“Shouldn’t you be doing something?”

Insights are coming in a flurry now.

Sitting at the computer I notice what’s always been there, the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder, a reflection of my own inner sense of shirking my duties.

“Have to” means you owe something. Do I owe anyone anything? I prefer to look at my life in terms of the things I would like, love, and enjoy doing.

The same action can be performed with love or with obligation. Which would you prefer?

The mystics tell us that every particle of creation is vibrating with divine joy and love, not with obligation, burden, and IOU.

What should I be doing, if not enjoying life? What could be more pressing than love, joy, and appreciation?

I have this old pattern of resistance, this thought that someone has demands of me and they aren’t going to be happy with me unless I fulfil them, and even then they won’t be truly satisfied, just temporarily appeased.

But if I’m honest (and there is no such person) I can see that I found some direction, some certainty, and some consolation in letting others tell me what to do.

I came to rely on others for my direction and purpose. That way I didn’t have to work out my own preferences and desires. I could hide behind other people: parents, siblings, friends, and follow their lead.

I could be a non-person who just fitted in with others and received praise for adapting and not resisting.

I didn’t really know how to do my own thing, and I didn’t understand how others were so sure of their preferences. It made sense to give way and it felt good just to follow.

But that’s a shitty way to live your life, and as people grow and variegate and specialise you realise you can’t follow them all.

However daunting it might be to work out what you want, it only takes intention, focus and practice.

And the fear of being criticised, of owning things that might make you stand out and attract unhelpful advice…well isn’t it better to focus instead on the pleasure and enjoyment of following your genuine desires?

Not knowing what you want is not a virtue or a skill. Being insensitive to your own preferences is not the same as being adaptable. Others won’t thank you for fitting in with their plans, they’ll just assume you’re where you want to be anyway.

So why not be there? Work out where you want to be and stop hiding behind other people’s plans and momentum as if they define the limits of your world.

Kabir: The Thirsty Fish

It makes me laugh to think
That a fish in the water
Thirsts for a drink.

From forest to forest he sadly roams
In search of a jewel
Lying at home.

It makes me laugh to think
A musk-deer is seeking
The very fragrance
Which emanates from him.

Without knowledge of the Self
What use O pilgrim,
At Mathura or Kasi
To go looking for him?

It makes me laugh to think
That a fish in the water
Can thirst for a drink.

Kabir

This poem is about finding the Self or indwelling presence of God. But for me today it holds the special resonance of learning to find joy at home, joy in the things of everyday life, transforming “burdens” into treasures.

Feel good all day 10

If you can’t feel good right now, feel less bad. Relief is the key. Find the feeling of relief and enjoy it, trusting that relief will take you in the direction of better and better feelings.

Sometimes the way forward feels like going backwards. But in time it’s easy to see how much good came from releasing resistance. And releasing resistance feels like relief.

Whatever shook you out of your natural joy and inspiration as a child must have seemed pretty scary back then. And if you’ve kept those scary thoughts alive for years, then cut yourself some slack.

Expecting yourself to be beyond this kind of resistance and contrast is itself a form of resistance. Go easy on yourself, because ease is your aim after all; start by feeling ease right now.

Feeling joy where there was resistance before, no doubt it will be a bit uncomfortable and raw. But it will be okay. Soothe everything. Reach for relief, comfort, and ease.

Notice how these episodes of contrast resolve quicker and quicker, easier and easier each time. Your practice is paying off. Even in the midst of contrast you now know it is good.

Whatever convinced you to abandon your naive happiness as a child must have seemed very compelling. But now it is only your thoughts that keep the compulsion alive.

It doesn’t help to compel yourself in the opposite direction. The true opposite of compulsion isn’t more compulsion but ease, relief, and letting go.

So find ease. You don’t need answers; ease is the answer. Feel relief. The only reason you want solutions is for the relief they promise. So just skip the solution and practice relief right now.

Find a relieved way to live your life. Find an easy approach to the things that trouble you. The spirit that makes all things new is already within us. It’s just up to us to embrace the ease and relief it brings.

