Count Your Blessings?

I used to hate it when people said “count your blessings”, because to me it just sounded like “Stop complaining! You should feel grateful for what you have!”

In other words it sounded like a way of delegitimising my grievances, telling me how to feel, and implicitly judging me for not being happier.

But recently I’ve learned that counting my blessings is actually a powerful way of shifting my focus from things that aren’t going right, to things that are.

An extraordinary number of things in my life are going right for me, in the sense that I am better off with these things than I would be without them.

I don’t usually feel appreciation for my couch, for example. It’s easy to see the holes in the upholstery and the wear and tear of it. And there’s nothing especially unique or memorable about it.

But if I didn’t have a couch, I’d be worse off. So in owning this couch, things are going right for me.

Cold hard Appreciation

This isn’t exactly a Hallmark gratitude moment. I’m objectively appreciating the couch even if I don’t subjectively feel great love for it at this moment.

It’s more like I’m grudgingly forced to admit this couch is a boon to me.

And that’s what makes all of this counting of blessings so worthwhile….and so confronting. Because it’s dawned on me that with so many things going well for me, I’ve nonetheless been studiously focused on things that aren’t.

And over time that’s become a practiced attitude that leaves me with a lot of negative feelings about my life.

The truth is that counting my blessings really does reveal that my complaints are, if not unwarranted, then at least self-inflicted.

I’ve discovered that I have some bitter, critical, and negative habits of thought, and that I really would be a happier person if I spent more time counting my blessings.

And the part that makes me most uncomfortable about this is that I’m painfully reluctant to do it.

Despite being an adult and a parent, I’m not different from a little kid who would rather sulk than join the party. And I’ve gotten pretty good at telling myself the party isn’t worth joining in the first place.

I could be a lot happier…if I wanted to be. The only obstacle is my resistance, the conditions I’ve set on happiness.

I’ll be happy when I’m rich. I’ll be happy when others acknowledge my success. I’ll be happy when I feel vindicated for past conflicts.

But in the end the only one who suffers from my reluctance to be happy is me. And I don’t think it’s worth it any more.

So I’m going to keep counting my blessings. I’m going to push past my own reluctance and keep finding and paying attention to the many things that are going right for me on all levels of my experience.

Triggered by ignorance

Recently I heard second-hand a relative disparaging the martial art I practice.

It really got to me for a couple of reasons.

First, I struggle to understand how someone can make self-assured pronouncements on subjects they are profoundly unfamiliar with. I’m bewildered and don’t know where to begin.

But beneath that, if I’m honest with myself, I’m sensitive about my proficiency in the art. I’ve been training for a long time and I don’t think I’m as good as I should be.

That’s not to say my relative’s opinion had anything to do with me or my proficiency. She didn’t say I was bad at it, she just disparaged the art itself in a sweeping statement.

She’s never seen the art, she’s never seen me practicing, and as far as I know she’s never done a martial art nor is she interested in them.

But that doesn’t stop part of me thinking that if I were just more proficient then I would change her mind…in much the same way that part of me thinks I can change people’s minds by providing logical arguments supported by facts.

When was the last time that happened?

You create your reality

So despite my irritation at this person’s opinion — no, because of my irritation, I have to acknowledge that this is my creation.

My insecurity and self-doubt is making me react to people’s words regardless of what was meant by those words.

And I don’t just mean my self-doubt about my proficiency in martial arts; I mean my self-doubt in thinking I need proof, evidence, and convincing arguments to validate my own beliefs, perceptions, and feelings.

The reason it bugs me so much when people make ignorant and inconsiderate pronouncements with full self-confidence is that I don’t allow myself the same privilege.

No matter how much research or experience I accrue, I always err on the side of self-doubt. So it’s galling to hear someone just say what they think, without fear, shame, or hesitation.

Appreciating contrast

These interpersonal conflicts are so valuable because they highlight areas where we are resistant to our own wellbeing and expansion.

This person’s comment would not upset me except that I hold myself hostage to rules they refuse to follow.

They may be ignorant, but they don’t care. I know more than they will ever know about martial arts, but I’m the one feeling constrained.

Must ignorance be contemptible? Is life about being as knowledgeable and rational as possible?

