality traits truly are. Introversion can carry connotations of shyness, passivity, of being meek or weak. Sensitivity might commonly be understood as having a sense of fluffiness and weakness about it, or maybe a feeling that is more normally associated with the feminine. With both introversion and sensitivity there can be the sense that they are personality traits and ways of being that we choose to adopt and live by. These are meanings and values that have been put on those words by society at large, I would say especially in the west.

These misunderstandings are beginning to change with the movement that has sprung up from the publication a few years ago of Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. More recently there has been the release of the movie “Sensitive, The Untold Story,” based Dr. Elaine Aron’s pioneering work on Highly Sensitive People. Hopefully these works and others will go a long way into clearing the misunderstandings surrounding these personality traits.

Introversion is not speaking to shyness, fear or dislike of people, but energy - what tires us out and what energies us and as a corollary of this, how we work and function at our best in the world. Similarly sensitivity is not talking about an affliction or “soft” way of being in the world that we choose. Rather it is a genetic psychological trait that cause HSP’s to experience the world in a more intense and deep way. As a consequence they can very easily become overstimulated.

But habits and beliefs are slow to change.

A man can read a book or a blog entry and hear the truth that is being spoken for him. He can know that his introversion and/or sensitivity is the source of his strengths and is at the core of who he is, but if misunderstandings and prejudices of those around him do not embrace his beliefs, he will be left feeling alone and cautious about what he reveals to who - whether family or work.

Speaking out when one is fearful of the response requires vulnerability. It requires facing the fear of being shamed. Author and researcher, Brené Brown, defines shame as,

the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

Brown goes on to speak about how this is experienced separately by men and women,

For women, shame is a web of unattainable expectations that say, Do it all, Do it perfectly, and Never let them see you struggle. For men, the primary shame mandate is, Do not be perceived as weak.

When the requirement of men is to be loud, demonstrative, physically strong - as that might be perceived as the only way of getting results, of winning - then any quieter way of being will not even be given a chance to shine and will possibly be ridiculed. And if introverted men believe that they have to act in a way contrary to what they are comfortable with, their health and well being will suffer - I write that based on experience.

There are an increasing number of online forums (websites, Facebook groups, etc) dedicated to introversion and they are wonderful, helpful resources. I am very grateful for their presence and to those who brought them into being, but the vast majority of these are run by women and the members of these forums, or the one’s responding in the comments are mainly women. Where are the introverted and sensitive men? I am going to guess that vulnerability is the main barrier. I certainly don’t believe that men are not reading the forums.

Statistics say that 15%-20% of the population are Highly Sensitive…and as a by-the way, the trait is also found in animals. Of that percentage, the ratio of men to women who are sensitive is 50/50. Taking the lower, 15%, that means that there are over 48 million HSPs in the USA alone…and so over 24 million HSP men. Introverts are said to be 50% of the population - that is a lot more than 24 million.

This is not only about the introverted and sensitive men willing to step out and be heard, it is also about a society growing up, recognizing that “strength” and “qualities” can have many disguises. That it is not the domain of the few or those showing up in a specific, defined way, but also about supporting these men so that they can stand at the top of the same ladder in their own way.

Before finishing, I’d like to offer you links here to four articles which explore the subject of HSP men:

  1. Highly Sensitive Men: successes & struggle
  2. HSP Topics: The Challenges of The Highly Sensitive Man
  3. I am a Highly Sensitive Man
  4. Healing the Highly Sensitive Male

Are you an introverted and/or HSP man, or do you know one? How do you manage your true nature in daily life? Hide it? Display it? Regulate visibility depending on the situation? What informs these decisions?

Letting Go - A Lesson From the Road

I am not long back from a summer holiday visiting family and friends in different parts of the US and UK. Six weeks on the road. I have be away for much longer, much longer, but looking out from the perspective of pre-departure this felt like an exhausting trip before I had even taken off. Despite looking forward to seeing family and being back in England, this jaunt felt as though it would be busy - read, not much down time. This is not a good way to approach a trip abroad, expecting the worst…and in there lay the lesson, letting go.

For all the raised awareness around introversion that has emerged over the last few years following the publication of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and the online dialogue that now takes place everyday, introverts (and extroverts) must be careful that they do not fall into the trap of always expecting things to be the way that they want them. I am not suggesting here that we do not speak up and advocate for change and increased understanding where appropriate. I am also not suggesting that we go looking for trouble. But sometimes we do not get dealt the cards that we want and have to deal with the situation appropriately, i.e. not complaining, but as skillfully, patiently and as compassionately (towards and between all parties) as possible!

A question of balance

This can present a difficult dilemma of balance. In whatever aspect of our lives it is, we all have those moments when we reach our limit. The pot is full and we are struggling to maintain our composure and to function clearly. For me that can come when I have had just too much people input. I can’t detect the pattern here - time around some groups of people are fine, around others and the plug is eventually pulled out and my energy starts to drain away. I think that a lot of it has to do with what is going on and who I am with. So that dilemma of balance comes from on the one hand acknowledging a need to take a break, and on the other completely withdrawing from the world such that we become a stranger to those around us.

Having supportive friends and letting those around you know what your needs are is a big help. Do not be afraid of speaking to your needs. I recognize that at times that can feel easier said than done. Perhaps societal pressures make you afraid of what the consequences will be of speaking up - how will you be judged? Will you be put down (from which the way out can then seem further)? Or maybe other’s tolerance or understanding only goes so far?

So times can arise when you need to draw on other reserves until the downtime that you are craving becomes possible.

Seeking perfection

The Tibetan meditation masters warn us of procrastinating over our meditation and never getting round to sitting because we are constantly on the look out for “_perfect_” conditions in which to sit - completely quiet, the right time of day, temperature, smell, etc… Even the yogis who disappear off for years or decades of meditation in remote caves have to undergo all sorts of hardship - cold, lack of food, physical discomfort - but they stick with it because the end goal brings greater rewards.

While I was going to be afforded sometime to myself while I was away, there was definitely going to be a lot of time catching up with people, running around…fitting a lot into a short time. I would look to take quiet time to recharge where I could, but where not it was better to accept the situation and instead of expending energy resisting what I didn’t want, use other methods to recharge.

A verse from a 9th Century Buddhist text by the Indian scholar Shantideva speaks to this way of approaching the world,

Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (wearing) leather just on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.”

In ancient India and today the roads are hot, dusty and dirty and the holy men who have renounced the householders life wander those streets. The roads are uncomfortable to walk on. One could try and cover all the streets with leather…that would protect your feet but is wholly impractical. The other option is to put shoes on your feet.

Changing our attitude

This verse is speaking to how mentally we approach life. We could go out there and have all aspects of life set up just the way that we want them so that we do not have to deal with the difficulties. Imagine, every corner that you turn you find yourself being approached in exactly the way that you want, everything laid out just as you want it…all of the time. Wouldn’t that be comfortable…and I also sense a little boring? And of course this approach to life is just not possible.

So what is the other option? Change your mind. If you cannot change the physical world, change how you approach what the world presents to you. While our ideal for recharging might be a quiet room with a book, if that is not available to us, we still have ourselves. Instead of filling our head with dialogue such as, “I am tired and don’t want to be here,” we can rest our attention on the breath when we are not speaking. In the presence of others we can take time for ourselves.

If others are talking a lot while you just want to gaze out over some beautiful scenery, allow the talk to go on…but not your internal dialogue wishing things to be quiet. Keep a bare attention on the conversation should you need to respond, otherwise focus on what brings you joy - the view. Again, seek solitude in the presence of others.

Letting go

The world can be noisy, but sometimes we make it more noisy for ourselves with all our internal chatter that is complaining about what we don’t like. _Let go_ of that chatter, _let go_ of your resistance to what is going on, accept the situation for what it is (that _does not_ mean that you have to like it) and give that space to recharging on the fly. Letting go is not a giving up. It is an honest assessment of the situation, an acceptance of what you can and cannot do, not fighting against that and basing your way forward on that reality. Do not be discouraged by the struggle to let go. It is a practice. It is about getting use to something new, a new way of working with a situation. The more that you get use to the ability and seek out methods that work for you to seek solitude in the presence of others, the more the viability of letting go becomes.

Through all of this remember to look after yourself, but also remember your friends and colleagues. If you disappear, they could be left wondering what is going on. Find that balance for yourself - on the one hand letting go and spending more time with others, on the other letting them know what your needs are and taking some time for yourself.

What techniques do you use to replenish your reserves when life is busy around you? How do you take in the view while others talk away in the background?

Medicine Walk - Reflections

A little under two weeks ago I wrote about the Medicine Walk that I was planning to embark on. The time that I went out on the walk coincided with a week when family were all away. Because of that I returned to an empty, quiet house. It was an ideal environment to sit and reflect on the experience in the wilderness of Haleakala crater. I’ll with you share some of those reflections here.