Can everyday life be joyful?

I was taught as a child that I could only relax when all my work was done for the day.

I was taught by example that everyday life is full of unwanted chores that you put off as long as possible until you can no longer ignore them.

I learned that it was impossible to feel good so long as these chores awaited you; and yet they were endless.

On my own I concluded that there was no joy in this kind of life. But at the same time I accepted this “daily grind” as reality, something that had to be escaped or overcome.

This is my resistance to everyday joy

In order to find joy in everyday life I must let go of these beliefs. Yet when I do, I face the underlying thought that these chores must get done, and by refusing to shoulder the burden I am being lazy, selfish, and inflicting harm on others.

If joy comes, I can’t accept it unless all my “work” is done. And my work will never be done – it restarts each day and some of it carries over.

So joy is simply not compatible with everyday life, unless my circumstances change somehow.

First change your thoughts

I’ve been working for two years at learning to feel better, so I know already that changing my thoughts is more powerful than trying to change my circumstances.

So what thoughts can I change to feel better and let go of my resistance?

I’ve already shown myself twice before that supposed burdens can be transformed if I look instead for what I want, what I appreciate.

For example, instead of thinking that the dishes have to get done and no one else is going to do them, I started to think about how much I love a clean and tidy kitchen. If I then choose to clean, it’s for the sake of something I love and appreciate, rather than a burden I must bear or else be labelled lazy, selfish and somehow morally deficient.

Another recent example was getting my 1yo daughter to sleep. For a year I could only think of it as something necessary, regardless of how difficult or burdensome it might be. I was the only one who could rock her to sleep, so it was up to me to shoulder that burden or else be totally irresponsible, selfish, and a bad parent.

What changed was that I found a thought that felt good: I’d love for her to learn to soothe herself to sleep. I was able to set aside my resistance for the sake of this positive goal, and help her learn to soothe herself.

Extrapolating to everyday life

The stuff of everyday life can be transformed if I allow myself to find positive thoughts instead of old patterns that feel burdensome and self-accusatory.

Starting at the beginning of the day, my morning routine can be because I love getting up early, feeling clean and refreshed, and enjoying my coffee, rather than the burden of being up early enough to get everything done.

I can enjoy my kids’ company early in the morning, and get my son ready for school because I want him to feel secure and safe and cared for, and to learn by example how to care for himself.

I can enjoy the walk to school because it’s lovely to be outside for some exercise with my kids, stretch our legs and get some fresh morning air.

I can enjoy taking my son to school because I want him to enjoy learning and interacting with others and working out his own preferences in life.

I can come home and enjoy relaxing in my home with my wife and daughter. I can write blog posts that inspire me and work on articles that feel good. I can do research into things that interest me and work out my own preferences and where I’d like to go next.

I can tidy the house – if I want to – because I love having a clean and tidy home. It’s not a burden that must be shouldered, it’s not something for which I am judged and criticised. I love the feeling of a clean and tidy home, but it’s okay for it to not be clean and tidy. And it’s okay to let my wife tidy if she wants to.

I can plan dinner because I love our evening meal together. I love cooking for my wife and kids. I love their enjoyment of my food. But it’s also okay to let my wife cook if she feels like it. And its okay to get take-out occasionally too.

I can pick up my son after school because I love being there for him, to hear about his day and how he feels, to say hello to some friends and bring him back home. But I can also let my wife do it sometimes if she wants to.

And the evening together can be a time when we enjoy watching things together, playing games together, reading stories together. It can be a time for fun and enjoyment rather than the last hours of burden and work.

Finally, we can put the kids to bed and get some sleep ourselves, not because we are worried about tomorrow’s burdens, but because sleep is so good for body, mind, and spirit. Sleep is true rest and it’s something we can love and enjoy for itself.

Letting go of old resistance

I can retell the story of my day and like a miracle transform endless burdens into continual joy.

I can gently remind myself as often as necessary that these daily activities are only as burdensome or routine as I make them out to be in my thoughts.