Well this particular episode is not. This episode is about whether I make my happiness conditional on other people, or really accept that it doesn’t matter what I or others think, say, or do.

No one can assert anything into my experience. This came about purely because I was primed to react.

But I’ve chosen to clean it up instead, taking it as an opportunity for expansion, freedom, and joy.

It doesn’t matter what others think, say, or do, because it doesn’t matter what I think, say or do either, so long as I feel good.

No one is measuring the validity of my words, thoughts and deeds (and if they are they’ll be disappointed). There is no measure more objective than how I feel. If other people say disparaging things, why is that my problem? I don’t have to agree with them and they don’t have to agree with me.

The best part is feeling good whether we agree or not, whether our opinions are based on deep knowledge and experience or not. It really doesn’t matter, it doesn’t have the power to stop me feeling good.

Expressing dominance

I grew up in a household where people expressed their dominance in unhealthy ways. I learned to associate dominance with conflict, aggression, coercion, manipulation and unhealthy competition.

Due to my own temperament and circumstances in that environment, I believed the best response was to submit and withdraw from the contest of wills. And as I grew older I interpreted spirituality through that lens of surrender, selflessness, and dying to self or ego.

But at the same time I’ve been increasingly indignant at having taken this burden on myself. Why do I alone suppress my dominance while others are so self-assured in their right to be and do and have?

The harder I tried to justify and explain my point of view to others, the more self-assured they seemed in rejecting my view and asserting their own – no matter how unexamined or invalid it might be.

So what now?

Well, it turns out that dominance is not a bad thing after all. It only looks bad when it’s used to harm or manipulate others, when it functions through conflict and aggression.

I like to use etymology to reframe loaded terms and in this case dominance comes from the Latin dominus meaning “Lord, master”, as in the head of a house or domus.

Dominance is not about aggression and control, but ownership. It’s natural and healthy for us each to take ownership of ourselves and our possessions and our beliefs, actions and choices.

Dominance means it’s your house, and you can do whatever the hell you want and if other people don’t like it they can GTFO. But dominance also means that each person is their own “house” as well, and you need to respect that or GTFO yourself.

You can be dominant without domineering, and for those of us who grew up on the receiving end, that distinction is one we need to hear.

…and enjoy. Because a tyrant’s pleasure in dominating others doesn’t tarnish our own healthy pleasure in taking full ownership and mastery of ourselves. Pushing back is not the same as pushing others down. Your freedom to disagree with others is not the same as them trying to make you wrong.

We are all free to disagree, and it’s a sign of something awry when people baulk at that freedom in themselves or others.

So enjoy your dominance. Appreciate your freedom…and the freedom of everyone else in your life as well.

Under the influence

We are always under the influence of something, whether it’s our inner being or something else and we can tell by the way we feel.

That’s one of Abraham-Hicks’ current themes in workshops. Under the influence.

What’s moving you?

In my diet book I argued that our desire to eat is either motivated by a genuine need for food or by something else.

The something else could be a positive thing like social interaction, but often it is a negative motivation like the desire to avoid focusing on negative emotions.

When we eat to escape from negative emotions not only are we likely overeating, but we also end up prolonging and giving further momentum to those negative emotions.

If I eat to avoid feeling bad about myself and my life, I typically end up feeling unwell because of the overeating, and I give power to unpleasant thoughts about weight gain and self-control.

Why my diet worked

Every now and then I see strong parallels between my diet process and the A-H materials. I think my diet was essentially a less refined version of those teachings.

This has always excited me because it means I’ve already successfully applied the principles in one area of my life, proving to myself how easy it can be to allow positive change.

Under the influence

So Abe’s metaphor of “under the influence” strikes me as an exact parallel to my “what moves you to eat?” question.

And that means when we are not under the influence of Source or inner being, we are doing the same thing as eating to distract ourselves from negative emotion – only to perpetuate it unwittingly.

Blaming others

Let’s take a common example: blaming others for life not being how we want it to be.

When we blame others it may feel good or not so good, but it always feels engaging. We are drawn into blame in the same way that we are drawn into compulsive eating, even though such eating habits rarely feel good.