With an empty house, I had more time than usual to sit, reflect and journal about the walk. I found myself spending some time writing or reading and then going off to do something else. I didn’t force the reflections, with a pen in my hand I just allowed what came up to flow onto the pages. A few days into this process I asked myself if I was being indulgent? Was this the introvert in me who spends time in his head and is perhaps over thinking things now? I answered myself with a “no.” The words were flowing and I would let them keep coming until I felt complete. As I write this, I am unsure how far I will take my sharing of experiences of the walk. This is nothing against you, the reader, but perhaps it will emerge that some experiences are better kept for those with whom I can have a face to face conversation?

Rites of Passage

In an earlier post I mentioned that rites of passage work consists of three stages - Severance, Threshold, and Incorporation. For the purpose of this discussion I would like to add an additional stage to precede these three - Preparation. I’ll speak about my Medicine Walk in the context of these four stages. As you read about these four stages within the context of my walk, look for parallels for them in aspects of your life. There is no substitute for going on on your own solo, whether as a Medicine Walk or a longer wilderness trip. However, being able to hold aspects of your life within this framework can help to give them structure and direction when it feels as though these are missing, or when you are struggling to find purpose and a way forward.

Preparation

Preparation really started when the idea for the walk was planted in me. I was musing over how solo wilderness work might look in working alongside Introverts and HSPs. What might it offer? An email to a trusted teacher and friend who works within this field and with whom I shared some of my musings, sowed the seed for the Medicine Walk.

As the day approached I could feel the anxiety build in me. It was one thing to speak about the walk, another to go on it. I was excited to set off, but also as I looked at my daily routine I realized that for one day that would be broken in a very different and real way.

I checked out maps of the area that I would be walking through. I looked into anything special that I should know about Haleakala National Park - weather conditions, walking conditions, facilities available. I arranged with a couple of people that I would contact them when I returned from the walk. The day before I ran through an equipment list and lay everything out for the next morning. This did not include a camera. I was there just to be and experience, not to try and capture.

I set the alarm and went to bed.

Severance

Severance happens as you leave your home and drive to the trailhead. It is a small death, a leaving behind what is familiar and giving up of yourself to what lies ahead.

I wasn’t sure how to take this, but my alarm did not go off that morning. Thankfully my mind appeared to be in anticipation of what was happening and I woke up around the time it was meant to sound. I got up, did a last run through of what I needed and in the early morning hours headed up the mountain.

At the summit I walked to the trailhead which I took as my Threshold. A rainbow formed near to me in the early morning mist. I said some short prayers to request guidance for the walk ahead and gave thanks to those who were supporting me in this endeavor.

And with that I set off.

Threshold

Threshold is that space between the old, that which is no longer relevant in your life, and the new, that which is to be born. It is crossing of a Threshold from that which is familiar to you, to a dream place, a place of possibility and meaning. Like exploring a dream, we just have to be open to what might be present, to what might show up.

This is the part in which I will be more quiet in what I share as I explore and process the experience. Save to say here that I set off in a cooler atmosphere than I had left at sea level. The cool air was welcomed for clarity of thought, though the solar radiation was strong as I was now at 2 miles in elevation. The early morning mist burnt off to reveal extraordinary vistas.

The descent into the moonscape of the crater was mesmerizing - for the silence (so quiet that all that you could hear was the ringing in your ears), for the crunch, crunch, crunch of boots on the cinder sand (though it is amazing how even in that environment, a head full of thoughts can drown out external noises!), the scale of what I was walking through (it was really very difficult to take it all in), the aliveness of the barren landscape even though I was walking through a dormant volcano (the petrified rocks breathed with the life force that threw them up from the bowels of the earth, the frozen paths of lava flows capturing time in space).

And in all of this nothingness there was a current life clinging on to what nourishment was offered - some plant life (including a threatened species, the Silversword), a few birds, and I saw a beetle - though barrenness prevailed.

My way back to the Threshold took me through an area that was more lush. Although lava was visible, vegetation had taken hold and started to break down the sharpness of the landscape. The clouds came in and as I climbed the long and tiring switch backs out of the crater, rain fell intermittently and views were obscured. I was transported back to the landscapes of South Wales, my home for 17 years.

I crossed back over the Threshold and gave thanks again to those who had guided and supported me through this experience. I walked back to the car to rest, contact those who were waiting to hear from me, and eat before driving back down the mountain.

I fell asleep early that night.

Incorporation

With the walk complete, I returned to my everyday life. This is a time to reflect on what lessons have been brought back from the walk and to see how they might be brought into your everyday life. “What has been born? What is new? What has been left behind? What gifts do you have to share?”

It can also be a time of “coming down to earth with a bump”. The high of the experience is replaced by the mundaneness of everyday life. Share your experiences with trusted confidants. Tread carefully for a day or so. Perhaps you have brought something back from the walk. Perhaps an image reminds you of your experience. For me the omnipresence of Haleakala on this island, whether visible or shrouded in cloud, takes me back to where I was on that day.

I will continue to explore the outcome of the walk, and am continually grateful to those who have kept this form alive.

The Four Stages in Daily Life

How do you see _Preparation, Severance, Threshold and Incorporation_ manifesting in the activities of your day to day life? As I alluded to earlier, at a fundamental level these four are a play of change that is never far away in the continually evolving nature of our lives. Being able to hold change, which at times can be scary or appear to lack meaning and context, within a framework can give us strength and courage to carry on our way. It gives us permission to let go of the old and embrace the new as our lives move on and we grow.

Digital Focus (aka Mindfulness Bell)

As I journal and reflect on the Medicine Walk that I went on last Monday, I am reminded of the importance of some digital tools that I make use of to help prevent me from getting caught up in the digital world. I thought that I would share them here with you should you also want to explore moments of mindful stepping back while engaging in your digital life.

Before I go any further, I just want to mention a couple of things:

  • First I want to say that I receive nothing for mentioning the applications that I speak of here. They are simply tools that I have found online and that have been of great help to me.
  • Second, and this is quite important, these apps will have no effect if you do not start them up in the first place. Now that might sound quite obvious, but the mind is tricky and sometimes forgetful, and you can always convince yourself that you do not need to take any breaks this time. So until you get into a habit of using them, find someway to remind yourself. For example, on a Mac you can set applications to start when the computer starts up.

Thich Naht Hanh

The Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh speaks of the Bell of Mindfulness. When the bell sounds it brings us back to the present moment. We stop what we are doing, take three conscious breaths, and then return to our activity. The bell can be a purposely sounded gong. At talk and retreats given by Thay, as he is affectionately known, a Bell of Mindfulness is sounded at regular intervals even if Thay is talking. The Bell can also be the brake lights of the car in front of you, the telephone ringing or a dog barking. It can be whatever stops you in _that_ moment.

In Thich Naht Hanh’s tradition he makes use of gathas, short poems, to help us with our mindfulness practice. One that I find particularly helpful when I pause and take three breaths is this one, 

Breathing in I calm my body,  
Breathing out I smile.  
Breathing in I calm my body,  
Breathing out I smile.  
Breathing in the present moment,  
I know that it is a wonderful moment.

or a shorter one,

In - I know that I am breathing in.
Out - I know that I am breathing out.


Software

Mac Apps

Some enterprising software writers have created applications that in their own way create a Bell of Mindfulness, allowing you to stop your digital activity, breathe, stretch and then return to your work. The purpose behind some of these apps is to prevent physical injury such as hunch shoulders, but they can also be used as your own personal Bell.

I make use of the Apple platform for both my desktop and mobile digital life, but hopefully for those who are interested in using these tools but are not Apple users, these applicationss will give you a starting point for research into similar apps for your platform. A couple of these apps, are actually platform independent and make use of web browsers. Some are free, and some cost a few dollars.

  • Time Out Free - This was the first application of this type that I ever used. There are many variables that you can set within the application, but in essence after a predefined period of time the app will disable the keyboard, for a period of time of your choosing. You can then just breathe, stretch, take a walk, or go and make a cup of tea. I have always said that the completion of my Masters paper was in part because of this app. Productivity doesn’t just come from just keeping going.
  • Pauses - This application is very similar to Time Out Free. A simpler version with a few less options, but no less effective.
  • Mindful Mynah - My current go to application for taking a break is very simple in its operation. At a predetermined interval the application will sound a tone. There are a selection of sounds so that you can choose one conducive for you. That is it. No disabled keyboards, just a tone.
  • Freedom - This app does not disable the keyboard…it disables the internet! You set how long that you wish to be offline and then once you have pressed the start button the only way to re-enable the internet before your time is up is to restart your computer. Great for those writing projects. Available on PCs.
  • Anti-Social - Written by the same company that produced Freedom, Anti-Social will disable access to your social media feeds only, or individual websites that you choose. No more continual checking to see how many ‘Likes’ you have received for your last post when you should be concentrating on something else. 

iPhone Apps

  • Mindful Mynah - This is an iPhone version of the Mac app of the same name mentioned above. Useful if you just want a mindfulness bell at hand while working on non-digital projects.
  • Calm Button - By the same author as Mindful Mynah, this app bills itself as “Anxiety Relief • Breath Trainer.” I find it very effective for slowing you down, quieting the mind and bringing you back to now. Spend as long as you need with it.
  • Samsara - Although this is not mindfulness bell but a meditation timer, I have included it here as it is a timer that I use and like because of it’s simplicity. It will also work when the iPhone is in airplane mode and sounds are turned off, allowing no intrusion from other apps or someone calling you.

