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Archive for December, 2011

Ice crop

Iced planter

Snow seat slats

A dusting of snow in Glasgow let me capture these lovely images of snow and ice at work today.

Fascinating. And beautiful. Isn’t the everyday on this Earth amazing?

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One of my most favourite magazines in the world is a French language one entitled “Cles“. In the current issue they have a theme about optimism.

I love their exploration of the different ways of understanding the thinking patterns of optimists and pessimists. They quote Winston Churchill, who famously said

“The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity.”

The introductory article says

L’optimiste relativise ses echecs (je ferais mieux la prochaine fois) et generalise ses succes (j’ai vraiment de la chance), alors que le pessimiste generalise ses echecs (je suis decidement un nul) et relativise ses succes (c’etait juste un coup de bol)

Here’s my translation (I’m not an expert!) – The optimist puts his failures/setbacks into perspective – “I will do better next time” and generalises his successes – “I’m really lucky”, whereas the pessimist generalises his failures/setbacks – “I’m really an idiot” and relativises his successes – “It was just a stroke of luck”.

I think one of the interesting things about thought frameworks is how they tend to create the outcomes expected, so we really do find that some people are generally luckier than others. Can you just decide to become more optimistic? I don’t want to over-simplify this, but, yes, I think you can (but then I would, wouldn’t I? I’m an optimist!!).

The issue of “Cles”, explores the “science of optimism” – now there’s a scientific discipline I’d be keen to know more about…..

They suggest the “golden rules” revealed by the science of optimism include the importance of “vigilance” – attentiveness; curiosity; the “capacite a rebondir” – the capacity to bounce back, or to be resilient; and, altruism.

What do you think? What qualities facilitate the tendency to optimism?

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Sit down somewhere quiet and get comfortable for a few moments. Relax your body, and become aware of your breathing. After two or three breaths, close your eyes, and remember, or imagine, seeing a blue sky up above you. As far as you can see in any direction there’s a great expanse of blue. Floating across this blue sky are fluffy, white clouds. Look at one of these clouds and watch how it slowly drifts across the blue sky. What shape is the cloud? Does it remind you of anything? As you watch, notice how the cloud is constantly changing shape, so that whatever it reminded you of slowly becomes something else. Pick out a fairly small white cloud from the rest, and, as you watch, see how it gets smaller and thinner. Watch how the edges seem to fade, or melt, into the blue of the sky behind it. As you watch it slowly disappears. Take your time. Watch it slowly disappear.

Look towards the horizon where you can see hills. The clouds thicken and darken over the hills. As the wind blows, the darker, heavier clouds sink down hiding the peaks. You can see misty fingers of rain falling on the hillside.

See the little streams of water, swollen by the falling rain, tumbling down over the rocks, rushing over waterfalls and down valleys towards the land at the foot of the hills.

Follow the stream down till it runs into another stream, both flowing together, creating a wider and ever wider winding river, heading down towards the sea. The river is joined by a third river bringing cold water down from an icy mountain.

Follow this third river back up to its source. Imagine you are flying high above it, following it higher and higher into the mountains until you see the source emerging from a snow-capped peak. Land gently beside the source and feel the snowflakes landing softly on your face. Put out your hand to catch a single snowflake, briefly noticing how this beautiful and unique crystal instantly melts into a sparkling drop of water. Turn your palm towards the stream and watch the drop fall into the icy water. Now trace the path of the stream back down off the mountain, right down to where the river meets the others and all three head down now to the sea shore.

Stand on the shore and look out at a calm sea. The surface glints like glass in the sun which shines high in the blue sky. Puffy, white clouds seem to rise effortlessly over the sea. A wind blows, and the surface ripples and breaks, little waves appearing scattered as far as the eye can see.

Take your time and just stand and watch the waves for a while.

When you are ready, open you eyes and take a moment or two before you get on with the rest of your day.