What feels good is the temporary relief from negative emotion. If I blame someone I make it sound (to myself and others) like they are the cause of my problems. I’m perfect, it’s not my fault, they just need to move. At the same time it provides a sense of hopefulness that things may change for the better.

It’s complex, way more complex than this post has time for, but the key is that we use these unpleasant stories of blame to avoid facing the negative emotion in our immediate reality.

Blame relieves us of the burden of change, making it someone else’s problem and responsibility.

But disowning our own responsibility and attendant power never feels good. Blaming others doesn’t provide true satisfaction or true change, especially when it is a chronic pattern of avoiding our own negative emotions.

Facing how we feel

When I look back at my diet and wonder how it worked, obviously I could say it was a simple matter of eating much less.

But the inner battle belied that simple equation. In the inner battle it was choosing to sit with my negative emotions and not escape into compulsive eating that won the day.

It was confronting, and it felt bad. But just as compulsive eating doesn’t truly feel “good” despite the promise of sensory pleasures, so facing my negative emotions without escape didn’t feel completely bad. There was something truthful and honest and powerful in that moment, perhaps because I knew those feelings were always there whether I distracted myself or not.

Beyond negative emotion

And finally, I think what really worked for me is that I was tuning into how I felt; it wasn’t about feeling bad but feeling whatever was there.

I think that’s what is going on in the Abraham-Hicks teachings as well. Feel what you feel and don’t run off into distractions and escapes like blaming others or reiterating negative conclusions about life.

Just be with your feeling – pleasant or unpleasant – and let go of those resistant thoughts, those influences that just kick the can down the road but don’t truly serve you.

And in that release of resistant thought you make space to hear the call of your own inner being, an influence that serves you, knows your desires, and is ready to take you there.

Who are you doing your best for?

If you have a perfectionist streak it probably seems self-evident that you should strive to do your best in every situation.

But for submissive or people-pleasing types, doing your best is not a point of pride but a distorted sense of responsibility to others.

“Always do your best” but who are you doing it for?

I recently discovered this flawed premise operating in aspects of my own life. The words “always do my best” really meant “I have to rise to others’ expectations”.

I wasn’t doing my best so I could be proud of myself and appreciate my accomplishments, I was submitting to a vague yet compelling demand that I do the best I could do in every situation.

And in practice that meant taking on burden on top of burden; if you can do something, you should do it. If something can be done better, you should find a way to do it better.

These are all subtle yet insidious interpretations of “do the best you can” and rather than try to unpack them all, the simple question is: who am I doing my best for?

I wasn’t doing my best for me, but for the accountability of nameless others who might judge me for my insufficient efforts and imperfect results. Doing my best was a defense against accusations of laziness and, worse, bad priorities.

Doing my best was a demand issued by others to meet their expectations and please them.

The truth is I don’t care about doing my best because I’ll never do my best, because my best is always changing and expanding.

What I care about is pleasing and satisfying myself, because nothing else is a reliable or accurate measure of success.

And so I conclude that it feels really good to stop doing my best, stop trying to please others with “the best I can do” and let that pleasure be my measure instead.

As I reached this conclusion, the words of an old song came to mind:

Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything…that’s how the light gets in.

F***ing meditation!

Sorry for the profanity, but it proved necessary!

Everyone finds meditation difficult, or so we’re told. I found it so difficult that for years I gave up on it.

But my need for meditation is now too great for me to try and fail and give up again.

I need it, because it is the easiest and most direct way to get into what Abraham-Hicks call “the receptive mode”.

The receptive mode is a state of mind where we let go of resistant thoughts and come into alignment with our inner being.

Why is this so important? It’s important because we have spent our whole lives asking for things, but so little time receiving them. The backlog of things we have asked for in life is immense, but most of us continue to live in the asking mode – focusing on what we don’t want, and thereby holding ourselves apart from what we do want.

The question and answer exist on different levels. We can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them.

Fuck meditation!

When I meditate my breathing goes very shallow and brief. My whole body feels tense and uncomfortable and I feel agitated and oppressed.

Sound like fun?

For years I’d read stuff about peace and tranquility and relaxation and slow deep breaths.

No one said it was ok to have short shallow breaths or to feel deeply uncomfortable and riven with tension and unpleasant somatic sensations.