Browser Extension

  • Bell of Mindfulness - This extension is available for Chrome based browsers such as Google Chrome, and as such it is independent of the platform, Mac or PC, that it is run on.

Search, Explore

We are all of different dispositions. What works for me might not work for you. However, if you are interested in exploring having access to a Bell of Mindfulness in your digital life and these apps don’t quite fit, explore and test out others. Google and other search engines are of course one place to start your search. For those in the Apple world, try MacUpdate or the Mac App Store as well.

If you are using a digital Bell of Mindfulness, what application are you using?


Update - March 22, 2019

I am currently using Rest Time on my MacBook Air, my main computer, to manage my work and rest time. I find it simple, unobtrusive and with the features that I need. There is a two week free trial. Give it a spin.

Medicine Walk - Setting Intention

This coming Monday, June 15, I will be spending the day on a Medicine walk. I am taking the time now to share this with you as witnesses to my intention for that day. I will set off at dawn into the crater of Haleakala, the large dormant volcano here on Maui and walk until sunset, fasting though drinking. I share here some some thoughts behind the Medicine Walk and why I am choosing to spend my day in this way.

Walking to clear our head, a day’s hike, a prolonged back country trip - perspective, clarity, a change of scenery. We step out of our front door to take a walk for so much more than to fulfill tasks. For centuries human’s have set off on foot in order to seek guidance in some aspect of their lives. Nowadays we might just think of that in terms of being stuck in a problem at work and wanting to clear our head. However, since we have been able to wonder at who we are and where we fit into this world and universe, we have sort out ways to help ourselves gain greater clarity and understanding. Walking has played a major part in this as has solitary time in nature.

Walking - Solitude in Nature

Gautama Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, Jesus fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, the Aboriginals of Australia going on walkabout, the Native Americans on a vision quest, rites of passage of traditional peoples where time is spent alone in nature. These are times when people leave the familiarity of home to step out into the unknown of nature, taking with them nothing but the essentials and their own wits, in order to seek wisdom and guidance.

These practices are based in our fundamental link with the natural world. We are not separate from it, but are a part of it. We are not broken but are a part of a larger whole that is intrinsically good. The air that is around us courses through our body as our breath in the same way that it passes through others. The food that we eat is born from the soil and made up of the goodness, or otherwise of that soil. As Gary Snyder said in his essay, The Etiquette of Freedom,

To acknowledge that each of us at the table will eventually be part of the meal is not just being “realistic.” It is allowing the sacred to enter and accepting the sacramental aspect of our shaky temporary personal being.”

Our intimacy with the natural world, something that so many of us are alienated from in the “safe” cocooned world that we live in, allows learning to take place. We just need to rekindle and rebuild that bond, break from our comfort zones and open ourselves to the possibilities that time with our natural kin might be able to offer us.

Transitions

Life is a process of change. Change is happening to us and around us all of the time. Yes, we wake up to a familiar environment and see the same people in the same places each day, but we know deep down that nothing around us is here forever. With the recognition and acceptance of change comes growth, but that acceptance is not always easy. Indeed we have probably all experienced times when we feel change happening around us or within us, but have resisted that change. Perhaps we are not even quite sure where the change in coming from, but we just know that we are outgrowing our clothes. But for all of that, we end up choosing to stay with the situation that we know rather than break free of the chains that we are wrapping around us. 

Change can be frightening. We are stepping into an unfamiliar world. However, we also know from our own experience that for every time that we have crossed that threshold of change we have felt freer, our world seems larger and we grow in who we are as a person.

I have spoken here about rites of passage work and thresholds, all related to the Medicine walk. In this section I shall get more specific about a Medicine walk.

Before sharing the ritual of the walk, there are the practicalities. Let someone know what you are doing, when you are setting off and that you will be in touch with them when you return, whether by phone or calling in on them - this is for your safety. Make this someone who you trust and who shares in your belief of the efficacy of the walk. Choose a place that is safe to walk and take all necessary clothing for eventualities of weather. Leave electronic gadgets behind, expect perhaps a cell phone left in your car should you need it on your return. Take a journal for writing, thoughts, musings, reflections. Take plenty of water and leave some in your car for your return. The suggestion is to fast, it allows us to concentrate more on just being and gives us a clarity of mind, but if food is necessitated for medical reasons, that is fine. Carrying an energy bar or two is probably a good idea just in case of emergencies.

The Practice - Practicalities - The Walk

The Medicine walk calls on us to walk with no set destination. Big, grand goals or mountain peaks are not for today, but more aimless wandering. We start with threshold that we cross. Perhaps it is when we step out of the car, when we get to the trailhead, or an arbitrary spot that we choose and mark with a stick or a line drawn in the dirt. Before setting off we might say a prayer asking for guidance, read a poem, put down an object that means something to us that we pick up again at the end…a small ritual that means something to us and sets us on our way.

Take your time out walking as like a dream. You cross your threshold and enter a dream time. In the same way that you dream at night and wonder the next morning about the meaning of the dream, allow yourself to have experiences framed by the intention that you set yourself when you set off, and allow yourself to be open to what might manifest. While you are out look for natural objects that call you and draw your attention. Spend sometime reflecting. Spend sometime walking. There is no goal except to return at the end.

Sunrise to sunset frames the walk conveniently and lets us share in nature’s rhythms more intimately, but a walk of a few hours, or even a stroll round the block done with intention can serve a purpose.

Follow Up

On returning from your walk take care of yourself. You might be raw and vulnerable. You also might be elated. Give yourself the time that you need to reflect and absorb your experiences. Be careful with whom you share the details of your walk. Someone who is unsympathetic to what you have done can crush your experience, even if unintentionally.

Some people will return from their walk with something immediately learnt and gained. Others will have nothing clear. Indeed some folks might find themselves quite bored and yearning for the day to end. Do not force insights. Spend sometime journaling your experiences. Talk with a confidant. Allow the experience to sit in your day to day life, marinating with the intention that you took with you. Watch your dreams. Allow time. Trust the process…

My Intention

And what am I taking with me? I am going out on Monday asking “what is next with my business?” “What am I being called to bring to my business?”

At anytime that we feel as though we want clarity in our lives, whatever the issue maybe, a Medicine Walk is available to us. The form is there to adapt to the circumstances that you find yourself in. There is no fixed way, though there is the spirit of the guidelines.

What might your intention be on your Medicine Walk?

Some Days Suck...

Some days suck and yesterday was one of them for me. That was the downside. The upside happened as the day drew to a close with a bit of wisdom that came my way in one of those synchronous ways that things can unfold in life. The advice was helpful and what I needed to hear. However, that piece of wisdom did not surface before I had spent a good part of the day feeling sluggish and as though I was lugging a dead weight around with me.

The wheels were spinning for most of yesterday. For some reason I was getting little accomplished and sitting there staring at my computer screen or with pen in hand did not seem to help the situation…and it wasn’t as though I hadn’t been there before or spoken to friends in a similar situation. The solution was sitting a stone’s throw from me, and I knew it, but was I acting on that solution? No! The fast failing belief of “gotta get something done and as long as I sit here something will manifest,” was foremost in my mind overriding more sound wisdom.

The Ocean

The solution is where I ultimately wrote a first draft to this post (though that was not the intention) - outside. I went and sat by the ocean to get some perspective and feel the energy of the waves breaking over the ancient volcanic rocks that make up these Hawaiian Islands. I allowed my mind to rest as my gaze wandered across the bay or to the horizon.

My words of advice to others when nothing seems to be working and the mind feels like pea soup is to down tools and take a break. Forget about work for a moment and allow the healing powers of the natural world to work their magic. In our productivity driven, got to get things done world the tendency is to push on regardless. We tell ourselves, as I did yesterday, that if bum is on the chair and utensils are in our hands something will happen sooner or later. We have been there before and know about the unproductive results, but no matter we sit there stubbornly telling ourselves that we are going to get this work done.

Strategies

So I’d like to offer you (and me) a few strategies to take your mind and body away from that which is frustrating you, to a place that supports you and gives you much needed space … to breathe, to stretch and to hopefully bring some inspiration back to those tired brain cells.