BE THE FLOW

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white water

These three flows – energy, time and consciousness – are like three rivers which run through us, around us, and from which we, temporarily, emerge. What happens when these three rivers flow together?

All the physical phenomena of our existence can be considered as energy focussed in time. The great flows of energy throughout the universe become apparent to us by interacting with our sensory organs so that we see, hear, or feel them, as light, sound, or touch sensations. What we experience as the solidity of the physical world emerges out of the flows of energy and time together. A table might look solid, but it is a lot more space than “substance”. The molecules of which it is constituted are bound tightly together for a time, but the spaces between the molecules are greater than the amount of space occupied by the molecules themselves. In fact, as we have developed the technologies to be able to see deeper and deeper into the substance of things, we’ve discovered that even the atoms which bind together to create the molecules are constantly vibrating condensations of energy in ceaseless movement.

As best we know, the duality of matter and energy is a conceptual one. Matter is a manifestation of energy over a relatively short period of time. If you consider a time period of decades, centuries or millennia, then the solidity of matter disappears.

So, energy flow and time flow together, create the physical reality of the universe. Change the flow of either, and the universe changes.

We really have no way of knowing what would exist without consciousness. However, let’s just bring the stream of consciousness into the merged streams of energy and time. What happens? We get our lived experience of the world.

When we become aware of the flows of energy and time from our own, subjective perspectives, through the stream of our personal consciousness, we potentially gain a full experience of life as we live it.

We even become aware that there is no separateness between ourselves and these flows, but, rather, we are those flows.

Here’s the possibility then – you can develop your awareness of these flows, of these rivers, and, in doing so, you can increase your potential to interact with them. You can learn to shape your own life.

BE THE FLOW

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colorsplash splash

Consciousness – the awareness of existence.

We can alter our consciousness by changing both the level of our awareness, and the boundaries of our existence. Does that sound strange? Let’s consider each dimension in turn.

Firstly, what are the levels of awareness?

Deep sleep, dreaming sleep, drowsy waking, awake, high alert and awareness of awareness.

In deep sleep, we lose any awareness of our existence. We can’t describe our experience of deep sleep because we have no awareness of being there as it happens. Dreaming sleep is different. It can be difficult to remember our dreams, but with practice and intention our recall can improve. Just before you fall asleep, try repeating to yourself “tonight I will remember my dreams”. Sounds too easy? Actually, it’s easy to repeat this affirmation every night, but not so easy to make it come true. You may have many nights where you repeat this phrase before sleeping before you start to remember more dreams. In addition to this affirmation, it is helpful to keep a notebook beside your bed, and to try to cultivate the habit of writing whatever it was you were dreaming about before you do anything else. I’m sure you will have had the experience of waking up with a sense that you remember last night’s dream, then someone talks to you, or the radio alarm comes on, or some noise distracts you, and, in a flash, your dream has gone.

Different people wake up in different ways. For some people it’s like a switch being flicked on. For others, they need time to “come round”. Waking for them is a slow process. If you are in this latter group, then a daylight alarm might help you raise your conscious level more slowly, and so wake up more effectively each morning.

Awake, is our average level of awareness, but many people who are awake go through the day on some kind of auto-pilot. The truth is that being awake is not the same as being aware.

There is an automatic state of hyper-alertness which occurs naturally in situations of sudden or acute stress. At such times we can become particularly sensitive to the stimuli from our environment – noises, lights, smells etc.

Finally, we have the conscious state of being aware of our awareness. Meditation practice is the best way of developing your ability to be aware of your awareness. In particular, mindfulness meditation is a well developed way to become skilled at this.

From deep sleep, through to awareness, you can think of this as an increasing intensity or strength of consciousness. There’s no doubt that energy flow significantly influences conscious level.