I live and work and think and play and sleep at home. I’m home so much, it’s time to let home be the place of joy and love and happiness I’ve always wanted it to be.

I want my everyday life to be joyful, and I think I know now how it can be.

Feel good all day 9

Feeling good is a skill, and like any skill you need to practice it until it becomes permanent.

And like any skill there’s a progression to it. You can look forward at people who surpass your current level and feel inspired. You can look back at how far you’ve come and feel appreciation.

The beauty of it is that we always expand and grow and develop, and if you appreciate that fact, then you can reach the ideal point of “satisfied with what is, and eager for more”.

This morning I felt dissatisfied with where I am. I felt like it was “not enough”. Dissatisfaction prompted me to focus more on what I do want, but thank goodness I’ve learned and practiced enough to know that the answer is not some grand effort or intense push for “more”. The answer is simply to focus again on satisfaction, appreciation, and eagerness for what is coming.

If you can find satisfaction now you can find it anywhere. If you can feel appreciation now you can feel it any time. And that is the basis for eager anticipation of what joys our future holds.

Feel good all day 8

Contrast never goes away.

There will always be unwanted aspects in our experience, but that’s how we expand and grow.

We can’t rid ourselves of contrast, but we can change how we relate to it.

With practice we can even welcome it, knowing that contrast is the first sign of new creation and evolution.

We never stop honing our craft. Never stop refining our desires. Never stop growing in our capacity for joy and appreciation.

That’s why the saints came to love suffering. Not as masochists or some weird emotional inversion but because the unwanted is the launching point for new desire, the movement of the spirit and the coming into being of a new creation. At every unwanted moment they look with anticipation for God’s response.

If you practice feeling better and soothing painful thoughts you’ll naturally apply these skills to contrast that arises in your life. And if you find the contrast too difficult or too tumultuous, focus on feeling ease and relief instead.

You don’t need to create drama or exacerbate contrast. Life can be easy, if you allow it to be.

I don’t feel depressed anymore

Last night it suddenly hit me that I don’t feel depressed anymore.

I’ve been so focussed on feeling good I didn’t even notice. But there it is: I don’t feel depressed!

Twenty something years of focusing on things that felt bad, enough to make my emotional “average” a negative one.

Two-ish years of learning to feel less bad, then better, ramping up into my thirty day Happiness Challenge and now my easy-going “feel good all day” theme.

So yeah…there it is. Who would have thought that the secret to no longer feeling depressed was to focus on feeling good instead?

It’s obvious in hindsight, and it also seems incredibly easy and straightforward now too. I know it didn’t always look that way, and that’s also testament to this amazing change.

For anyone else suffering from depression, well, I was deeply cynical about this “positive thinking” stuff too. But I can appreciate now that I have steadily and consistently trained myself to focus on thoughts that feel better and better, with the promise that it’s my thoughts alone which create my reality.

A cynical view is that my depressed perspective was “reality” and I’m now simply deluding myself.

But I can’t pick out a single thought that would constitute “delusion” now, nor is there a single thought responsible for my better mood.

I just feel better without even trying, but I know that this is due to all my work retraining my thoughts to uplift me rather than bringing me down.

The power of inspiration

I’ve been learning martial arts for 23 years, and in the beginning I was inspired by the thought of mastering these arts.

But as a beginner I tempered my inspiration, mindful of the gap between reality and expectations.

Inspiration kept me going but “realism” held me in check. As years passed I ceased to be a beginner, but I felt further than ever from the mastery that inspired me.

Disappointment crept in, and I grew embarrassed and then ashamed at my lack of skill.

Why was I not progressing? Why did I feel like a perpetual beginner? How could I have so little to show for my years of effort?

Realism and self-sabotage

When we pit inspiration and realism against each other we unwittingly bind and sabotage ourselves.

The more inspired I was, the more harshly I criticised myself for falling short of my ideals. I didn’t know how to draw on inspiration without then beating myself up.

I thought inspiration was about realistic hopes and goals and measurable progress, and in a sense that is true; but inspiration is also the fuel and the transformative power and the inner knowing that makes the goal achievable.