  1. As I shared above, down your tools and get outside. Take a walk. If time allows, find a place with a view - distance and perspective will help to rest a cluttered mind. While I was working on my thesis for my Masters paper a decade or so ago I would take a 5 minute walk every 40 minutes. I set an application on my computer that disabled the keyboard at set intervals. With the computer out of action I would get up and take a short walk outside. I still think that it was one of my most productive times.
  2. Listen to some music. Music that inspires or rests you. Music that lifts your mind out of the funk that it is in. Preferably that music is not on your computer so that you move away from it, but with YouTube and other portals at our finger tips, music is never far away - and that was a part of yesterday’s restful mix for me.
  3. Have a book or two that inspire you near at hand at all times. Whether it is a work of fiction, an account of a time in history that rouses you, or a spiritual volume - let it be something other than work that lifts your spirits and offers you another perspective.
  4. Stop and meditate. Whether a stationary meditation, such as focusing on the breath, or getting outside to practice walking meditation, both can be available to you. The focus takes the mind away from the worry.
  5. Get away from your chair and stretch, practice yoga, t’ai chi or something similar. Go outside if that is available to you. Feel the freshness of the air on your face as you go through your movements.
  6. …And the words of wisdom that I received at the end of the day…? Just remind yourself how unproductive, contrary or pessimistic states of mind can be. This was shared with me during a meditation class that I was at last night, but it is just as relevant in our everyday lives. We were being introduced to a Tibetan Buddhist technique for developing a calm mind, a single-pointed mind (Tibetan: zhi-gnas) - there are nine stages, but there is a pragmatism to those stages. A few stages in, if you are struggling and spending a lot of time dwelling on questions like, “why am I doing this, I’m really not getting anywhere?”, ask yourself, “what use is this way of thinking to me?” “Does this state of mind bring me happiness?” “Does it help me progress in my practice?” “Look at how much time I am wasting in thinking this way.”

Reflecting on what we want to achieve and how our thoughts are really completely unproductive helps to pull us out of that pea soup mind. It might take time to create a habit of bringing the positive thoughts to our mind, but regular familiarization will help to change our habits.

I hope that something here is of help to you. Today has certainly been more productive for me, and for that I am grateful.

How do you pull yourself out of a work funk?

Making Friends with Boredom

Boredom is an interesting beast. I don’t know if it is who I hang out with, but few weeks go by without someone complaining of “feeling bored.” They’ll scratch the itch as best they can, usually by finding something to distract them, but boredom’s irritations never appear to be far away. If it is such a constant and uncomfortable visitor, how about getting to know boredom a little more intimately instead of pushing it away?

Suffering is wanting things to be other than they are.

You are sitting at a desk at work. What you are being tasked to do is beginning to suck big time. You are finally getting round to some overdue DIY work at home, and already your mind is feeling like a sludge pit as it day dreams and tries to figure out ways to be elsewhere. In both cases your productivity starts to plummet precipitously. Time seems to slow down. You wriggle and squirm, picking things up, putting things down, walking around just hoping for time to pass…what to do?

Discomfort is a big part of the human condition. There is always something for someone to complain about. At times life seems to be about dealing with what we don’t want. American Buddhist monk and meditation teacher, Ajahn Sumedho, put it well when he said,

Though to compound things, that suffering is mixed by our ego driven pursuit of pleasure over pain. Holding to this way of being we find ourselves blown this way and that by the vicissitudes of our feelings.

If however discomfort is part of the human condition, perhaps another question to be asked of boredom is, “Why shouldn’t I feel like this?” To take this further, what would it mean to stand our ground and embrace whatever is arising right now? From that position we can move away from being concerned about how we are feeling and instead get curious about the feeling itself. I’m not suggesting that we go looking for problems in our lives, but when they do manifest don’t go fighting them, rather dance with them. Make friends with the enemy and see what happens.

American Buddhist nun and teacher, Pema Chödron offers this reflection,

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. ~ The Pocket Pema Chödron (Shambhala Pocket Classics)

Boredom is real and it is not pleasant when it hits us. It seems to drain the joy out of life and we just want to be somewhere else doing something else. However, Pema Chödron gives us the invitation to not fixate on whether the current feeling is good or bad - one or the other is guaranteed in life - but rather use whatever is arising in this moment as an opportunity to get to know life and so ourselves in a deeper way. In doing so we are not swayed by what life brings to us but can flow more easily with it. We stand more solidly on the ground beneath our feet, more sure of who we are.

Meditation

Meditation is the tool that can be used to be with boredom and explore more deeply what is actually going on within us. I invite you to explore for as long as you are comfortable with and then step back and take a rest. First let’s explore boredom within a formal sitting meditation session. What we want to do is to have a visceral experience of boredom. To make this happen there are a couple of approaches.

  • One is when boredom is quite naturally arising while we are meditating, say while the concentrating on the breath. “Yes” we can get bored while we are meditating. There is nothing wrong with that. It is not a bad meditation. You are simply acknowledging what is arising in the mind in that moment. If you find boredom arising during your meditation, just allow yourself to experience it independent of reacting to it. Feel and be with your discomfort and wish for something else.
  • or two we bring to mind a time when we have been bored in our everyday life. First allow the mind to quieten by watching the breath. Then when you are settled think of that time that you felt bored. Go into it. Relive the experience. Remember it in detail and allow the sense of boredom to fill your body.

With you now experiencing boredom, don’t get up from your cushion but allow yourself to go towards the actual experience of boredom. Feel the urge to squirm, the wish to be somewhere else. Explore and try to find where you sense the boredom is located. Watch the boredom. What does it feel like? Is it static or moving? Is it made of anything? Does it have a colour or shape? Does it smell or have a taste? How does your body feel, tense or relaxed? Do you feel excited or dull? Just be with the boredom and be honest with your experience of it. There is no right or wrong experience, just your experience. Initially you might only be able to hold this presence for a short time, we are not use to being with such an unpleasant colleague, but that will ease with time.

Meditation allows us a safe place to explore our boredom. We are doing so in the security of our own home. There is no one else around. We have the room to be gentle with ourselves and explore this uncomfortable feeling in our own time. Look on this time as a rehearsal for your everyday life. As you become more familiar with your own boredom, you will start to transform your experience of it and how you react when its presence arises. We contract less when boredom occurs, and realize that we have something that is workable. You develop the confidence to know that in time it will pass. Our world starts to open up.

Everyday Life

Our everyday life experiences is where the rubber meets the road for our meditation. Our experience of boredom in life can be more challenging to be with because there is probably a lot more happening around us. It is because of this that our meditation time becomes even more important. Regular quiet time spent being with our mind starts to change our habits.

So when you find yourself getting bored, try and resist the urge to wriggle. Bring to mind the experiences of your meditation and try and find the space to just be with the boredom. For introverts, with our tendency to being quiet, this is an ideal time to make use of this strength of ours. Just watch the boredom. Breath into it to calm your mind and body. Feel it. Notice how it changes. Squirm when you need to, fidget and distract your mind, don’t keep yourself in a straight jacket…and then go back to the boredom.

Patience

Familiarity, patience, self-compassion along with commitment will bring change. With time you can change your relationship with boredom and with that the effect that it has on your life. Boredom moves from being a roadblock to something that is pliable.

I’m not suggesting that we will welcome boredom with open arms, I can’t lay claim to that myself, but it will not stay as such an obstruction in your life. Instead of seeing it as something unmovable and stuck, you’ll see it as more transient. It is workable and you know in time that it will pass. Just by your more relaxed hold on it, through becoming more familiar with boredom, its stranglehold is no longer so strong.

Trust In Your Natural Wisdom

Buddhism speaks of Buddha Nature, the fundamental nature of all beings. This is our natural, innate wisdom free from all obscurations. It is a state of simply knowing which is right now clouded by the mists of our untamed mind. In the coaching world they speak of people being naturally creative, resourceful and whole. The implication with both of these views, and others similar to them is that we have a natural, compassionate wisdom at our core, we just have to create the causes to allow that nature to grow and manifest in our lives.

The nature, the pen on paper…why do I feel that I do so little of this - get out, walk, breathe and put pen to paper? Why do I drop into the, “stay in front of the computer and something will happen” mode? Probably out of fear. Probably in the hope that my mind will kick into action. It doesn’t, at least not as often as I would like.

What causes me to speak of this natural wisdom? I recently went for a walk through Washington Park here in Portland. We are experiencing a beautiful early spring (a little scary as well if looked on through the lens of climate change). I’d taken my journal with me and sat at a picnic table in the afternoon sun to do some writing. I didn’t know where my writing would go, but the first words that I started jotting down were,

Taking A Break

I am a strong believer in taking breaks from work to allow the mind to move more freely. No longer tied into focused work, take yourself for a walk, let go of “thinking” and at times that break will be sufficient for ideas to surface as if from nowhere. My most vivid example of that was while I was working on my final project for my undergraduate degree. I was studying computer programming at the time and was sat staring at the computer until late into the night trying to figure out why the program for my project was not working. Eventually tiredness got the better of me and I went to bed. In the early hours of the morning I woke up with a start, an idea in my head (although with the benefit of hindsight I’d also call it ‘a knowing’). I switched the light on, grabbed a pen, wrote down what was in my head, turned the light off and went back to sleep. In the morning I knew with certainty that what I had scribbled on that piece of paper was the answer that I had been looking for the night before. I’m sure that many of you can speak to similar experiences.