If they did acknowledge this kind of experience it was quickly subsumed in the exhortation to persist and non-judgementally allow the sensations to pass, with the promise that it will eventually improve.

Forget about a tranquil smile and serene expression; my meditation face is an angry scowl, prompting my wife to ask if I’m okay.

What the fuck is going on?

What’s going on is that I have a lot of tension and stress and resistance in me, and when I meditate it all comes to the surface.

This is not a problem, it’s the whole point.

Yet I tried to feel serene and tranquil and force myself to relax and breath deeply.

So I’ve arrived at the blissful conclusion that meditation is fucking horrible, and that’s good because it means I already feel fucking horrible and at last I’m giving myself the space and time for that resistance and tension to resolve itself.

…which is something I’ve been “asking” for, and in my meditation am beginning to receive.

So forget about feeling good and forget about any rules. Meditation, I’ve recently confirmed with a professional, is simply about anchoring your attention on something and keeping it there.

And from the A-H perspective it’s that time spent without resistant thoughts that gets you into the receptive mode, so you can finally let in all the wonderful things you’ve been asking for all your life.

Anxious to please

People who are anxious to please others are by definition insecure.

The desire to please comes from either an attempt to gain approval, or an effort to avoid disapproval.

In either case we fear how others will respond if we don’t at least try to make a positive impression.

You create your reality

The best antidote I’ve found to these fears and efforts to please others is to assert that we each create our own reality.

This helps in two ways.

First, since I create my reality, the outcomes I fear will only arise if I’m a match to them. No one can assert anything into my reality.

Second, since others create their reality they are not in fact dependent on me for sustaining their mood or the consistency of their experience. I can’t assert (or withhold) anything in their reality either.

What this means in practice is that my fears are unlikely to be realised. The reality I’ve created is one where I fear criticism and attack, but not one where criticism and attack actually happen. I don’t attract criticism and attack, I attract fear of them.

And likewise my efforts to please others…well if others are attracting pleasing circumstances they’ll receive them whether I contribute or not. And if they aren’t pleased by my efforts that’s because they aren’t a match for being pleased anyway!

The simple fact is that most people are emotionally consistent within a range, and they filter and actively engage with their reality in ways that vastly outstrip our efforts to please them – or not please them.

Sudden change of character

The bottom line is that you get back what you are broadcasting. If you stop trying to please people, but feel terrified of the consequences then rest assured you will find some consequences that terrify you.

If you soothe your fears and gently allow yourself to remain centred and content, then you will be able to let go of the urge to please them and you will see only positive and affirming consequences of your own interior change.

Living in the flow

I used to do this thing in kung fu, inspired by various writings on Zen, Daoism and Confucianism in the martial arts.

It was a trick, or so I thought…

When sparring with an opponent, let go of any thoughts of winning or losing, any desire to beat them or fear of getting hit.

Be open, unperturbed like still water, and entirely present without motive or agenda.

Take your mind off any particular thing, be aware of your full surroundings, and see your body as just another object in physical space.

Then when your opponent moves you will know in full clarity and detail the angle and trajectory and strength of his attack, and without any reason thought or effort your body will move in perfect time and technique to neutralise the attack.

I worked on this trick for a while and explored its limits and conditions. The trick would fail if I tried too hard or if my mind got caught up in any particular thought.

I also noticed other people could have stronger intentions and expectations that sapped my confidence and made me lose this feeling of fine balance.

It’s not a trick

It’s finally dawned on me in my study and practice of the Abraham-Hicks material that this wasn’t a trick after all. Rather, it’s what they are referring to as alignment, freedom from resistance, and opening up to the broader perspective of my inner being.

I’d thought I was simply honing my reactions but it’s much more than that. Because my being in that state was also influencing the actions of my opponent.

I was, in Abe terms, attracting from them attacks that I could easily counter, attracting from the whole exchange a joyful feeling of being connected and balanced and aligned, best of all a feeling of relying on something within me that was more powerful than my conscious efforts.

The state of consciousness I put myself in is exactly what Abe advocates for everyday life. Learning to rely on the ease and power and leverage of my inner being, not just when I’m sparring with someone but for all kinds of interactions in all aspects of my experience.