The merging of the rivers of energy and consciousness produce a dynamic experience of awareness. But there’s another dimension to consciousness too. You can think of it as being how wide the river is. We have the experience of personal consciousness which creates our sense of a self. But there are times when we experience such an “in tune” connection with another, that we have a few moments of shared consciousness with them. In fact, when together in a large group, for example, at a concert, or a sports event with other fans, we gain a feeling of group consciousness. In other words, the existence we become aware of expands out beyond our personal existence to a shared existence with others.

How can we expand our consciousness to include more and more of existence, more of what is?

Love is the driving force and the key to this movement. With loving intent, we can connect, we can make the river wider and we can experience our consciousness dissolving its boundaries so we become aware of all that is.

BE THE FLOW

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running time

BE THE FLOW

Take a pencil and draw a straight line. The beginning of the line represents the day you were born. You know that date. The end of the line represents the day you will die. Nobody knows that date. Now put a cross somewhere along the line representing today.

Everything between the day you were born and today is past. It doesn’t exist any more. You can only access it by using your memory (or the memories of others). Everything between today and the day you’ll die is the future. That doesn’t exist yet. You can only access it by using imagination. Some people focus a lot of their attention and energy on the past, maybe going over and over some painful event, some loss or hurt. Although they are alive now, they’re living in the past. Others focus most of their attention and energy on the future, wondering and worrying about all that might be, but which isn’t yet. They are living in some multi-layered world of what ifs.

The present is hard to grasp. The moment you become aware of it, it flies into the past. If you try to prepare yourself for what’s to come, for what lies in the immediate future, then that can rush into the present with such speed that it obliterates it.

There is only really one time you can be fully alive and that’s the present time. Using our memories we pull the past into the present, and using our imaginations we pull the future into the present too. The present is formed from past realities which create the framework of possible futures in the here and now.

The flow of time is like a great river which you can stand in the middle of. Or you can wade upstream into the past and see where the present is coming from. Or you can dive in downstream and imagine what the river may become.

The flow of time is not uniform and consistent however. Can you think of a time when time seemed to drag? Can you think of a different time where, conversely, it flew past? What do you think influenced those different speeds? Are there any particular activities or circumstances for you where time tends to drag, or to fly? What influences the speed of time? What slows it up? And what speeds it up? Is it down to you? Can you influence the speed of time, and if you can, how can you do that?

We us a lot of metaphors of time in our language. Let’s consider some of them to see what effect they have on the flow of time.

 

Passing the time. Do we mean passing in the same way a car overtakes another? Or do we mean transferring it, somehow?

Taking my time. Where are you going to take it? And how are you going to take it? Take my time declares a very personal time. It implies that I am in control of time.

Wasting time. How can time be wasted? We tend to say time has been wasted when we mean that we wish we hadn’t chosen to do exactly what we did choose.

Enough time, or, time enough. These are statements of contentment about time. Either we are able to complete something, or there is a satisfactory amount of time to do what we want to do.

The right time.The wrong time. This implies correct or incorrect actions. For example, it might be a good idea to sit down, but in certain circumstances, sitting down now will cause some problem or some offence. This judgement about right and wrong, like most such judgements, is usually after the event. We judge the present as right or wrong depending on the outcome of the future.

Time stands still. Can you actually experience time standing still? Can you achieve a moment of quiet and stillness through meditation, for example, where the flow of time seems stopped.

Making time. It’s not possible to manufacture time. Time flows by without us having any ability whatsover to see or otherwise  know where it comes from or where it’s going to end up. Yet, intuitively, we have a sense that we can make time stand still, or that someone else can make it stand for us.

Sharing the time. Sharing time is like sharing candle flames. If you and I share some time together, then neither of us has any less time. In fact, when we share time with someone, we can experience a heightened quality of time.

 

As you consider these, and other, metaphors of time, what do you learn about the flow of time?

That it is continuous but that it changes speed.

That you can move around in the flow of time, using memory, attention and imagination, each to varying degrees.