Doubt

Nevertheless, for all of my strong beliefs in the power and importance of taking a break, I am surprised at how little I do it…and I ask myself  ”why?” My musings conclude that it is fear based. If I am wanting to move something forward but the ideas are not forthcoming, my fearful mind tells me to stay put in front of the computer. Its logic is that as long as I am sitting in front of my computer results will happen. It is a flawed logic though. Out of fear you spend time online hoping to pull out of other people’s ideas the solutions that you want. At times though, space is needed.

Sometimes in order to grow wisdom into fruition you need to read, sometimes you need to reflect.

Wisdom

As I was sitting in Washington Park I was reminded of the Tibetan teaching of hearing, reflecting, and meditating. How can you meditate if you do not know or understand the subject that you are meditating on? First you must hear or read the teaching, the wisdom that you want to develop. Next you reflect on it, ironing out for yourself any doubts that you might have. The reflection can take the form of your own quiet time, discussion with others, going back for further reading for clarification. Finally, with the ideas clearer in your head, you sit and meditate on the subject, focusing those ideas into your heart and mind, starting to bring about the transformation that meditation can bring. The subsequent wisdom does not just arise from meditation alone, rather the seeds are sown by the hearing and reflecting, and later watered by the practice of meditation.

If we are working in the online world as a solopreneur. If we are using the online world for research and searching for ideas. Perhaps even if we are spending a lot of our time in books or simply in our head - step back. Take a walk, get some perspective, find the rhythms of the natural world to calm your mind and allow the wisdom to arise from that natural resting. Don’t force the ideas to arise, don’t expect them to arise on demand. Do the ground work, do your research…and then put it down and trust in your own creativity. With time and patience your natural wisdom will arise, and quite possibly in ways that you did not expect.

Letting Go

Buddhism was once described to me as “the big letting go.” The Buddhist teachings can lend many angles for why that is such an apt description of Buddhist philosophy. “Letting go,” so easily said, so hard to put into action. Out of fear we strive to control and manufacture what we want to experience in life. Letting go acknowledges the need for us to sow the seeds of what we want, create the causes in our life for what we are working towards, nurture those seeds and then give them space so that they can arise within the context of what is happening in our lives.

If the results are not coming to you, let go. Make sure that you have done the ground work and then stop forcing. This is not about giving up, it is about creating space for emergence. Where our natural wisdom allows for it, the ideas that you are looking for will arise.

What the Tibetans Taught Me About Quiet Time

I am writing this on a flight back to the US from England. I have spent the last two weeks in the UK, where I was born, visiting with family and friends. The UK is home and so visits back there become a run around of trying to see and do as much as I want to in the time available. The truth is though there is never enough time. For those who need their quiet time, the phrase “run around” can get the alarm bells ringing, and indeed my first week back was exhausting - seeing friends, meetings, coping with jet lag - read, “little sleep”.

If you want to do one - _see a lot of people in a short time_ - and are effected by the other - _get tired easily and need recharge time_ - you need a plan B to keep yourself going…even if it is only a temporary fix.

Tibetan Monasteries

To start, let me take us on a side trip from England to Southern India and the Tibetan refugee settlements where the monastic universities of Tibet have been reestablished. These particular monasteries are not quiet, reclusive places of contemplation. They are peaceful, yes, but they are far from quiet. The monasteries are centers of learning, in this case the study of Buddhist philosophy. Those who successfully complete the program of study are given the title of Geshe, the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist philosophy.  The monasteries are as busy as any university in the West. From early in the morning you hear the shouting of young monks as they memorize the Buddhist texts. They recite groups of lines out loud, over and over again, slowly committing books to memory. An accomplished memorizer can retain many volumes of text, which is an extremely useful asset when they are pitted against other learned monks in the centuries old form of debate that they engage in each evening…and more often than not, late into the night. During these very animated and sometimes intimidating encounters, which are designed to sharpen understanding, the monks defend their position by quickly referencing a line of text drawn from the libraries in their mind.

Added to all of the study, there are the jobs that monks have to do just for the smooth running of the monastery. Younger monks will attend to more senior monks, food needs to be cooked for a population that can reach into the thousands. All of these responsibilities along with their studies means that the only true quiet time is in the early hours of the morning. Some monks have little alone time for their own meditation practice. If they can get up in the early hours, that gives them some opportunity, otherwise they are forced to find another way to practice - not another place, but another way.

Meditation and Quiet

The ideal for meditation practice is a quiet place. Indeed within Tibetan texts much time is devoted to describing the ideal conditions for meditation. However, meditation is not about running away to find quiet time. Indeed my own teacher would sometimes disturb me when I was meditating and take me off to do some more mundane task. There is a place for quietening the mind, for allowing the mind to rest and let the agitation that is disturbing your peace, fall away. When things get too much, we just need to come up for air. However, searching for results in meditation practice can be dangerous. Meditation is about doing the practice, not about looking for results. Just show up, sit down and engage in the instruction that you have been given. The results will come if you stay with the practice as you are instructed. Looking for results will draw you further from them. Meditation will not remove the storms that you encounter in life, but it will give you the tools and ability to be present with those storms and ultimately transform how you react to them. The peace comes through acceptance, letting go and transformation.

Meditation on the Move

And so back to the Tibetan monastics. As you watch those monks who have woken up to early morning chores after a night of debate, you will probably see their lips moving. Listen carefully and you might hear some sounds coming from their mouthes. A lot of Tibetan meditation practice is made up of chanting sadhanas, prayers,  and reciting mantras, while engaging in visualizations and reflecting on the meaning of what it is that you are saying. This can obviously be done in solitude without distraction, allowing more time for focus and reflection, but if that is not an option the Tibetans do these practices while on the move. They could be preparing breakfast for others, but they will be saying their prayers at the same time. They don’t wait for the outer conditions to be perfect, they might never be, they just get on and do it wherever they are. In time this becomes a habit and lays the foundation for those times when undisturbed practice is possible. It also means that you do not get lost in arguments in your mind over “how inappropriate this situation is”, or “I wish so-and-so would be quiet.” The outer conditions are as they are, you accept that and get on with your meditation practice, laying the foundation for a transformation of your mind.

Strategies

But what if you do not have a Tibetan practice? How does this cultural observation translate in to dealing with busy times such as I experienced while in the UK? What might you do when finding a quiet space is not possible? How might you bring a meditative practice or what strategy can you develop to help find quiet in the busyness of your life? Here are some suggestions:

  • When a conversation quietens down, or you can afford to be more of a listener than a participator, anchor yourself to your breath. Become aware of the breath at the nose or the rise and fall of your belly. By drawing your focus down to the the belly you will also ground yourself. Instead of living in the anxiety of the mind that wants to get away and have a rest, you drop your attention. This will better root you to where you are, creating a more stable feeling within yourself.
  • If you are walking, become aware that you are walking. Use the footsteps on the ground as your anchor. If are distracted by thoughts in the mind, come back to the footsteps. Again, drawing the focus down more deeply anchors you to place.
  • If you are engaging in some activity, just be aware of what you are doing. If you are eating, just be aware of eating - of cutting your food, of taking a bite, the process of chewing and finally swallowing the food. If the situation allows, don’t busy yourself with chatter or reading, just focus on the activity at hand.
  • If you driving and the radio is on, turn it off. It is amazing how much that can distract you and turn up the volume on an already agitated mind.  While driving, use the brake lights of the car in front of you, or a traffic signal as a reminder to return to your breath.

In Conclusion

In essence, find a process that draws your mind away from the anxiety that is forming through your tiredness. Or as Elaine Aron says in her book The Highly Sensitive Person, “Think in terms of containers - who or what quiet, familiar presence could hold you right now?”

Landing in a New Place

Yesterday my wife and I traveled across the country, the US that is, from the north west corner to the south east in order to spend a week with my mother-in-law. The journey is always long. There is no direct flight, it is two flights minimum, and yesterday was compounded by a two hour delay due to fog to what was already a one hour layover. We arrived at 2:15am. As I write this at 4:30pm I feel that I am only just arriving.

The travel part of yesterday normally doesn’t bother me. I am not a fan of modern day flying, but providing there is not a rush between connections, once I give into the uncertainties of what might happen next, the journey itself I am fine with. If I am traveling by myself, the experience can border on enjoyable…OK that was a stretch, but being alone in the midst of a crowded airport affords me some anonymity for a few hours. A welcome recharging opportunity for this introvert. But there is a rudeness to flying these days, and the longer the journey, the more rude it is.