There’s no context in which it is preferable to be tense and uptight and doing things the hard way. There’s no situation that benefits from being weighed down by thoughts of profit and loss.

Because in the context of a friendly fight I didn’t have to tell myself not to get hit. My desire to not be punched in the face was already firmly activated within me. Likewise I don’t have to keep telling myself not to cut myself while preparing food and not to burn the food when I cook it.

As Abe says, we’ve already launched enough desires to last us twenty lifetimes. We don’t need to keep reminding ourselves of the outcomes we desire.

Living in the flow

I’m so excited about this because I have such a strong and personal experience of success in finding alignment and trusting my inner being in the context of kung fu and now I’ve connected the dots between this personal touchstone and what Abe have been saying for years.

Everyday life can flow like that. Everyday life can be shaped by that unparalleled feeling of being switched on and allowing responses to come forth from within with precision and timing that just feel like perfection.

All it needs is for me to know that’s what I’m doing, and let go of the thoughts of winning and losing, the clinging to outcomes that throw me out of balance.

Am I religious?

Someone asked me recently if I am religious and I struggled to answer them.

“Spiritual but not religious?” they offered.

But I don’t want to be a walking cliche either, and what does SBNR mean anyway?

From the perspective of an irreligious person I guess I am religious. From the perspective of a religious person I’m not.

Transcending religion

The problem is that I’ve read too much into multiple religions and tried to see the world through their eyes.

Like learning a new language, I know that people have different names for the same things, but they also have names for things that other languages don’t have.

They cut up reality in slightly different ways.

And so do religions. They talk about this one transcendent experience in different ways and translate it into different forms.

People get fixated on whether Buddhists believe in God or not; but people also get stuck on whether Christians from the same denomination worship the same God if they differ in their fundamental conception of Him.

Why not just say that Buddhism and Christianity both contain something transcendent, and they try to describe it in their own particular ways?

Wheat and chaff

But I’m making my own assertion here: that what is of value in any and every religion is the transcendent and otherworldly aspect of it. Not the afterlife so much as the new life, the qualitatively different experience of life in this world.

I have zero interest or time for a religion that is merely a set of rules unless those rules promise to deliver a tangibly improved relationship with reality.

It’s worth bearing that in mind, because to some people outward adherence to a creed or membership of a community is more important than some kind of obscure or, worse yet, esoteric experience of transcendence and joy that some people get and others don’t.

Some people don’t want religion to be universal unless it’s all under the one creed.

But my experience is that we are all operating on a personal creed, whether we admit it or not. And mine has evolved through familiarity with the thought of a half-dozen religious streams.

I don’t have the common ground of fellow-believers who sit together in their churches or mosques and provide a range of social reinforcements to their faith, but I probably don’t need it either. If I wanted to belong I probably wouldn’t have such a strong desire to explore and push past the boundaries of other people’s conventions and comfort-zones.

I can say for sure that life is meant to be enjoyed, and though i know that rubs some people the wrong way I have less and less concern about that.

Perhaps in writing this I’m letting myself have less concern about religion too; letting go of my awareness of all the varied and intricate issues within and around religious practice and belief.

Does it matter what I call myself or what others call me? Religious or not, the label doesn’t change anything for me apart from how I think others see me. And how I think others see me is…probably the least important question that could occupy my mind.

His God is a douchebag

My friend Dtcwee looks back on his past effort to come to grips – if not to terms – with the Bible, or should I say a Bible, via a no-holds-barred reading plan that spanned an entire year. His conclusion?

“The bible is not what anyone says it is.”

For me that means: it is not cohesive or consistent. It does not evidence God’s fairness or mercy. The New Testament ideals of love and fellowship were not novel, even at Jesus’ time, and are rather shallow in his expressions…

But what you were taught in Sunday School is different to what I was taught in Sunday School. Following the Plan was more about examining and articulating my own beliefs than trying to work out what the Bible was attempting to communicate. The bible has been more a mirror than a window.

http://dtcwee.blogspot.com/2019/09/the-annotated-bible-reading-plan.html?m=1

I really enjoyed reading this again, some years on, and it’s more relevant to me than ever, speaking to my own lacklustre impression of the source material and more pointedly the subjective weight of any one person’s interpretation of what it all means.