 

BE THE FLOW

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waterfall

BE THE FLOW

Measure your personal energy. Let’s begin by devising a method for measuring your personal energy. This is any energy which only you can detect. Only you can say what your physical energy is like, whether or not you are feeling vigorous and vibrant, or washed out and exhausted. Only you can say what any of your personal energies are like. There are no machines which will measure these energies for you and there are no experts who can measure them for you either.

The simplest way to measure your personal energy is to use a “visual analogue scale”. It’s a kind of thermometer of personal energy. One such scale is the 0 – 100 scale. 0 represents the lowest amount of energy you can imagine, and 100 represents the greatest amount of energy you can imagine having. You can draw this scale on a vertical, or horizontal, or curved line, with 0 at one end of the line, and 100 at the other.

Most commonly the line is drawn as a vertical line with energy rising the way temperature rises in a thermometer. A pleasing alternative is more like a barometer or a speedometer where the needle moves from the low point of 0 at the far left to the high of 100 far right.

Draw your own line the way you want it to be.

Now think about your physical energy level. Right now. This very moment. Place an X on the line to represent what your physical energy level is now. Don’t take time to think about it. Just do it. You can’t get this wrong. You’re the only one who knows the correct answer.

Now you’ve got that number recorded, how about thinking about your mental energy? Do the same exercise. 0 represents the lowest mental energy you can imagine, and 100 the greatest. Where will you place your X right now?

Thirdly, let’s try spiritual energy. This isn’t so easy for some people and if it’s not for you, why not try, instead, to measure your emotional energy?

Go ahead.

You now have three points on your line (or 4 if you decided to spiritual AND emotional!). Are all the points at exactly the same position?

Commonly, they aren’t. We seem to have the ability to holistically, intuitively, and instantly assess these personal energies and to be able to discriminate between them.

In order to understand how energy flows within you, you can create an energy chart. You can measure whichever of the energies you’d like to understand – either a global, overall energy, or a specific, such as any of the four energies we considered above. In fact, you may choose to follow a number of these energies.

A simple two axis graph will enable you to create a useful chart. Make the vertical axis the energy one, with 0 at the bottom, and 100 at the top, and make the horizontal axis time. The duration of time covered by the horizontal axis should be that of the time period over which you want to assess your energy. Do you want to chart its ups and downs over a day? A week? A month?

Of course, as always, why opt for “or” when you can opt for “and”? Why not keep separate charts for each of these time periods and see what rhythms or cycles appear?

Most of us have some point in a day when our energy is at its best and also a time when it’s at its lowest. Are you a morning person, an afternoon person, or an evening person for example? Women especially might find a monthly rhythm connected to their menstrual cycle. Men and women might find that one particular day of the week is typically their peak energy day (or their trough energy day!)

It’s worth while making notes alongside the readings too. For example, when you record the measurement, what had you just been doing before you measured? Eating? If so, what? Conversing? With whom? The more notes you make alongside the readings, the more you are likely to be able to answer the questions – What increases your energy? and, What decreases your energy?

It can also be useful to note what you do in response to certain energy levels. For example, when your physical energy is high, what does that lead to? When your mental energy is high, what do you do at that time? And, conversely, what about when your energy feels low, what do you tend to do then?

Your answers to these questions will begin to reveal your default coping and response strategies to different energy levels.

Finally, consider the effect of sleep. What energy levels do you record before and after sleeping and are they different depending on whether you assess the effects of night time sleep or day time sleep? Is there a difference related to the number of hours of night time sleep? For many people, there’s an optimum range of night time sleep. Too little is insufficient, and too much, is just as bad. The same can be said for day time naps. What exactly is a “power nap”? Is there any such thing for you? Can you get a significant energy boost from just a few minutes napping?

Charting your personal energies – global, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – in this way will teach you a lot about who you are and how you function. You can’t learn this about yourself in any other way.

As you become practiced at doing this, you’ll also find your ongoing level of energy awareness is heightened. You’ll be more able to experience the flow of energy within and around you.

BE THE FLOW

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