Take time with travel

In days gone by our journey to Florida would have taken a few days, the time depending on the mode of transport used. As you move through the different terrains and climates, your body notices and feels the changes happening around you. The journey becomes the goal as much as the intended destination, maybe even more so for the duration of the journey. You are connected with the land and the landscape that you are traveling through. I’m not talking here about driving through the night, but a journey where _camp_ is established each night. You sleep out somewhere, you stop in a hotel or inn at a town that you are passing through. Time is spent with people en route, even if they are serving you food. The vegetation is noticed. The smells, sounds, and bird and animal life seen. The arrival at the destination happens through transition as opposed to being picked up and dropped down as modern day flying will do to us - that is for me where the rudeness sits. For all of its convenience and what it enables, flying creates a big disconnect with all that we fly over. It’s almost as though there is nothing below.

Connection with land

For me connection with the land has always been important. We live in dependence upon the land. The natural world courses through our body every day; the air that we breathe, the food that we eat, what we drink. Through our senses we see, touch, feel and smell the world around us at every moment. These experiences are so routine in our lives that we can easily take them for granted - indeed, more often than not, do. We live our lives deeply interconnected with the world around us, interacting and sharing with it. Through the immediacy of these experiences, there is a sense of intimacy about them.

I don’t know if this comes about through my introverted nature, the joy of being quiet and simply noticing, or my HSP nature…just being that little more sensitive to the world around me. Maybe it is both of these? Maybe it is these and just some part of me? The reason might or might not be important, but it is real and I am _sure_ that I am not the only one for whom the same is just as true and central to their lives. As a young boy, my earliest memory is sitting in the hold of the roots of a huge beach tree, hiding there quietly, enjoying the warm summer sun and soft grass that grew at the foot of that noble tree. More recently during my time in South Wales, the focus and quietness of my life in the Buddhist community and then later in the house that I built, brought a heightened sensitivity to the land that I was living on. Even now, years later, to see a photograph of the area or just to hear speak of it, pulls at my heart causing me to viscerally see, smell and hear that terrain.

Arriving in place

And so I sit here on a Florida evening, almost a day after arriving, and am just starting to feel as though I have arrived. Familiarity with this place helps, but first thing this morning, still slightly jet lagged, there were things to do, food to buy, running around to do. Quiet breathing practices helped to keep me present, but even so mind and more so body felt churned up from the travel. My introverted self wanted quiet, rest and stillness.

As the initial urgency of those ‘new arrival’ jobs faded, the day started to slow down. Late afternoon I dozed briefly and then went for a walk in this sleepy neighbourhood. Walking quietly by myself I started to take in the smells, sounds, temperature and atmosphere that make up the area. I could feel my body slow and quieten down. I returned home more present. It still will probably be a day or so before I can say that I have more fully arrived….and then it will be time to leave - such is modern travel.

How to Approach Difficult Situations ... and Manage Those Holiday Blues

A lot of good advice has been offered online on how introverts and HSPs can manage the social demands that might come their way over the holiday period. I was not intending to add to this well informed conversation, until I came across this short video (below) by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who is based in Seattle. The advice that he gives stretches beyond the Buddhist world and applies to any time and place in our lives, not just the this holiday time.

He speaks of how by reaching into core principles such as love and compassion, principles that speak for the well being of the other and not of self, we find more peace of mind by not dwelling on that which is causing us pain. In doing so we lessen our own load and make the difficult more bearable. We transform the situation by not dwelling on the negative. Continued practice of acting in this way creates a new habit for ourselves, our heart and mind are more at peace and we are able to weather more challenges in our lives.

If and where the Buddhist terminology does not work for you, I invite you to replace Rinpoche’s words with words or phrases that help give his advice meaning to you.

Have a happy and safe holiday time whether with family and friends or by yourself, and wishing you all the best for 2015.

Thresholds

The URL to this website is made up of the words “Crossing The Threshold.” While it informs my work, I have until now made no reference to its meaning. A friend and colleague recent asked me to what what I was referring. That question, along with a new logo and header on this site (and some more changes to come), has prompted this post. With the New Year only a couple of weeks away this feels like an opportune time.


Birth and Death

In ancient times traditional peoples recognized passages in their lives by leaving behind the familiar and heading out alone to spend time in wild nature - both the external and internal. While away they would fast and engage in ritual, to return with a vision and task. These traditional vision quests have been incorporated into more contemporary rites of passage through organizations such as The School of Lost Borders and The Animas Institute.

All rites of passage are made up of a death followed by a birth. To be born into something new, to grow and move forward in our lives we have to give up the old before taking birth in our new incarnation. We are born with new strength, belief and ability. This is not woo, woo, but what we find happens to us as we let go of our old limitations and in doing so make room for what was hidden within us.

Within in the scope of these rites, this process of death and birth is made up of three aspects:

  • Severance,
  • Threshold,
  • Incorporation.

The Three Aspects of the Rites

Severance is our psychological death, our giving up of the old so that we can make room for the birth of the new within us. It is normally preceded by a period of time in preparation. Time spent in the physical preparation for the journey along with reflection on what it is we are setting out to explore. What is it that you are looking to let go of? What self-images are no longer serving you and need to be jettisoned?

Threshold is your time out alone. We are alone in that we do not have the company of others, though our journey is held by friends and guides who sit at home awaiting our return. Their company from afar held consciously, helps to hold us when the small death feels as though it leaves little for us to stand on.

We also have the company of the wild nature and what we bring to our experience of being alone within it. As we enter more deeply into the fast, perhaps for three or four days, our senses become more attuned with the wildness within and without of ourselves. A sense of intimacy arises. Coupled with any ritual, meditation, reflection, or praying that we engage in, we set the ground for our birth into what we are being called to do.

Incorporation is our return to the world. We return leaving behind the old self and bringing with us the new. For some there will be a clear illumination of direction, for others the sense will be less clear. So on our return the support of friends, family and guides is important. Like the butterfly freshly emerged from its pupae, spreading its wings in the sunlight to dry, until those wings have dried the young insect is vulnerable and susceptible to attack and a killing of its new life.

So take care of yourself and be careful of company kept in those days that you emerge from your fast. You also are vulnerable. Use caution in who you tell your story and experiences to. Told to the wrong person the power of your experience can be crushed in a short time. With the right support and guidance your experiences can be given the helpful perspective of the earned wisdom from elders, to nurture your learnings into further growth, helping you see what you have learnt and how it can be taken out into your life and the service of others.

Crossing The Threshold

So Crossing The Threshold emerged out of the recognition that as we go through changes in our lives, we are being called to cross thresholds into something larger, different, to grow and learn more about what it available to us within ourselves. We are leaving behind the familiarity of the old and entering into the unknown that a death and its subsequent birth brings. That transition in our life becomes so much easier and manageable through the support of others. The work is always yours, the guidance and support is to help you on your way.

The change does not have to come about through a wilderness fast. That is one modality. But as we search to step into something new in our lives, our work, thresholds are crossed, the old is left behind as the new emerges.

As Clair Danes says in the her biographical portrayal of Temple Grandin, “A door opened and I went through it.”

What Thresholds do you want to cross as we enter into 2015?

An Attitude of Gratitude

Every Thursday evening at a yoga class that I use to attend we started class by sitting in a circle, introducing ourselves, expressing any injuries that we had and then naming something that we are grateful for. Once while going round that circle a fellow Brit in the class expressed gratitude for the “Attitude of Gratitude” that had been installed in him through the Thursday evening class. Even when he was feeling a little down the Attitude of Gratitude was always available to him, opening up the world around him and lifting him out of his melancholy.


There is much to be grateful for each day, but it is very easy to go through life feeling as though our glass is half empty. The advertising industry in its effort to sell to us tells us that we don’t look right, don’t smell right, don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car…and that the ever elusive happiness will be with us once we do change our appearance. A celebrity culture presents us with goals that most of us are unlikely to achieve, or a fantasy world in which to escape when our own lives become too much. With external pressures to conform to or being told our own interests are not cool, we can feel alone or unappreciated for who we are. The world of lack created by the media and advertising industry creates a hole in ourselves and society that we try and fill with external stuff, whether through the procuring of goods or running round chasing distractions that ultimately do little to satisfy us.

The Spiral

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude allows us to take ownership for who we are, reclaiming ourselves and our birthright. Through acknowledging that for which we are grateful the world no longer becomes a glass have empty, it is at the very least half full. Less and less do we dwell on the negative or the lack, we start to see the world through eyes of abundance. Joanna Macy speaks of the activist’s inner journey being made up of four successive stages, each interconnected and feeding the others, creating a spiral. These start with Gratitude.

  1. Opening to gratitude,
  2. Owning our pain for the world,
  3. Seeing with new eyes,
  4. Going forth.

More information about the spiral can be found here.

Joanna said that in the early days of her work, Gratitude was not a part of these stages. When I asked her why she decided to include Gratitude her reply was, “what else was there to do?”