Inspiration is not motivation

I’m now learning the difference between inspiration and motivation. Motivation is what moves you into action. My goal of mastering Kungfu motivated me to practice.

But inspiration is much more than just movement into action. Inspiration informs and guides action with greater insight and wisdom than we could deduce on our own.

Motivation can set you on a path but inspiration creates a path all of its own.

Rediscover inspiration

Inspiration itself is ultimately about feeling good.

When I’m inspired I feel excited and satisfied, enthused and revitalised. My body feels more energetic and alive. My mind is clearer and more alert.

And when we feel this good it means we are in tune with our desires, our own inner being, and our “God’s-eye-view” of life.

So find your inspiration, revel in it, and feel it renew and guide you on your journey.

Feel good all day 7

A Japanese stone guardian lion.

Last night I went to see Avengers: Endgame. I went by myself because one of us needs to look after the baby.

Usually it’s me, because I don’t go out much.

In fact last night was the first time I’ve seen a movie by myself, and the first time I’ve instigated going somewhere for pure enjoyment.

It was wonderful! We have an old Art Deco cinema run by volunteers, and it’s incredibly comfortable and inviting.

It might sound like a small thing but that’s exactly why I’ve never done it. A simple pleasure of going to the movies was easy to deprecate and deny myself in the name of some mistaken seriousness or austerity.

I thought self-denial was virtuous and I cut out all kinds of things. I quashed my own desire to experience life and explore it.

So the real satisfaction and delight last night was not the movie itself but acting on this deeper desire to go out and do something, even inconvenience others, for the sake of my own enjoyment.

Another small milestone to celebrate on the path of feeling good all day!

Being whole in power: feeling good in Chinese philosophy

Feeling good consistently reminds me of the image of water depicted in the Yi Jing:

Water sets the example for the right conduct…It flows on and on, and merely fills up all the places through which it flows; it does not shrink from any dangerous spot nor from any plunge, and nothing can make it lose its own essential nature. It remains true to itself under all conditions.

Thus likewise, if one is sincere when confronted with difficulties, the heart can penetrate the meaning of the situation. And once we have gained inner mastery of a problem, it will come about naturally that the action we take will succeed.

Water reaches its goal by flowing continually. It fills up every depression before it flows on. The superior man follows its example; he is concerned that goodness should be an established attribute of character rather than an accidental and isolated occurrence.

We tend to think of “goodness” in a modern moralistic sense, but the Chinese idea of virtue – like the premodern Western idea – is much more holistic than that.

To be a good person is to be more fully human. Virtue in Chinese thought is equated with the “power” that flows to all things from the Dao.

Daoist and Confucian depictions of virtue therefore tend to the more mysterious and metaphysical than the legalistic or judicial contexts found in the Abrahamic religions.

Here’s an example from the Zhuangzi, where Confucius is depicted describing mysterious power:

What do you mean when you say his powers are whole?” asked Duke Ai.

Confucius said, “Life, death, preservation, loss, failure, success, poverty, riches, worthiness, unworthiness, slander, fame, hunger, thirst, cold, heat – these are the alternations of the world, the workings of fate. Day and night they change place before us and wisdom cannot spy out their source. Therefore, they should not be enough to destroy your harmony; they should not be allowed to enter the Spirit Storehouse.

If you can harmonize and delight in them, master them and never be at a loss for joy, if you can do this day and night without break and make it be spring with everything, mingling with all and creating the moment within your own mind – this is what I call being whole in power.”

I used to interpret this text as a statement of detachment and dispassion. But now I see in it the clear references to happiness, joy, harmony and delight.

This is not a cold and empty sage who feels nothing. It is a person who dwells in joy and happiness independent of external circumstances and thus masters them all.

Creating the moment within your own mind means actively choosing to focus on what feels good rather than letting circumstances dictate how you feel.

It is our worry and concern about external circumstances that disturb our spirit, harm our virtue, and interfere in the harmony and guidance of the Dao.