The Benefits

The introvert’s world can be rich through spending so much time in our minds. Details are noticed of the world around us and this in turn fills our lives with an appreciation of its depth and diversity (by the way, I am not suggesting that extroverts do not also recognize this diversity). Counter to that though is the struggle that sometimes exists as introverts interact in an extroverted biased world. Expectations or judgements from others, based on a lack of understanding, can be tiring and also erode self-esteem and self-belief. Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude can be a balm for being in this atmosphere. It helps to create perspective and remind you of what is really important, at the same time building resilience in yourself.

As we move towards the North American Thanksgiving Holidays, what are you grateful for? What Attitude of Gratitude are you cultivating today?

An Aesop Fable and Introversion

We have been experiencing some very windy weather here in the Pacific North West. Accompanied by some unseasonably cold temperatures, the wind chill has been cutting through everyone. The skies have been clear and the strong winds have given a clarity to the air, while at the same time making swift work of the autumnal job of removing the trees of their leaves - piles are accumulating along the sidewalk.

While out and about in this weather a short story that I first heard when I was a child popped into my mind. The tale has never left me. As a child I was struck by it’s message, for reasons that I didn’t understand at the time, but something in there just felt right. This time I decided to look up the story.

Having nowhere to reference the story and unsure of how well known it was, I reached for Google. It turns out that the story was one of Aesop’s fables. I found many versions of it online, and share one of those below. It’s relevance to introverts and the quiet leaders of this world is there clearly to be seen. I hope that you enjoy it.


The North Wind and The Sun

The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness.

“We shall have a contest,” said the Sun.

Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.

“As a test of strength,” said the Sun, “Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man.”

“It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat,” bragged the Wind.

The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.

Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.

The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.

Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.

“How did you do that?” said the Wind.

“It was easy,” said the Sun, “I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way.”


From my searches online, the message from the story is commonly articulated as, “Gentle persuasion is stronger than force.” If we were to substitute, as you might already have done, the wind as an extrovert and the sun as an introvert, we see a recognition in the story that quieter ways have their place in the world. The louder ones don’t always win.

Another version of the story has the sun acknowledging the power of the wind and its capabilities. I think that this addition is important and gives the message more strength. It is not a message of either/or but both/and.

But still, the important lesson is that in order to effect change, strength and ability can just as well rest with the quiet ones. Indeed at times, it is those to whom you should turn, though the manifestation of strength might not be what you were envisaging.

Broad Shoulders Aren't Always Necessary

How do you deal with those situations where someone dishes out an attack on you, offering accusatory remarks that are untrue? Their words are spoken before reaching out and trying to understand where you are coming from. You know that an image of you is now out in the world, however small a corner of the world, which is unfounded and not a true representation of who you are. What do you do?

From my observation…and experience, a few common ways of dealing with this sort of situation are:

  1. You can go back and fight your corner, but now there are two of you angry and a two person fight will just serve to increase the wedge between you, and probably the misunderstanding with it.
  2. You can contact the person and try and explain your way out of the accusations. That might work, but then again it might not. Indeed it might make the situation worse. Anger, as we have all experienced at some time or another sadly blinds us of wanting to hear, understand or take a step down from the position that we are standing in. If the other person is consumed by anger, you showing up to tell your version of the story might be like throwing another coal on the fire…just your presence.
  3. You can develop broad shoulders and just learn to ignore the situations as they arise. In my opinion this is better than the pervious two in that you are not continuing the conflict, and in the best case scenario you are holding the door open for reconciliation further down the line when the time feels right. However, I believe that there is a fourth option which holds the door further open. I think that there is a danger with this third option that the broad shoulders become a stance of toughness, “I can put up with that.” “I don’t have to stand for their nonsense and will ignore it.” The fourth option I will expand on for the rest of this post.

Non-Violence

This fourth way might be called a way of compassion, a way of non-violence. Within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, compassion is defined as the wish for beings to be free from their suffering or their problems. When we are angry, regardless of the how right or wrong we are, we are not happy. Our blood is boiling, our mind is mass of churning thoughts, our heart is beating fast, we’ve probably lost our appetite and it is hard for us to find any peace of mind in that moment. Within this fourth way the issue is not about what you have been accused of, rather it is about the other person who is accusing you and what they are going through as a result of their disagreement with you. It is about a relationship that has been wounded and holding the door open for reconciliation. It is not about you claiming that you don’t make mistakes or get angry, rather in this moment where we have been wrongfully accused it is about seeing if we can lay the foundations for building bridges and if that is not possible to move forward in our lives without holding a grudge.

Of course this is all easier said than done. It is easy to read these words, but when we are feeling wronged the voices inside us start shouting loudly in defense and we soon fall back into accusatory ways. The trick is to have a commitment to something that can act like a trigger to catch yourself before you react.

Presence

The commitment that I would like to suggest of you is to being present, to being aware of now. By coming back to this moment, we are moving towards the root of our own suffering. That root is not concerned about whether we have been wronged or not, but how we are reacting to the situation. Is our response going to protract the suffering or work to remove it?

This commitment of being present speaks to our mindfulness practice. It is taking our meditation practice off the cushion and into our daily life. By committing to be present, we are more likely to catch ourselves when we feel that we have been criticized unfairly. Through that catch, there is a pause. In that moment we have a choice - we can fall back into old ways, or choose another path, a path that does not exacerbate conflict but looks to build bridges.

Keeping the Gremlins at Bay

See if this rings true for you? You’ve just got off a telephone call or are out of a meeting where something was said to you that felt like a blow to the solar plexus. However, you barely have time to come up for air and take stock of the situation when your schedule calls you to your next appointment.

So you are sitting in your next appointment trying to stay focused on the people and task at hand, but that last conversation is banging at the door and won’t leave you alone. How do you handle this situation until you have time to give the troublesome conversation your attention?

The Pink Floyd song, “Hey You” from their album  The Wall has the lyric,

and the worms ate into your brain.

That unhappy line is followed by sounds that perfectly conjure up the image of something niggling away at your mind, insidiously aggravating you with its presence. A mass of wriggling worms feels to me like the perfect analogy (with all due respect to worms).

The world of mindfulness and Buddhist meditation speaks a lot about being present to now, to what is going on in the present moment. We are advised that, “the past has gone, the future is yet to come, now is the knowing.” This is sound advice and bears constant reflection. It is easy to discount its wisdom as it is not an easy instruction to live by. However, whether it is easy or not is not reason to discard it. Some of what is most worthwhile requires of us our deepest effort. That being said, when there has been a deep blow to us the best laid plans can seem a distant stretch. At such times we can easily find ourselves craving distractions of assurance and comfort over trying to keep the noises at bay.

Sharing an experience

Earlier this week I had an experience similar to what I have described here. I put the phone down feeling winded, sent an email to a friend just to share and offload, and then headed to my qigong class. Engaging in a meditative exercise certainly helped. It was easier to cope with than a busy meeting, but I was still yearning for some alone time to process the worms that were eating into my brain. As we moved on with the class, and as the noise from the phone call crept into my mind, I kept bringing myself back to the qigong practice. That noise after all was just a series of thoughts, given substance by the attention that I gave to them. Slowly the noises quietened. They never completely went away, although there were moments when I forgot about the call as I became more focused on the qigong. That in itself shows that the mental voices only react to the power that we give to them.

With the class over I could feel the ripples from my earlier call build again, and I went home to reflect on its implications. But the words also made me reflect on the words of the eighth century Indian Buddhist saint Shatideva who said,

There is nothing at all which cannot become easier through practice.

Meditation

Meditation can be a deceptive practice. The instruction is simple yet the practice requires commitment and perseverance to experience the results. Meditation is not an escape into a quiet world (though at times there might be good reason to use it for that). Rather it is a familiarization with a world that many of us do not visit, our own minds. It is a familiarization with and retraining for how we interact with what arises in the mind.

Aided with a motivation or reason for being on the cushion, with time you can start to experience the workable nature of the mind. The worms might still knock at the door of your brain, but you realize that you don’t have to let them in. Acknowledge them, say “Hi,” and let them go on their merry way. This starts on your cushion but with time and familiarization this practice creeps into your daily life. You are deepening your awareness and creating new habits in your mind. These efforts are felt in your own life and ripple out into the world around you.

Strive for Perfection, Stay in Practice

Practice - to rehearse, to work at, to train; from the Greek, praktikos - active, practical.

Practice is a word that we use to describe our meditation and yoga training. We speak of a meditation practice, our yoga practice, our qigong practice. In this vein, what might _practice_ have to say about our day to day endeavors that surround these trainings?

When we turn up for our yoga class or sit to meditate invariably there is that part of us that is looking to be better than last time - to have a clearer mind, to hold that position longer than last time. We look round the room full of other yogis and create stories in our mind that do not serve us. The narratives speak of how we should be, and we feel that until we get into that position our own practice is somehow lacking.

But let’s stop and look at that word practice. There is a sense of ongoingness about it, continuity. One rarely hears about the end or conclusion of these trainings…unless we choose to pack them in. What practice is telling us is the never-ending nature of the activity that we are engaging in. There is not a finishing place, a goal to which we are headed, rather a continuous learning and deeper exploration of what it is we are engaged in. If we are willing to explore, with each learning another door opens to reveal deeper truths that are waiting to be discovered. It is an understanding and realization that you are never quite there, you are always practicing to reach that next level.

Returning to the narratives that we tell ourselves, in time holding ourselves to those expectations becomes exhausting. Just the practice and asking of our body and mind to do something that it is not use to doing becomes enough. To give yourself competition on top of that just becomes too much. So you let go of the striving and just show up to practice.

We strive for perfection, creating in our minds a world that does not exist for us right now and may never do so, and in doing so we miss being present to where we are now. Practice is not about reaching for perfection, it is being present with who we are now, bowing to the insights that that brings us, and moving through the same motions again to see what else might be revealed to us. 

Practice shows to us the elusiveness of perfection, even if in the eyes of others we have achieved it, for in getting there we see that more is possible. We can go deeper, and the practice continues. This is even true if our body doesn’t allow us to bend further, run faster. We still ask ourselves, “what more is there to learn here?”

So in your work strive to do well, strive to do your best, but remember the practice element of it. What is there for you to learn in this moment?

Meditation In Service of Introverts

Meditation and introversion have something in common - the mind. For introverts the mind is a place of activity, but also a place of refuge. Meditation is an activity for familiarizing ourselves with our mind, and for developing its unrealized potential. That might sound exciting and scary in equal measure, but hopefully this article will lend some perspective. With this close connection, I believe that there is a place where meditation can be of service to introverts.

As a way of finding balance and wholeness, introverts seek solitude and alone time. Time with themselves, their inner selves. As Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says:

“…I also believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.”

Mind and Meditation

The mind is the precursor to our actions and the lens through which we see and experience the world. It is something that we are so close to and yet so unfamiliar with at the same time. In the same way that as we get to know an employee or student better we understand what they are truly capable of and how to bring those qualities out of them, so as we get to know our mind better the tool of meditation can help develop the potentialities of the mind.

While introverts can spend much time in introspection at times the internal dialogue, our place of retreat, can seem as noisy as the world that we have tried to get away from. In such instances the activity of meditation, which will take us inside, can seem like the last thing that we would want to do. On the one hand is the image of meditation as providing peace, on the other is having to go inside and face the noise that we are trying to get away from.

The practice of meditation offers many tools for working on the mind. One of these tools is mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to observe the dialogue taking place in the mind but not get involved. As you are only observing the chatter, there is nothing for the mind to latch onto and develop the stories. You are not giving the mind any fuel to keep going and so in time the stories burn themselves out. The mind being the mind, a new conversation will start up soon enough, but you are there only to observe. See the mind as like a glass of muddy water that has been allowed to sit. As the dust settles, so the noise slowly quietens.

Mindfulness in Daily Life

The formal practice of mindfulness might see you watching your breath, just observing the ebb and flow of the breath as it enters and leaves the nose. From time to time you will be distracted by thoughts arising in your mind. You simply acknowledge them with no judgement of good or bad, simply ‘a thought’ and come back to your breath.

That is the formal practice of mindfulness, but the practice is not limited to solely that time that you are on your meditation cushion. No, mindfulness is a tool that is there for you to use whenever you choose. For introverts this can be especially useful if you are hitting saturation at the end of a busy day, during a long meeting, at a socializing event. For introverts that sense of exhaustion can be felt in the body and mind. We will sense the weariness coming on, latch onto those feelings and start identifying strongly with what is arising in our body and mind. However, by using our mindfulness practice we start to recognize that these noises in our body and mind are not solid, they are passing, ephemeral, transient. This is not to suggest that they are not real - you are still the exhausted introvert who would like to get home as soon as possible. The trick though is in how you identify with what is coursing through you. You can either see the aches and pains of your body and mind as solid and fixed, or as mindfulness enables us to experience, impermanent and ever changing.

The Pliable Mind

Your formal mindfulness sessions will reveal to you the transient, ever changing nature of your thoughts. This does not change when you go about your everyday life. So as you notice tiredness or aches and pains creep into your body, watch those feelings. Chances are as an introvert you are doing more listening than chatting, so use that quiet time at the meeting or social event to just be with the tiredness, observe the “I want to go home” thoughts, acknowledge the aches…and then just let them go. Just observe them, don’t engage or put any judgement on them. The wish to get away is still there, it is real, but now you are not allowing it to have such a firm grip on you. There is more space there with which to work, to relax (yes relax) into. You are still battling the storm of tiredness, but now you are finding time to come for air. An introvert is who you are, yes, but you are not boxing yourself into an image of what that means to you. Your mind is revealing to you who you are and what might be possible.

Mindfulness allows us to develop a pliability of the mind by seeing through and not fixating so rigidly on the images and stories that we tell ourselves. Mindfulness practice shows us that reality and gives us the malleability of our mind to work with in our daily lives. With that experience the world, not just for introverts, becomes more workable.

Riding Up That Hill

I’ll have to ask you to fill in the blanks on this one. I am writing about extroverts and introverts, but any dualism can be exchanged in replacement for these opposites. This article is primarily about awareness, a tool that is central to meditation practice. I’d also like to suggest that it is central to our interaction with others and in that vein it is also a post in support of introverts.

Awareness

Within meditation practice, awareness is that little watcher in our minds that keeps an eye on where the focus of our mind is. In there is a paradox - it is faculty of the mind that keeps an eye on what the mind is doing. Are we staying with the object of meditation or have we wavered onto some more pressing - of course our meditation practice is important but once we ask our mind to focus, the subject of what we are going to eat for breakfast or that afternoon meeting suddenly becomes more interesting.

So awareness watches and catches us when we stray from the object of meditation and gently brings us back. In our everyday life awareness is like a self-policing. Do we know the full story of what is going on here? Are we responding appropriately to this situation? Awareness is continually asking of us to ask deeper questions. Do we have the full picture here? I’ll explore this from a perspective on the extrovert/introvert interaction…from the introvert perspective. But first bicycles.

Bicycling

I enjoy cycling. I enjoying cycling not as a sport but as a recreational cyclist. I own a couple of bicycles for getting around. My trusty work horse is a Brompton a British designed, fold-up bike that gets me around the city of Portland. For longer recreational rides I have a Specialized road bike. The Specialized has twenty gears, the Brompton, six. The Brompton is a good strong bicycle but it does make me work harder on the hills, longer rides and pedaling against the wind. I jump on the  carbon fibre Specialized and suddenly cycling becomes like putting a hot knife through butter - effortless.

When you are on a bike there are hills, and there are hills. Some of the regular hills are so gradual that if you are in a car you probably don’t even notice them. However, for the cyclist the gradual incline soon works its way into your muscles. You might choose to take a break while riding the incline, find yourself panting for breath at the barely perceptible top and wearily free wheeling down the other side, having little inclination to pedal but a wish to rest those tired legs. Because of the time taken pedaling up the hill you might take in some details of the route traversed, the sites passed, the smells in the air.

The car driver however, through no fault of their own, does not recognize the hill. The car strains little if at all. You are soon at the top, quite possibly not even recognizing or registering it as a ‘top,’ and carry on with your journey. The awareness is not there of a hill having been traveled along, or the details of the journey itself.

The Monkey Mind

I use this to illustrate the unintended lack of awareness that extroverts can bring to the needs of introverts. This article is not about “never ending introvert suffering”! Indeed we can all bring a lack of awareness to anything that is not a major player in our own lives. No, the intention here is simply awareness, or lack of - whether it is from introverts to extroverts, vise versa or between those blanks that you filled in at the beginning.

Without an awareness of the needs of introverts to have some quiet time to recharge. Without an awareness of introverts ability to make informed decisions though maybe taking longer over it. Without an awareness for introverts working better on their own or in small, like minded groups. Without this awareness, the needs of introverts are not understood and introverts can be looked on from a critical, ‘less than’ perspective and in doing so skills and opportunities be overlooked.

From the meditation perspective awareness is what catches the mind from running off in its own dialogue and brings us back to the object of meditation. Without awareness in our meditation we get lost in the mind’s games and word plays. We need awareness to keep us focused, keep us on track and for the meditation to be of benefit. A meditation session with no awareness just becomes a spaced out session, just sitting back and watching the mind’s show. I’m not suggesting that you have to be completely focused 100% of the time, far from it. Meditation is that moment where you do catch yourself.

Many people do not realize that they have this monkey mind, charging off in all directions and we consequently become a slave to our minds. Without this awareness to the needs of the introverts or whoever the different groups are in your life, our interactions become reactions that are based in our old habits and beliefs.

Stop, breathe, look, ask.