Do You Suffer?

I came across this recently on the Post Secret website.


Image copyright Frank Warren @ Post Secret

Now it may seem bleak, but atually what this person has stumbled across is the cornerstone of Buddhist philosophy.

“”I teach suffering, its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach”
~ Buddha

Buddha laid out the Four Noble Truths for us, so that we could understand what he meant.

1. We suffer.
2. We suffer because we desire.
3. We desire because we have attachment. We can rid ourselves of attachment.
4. This is how we rid ourselves of attachment.

That’s a very basic stating of what the Buddha meant, but you get the idea. (click this link for a more detailed explanation).

I strongly believe that the majority of pain and suffering we experience in life comes from the ideas in our head. We think that the buses should run on time, that our bosses should treat us fairly, that our partners must act in a certain way, and we become frustrated when things don’t happen the way we think they should.

If we could just learn to accept what is, to enjoy the unexpected highs, and react less to the sudden lows, our lives would be a great deal easier; and happier.

Om.

Work Is A Four Letter Word

I made a mistake in work last week that nearly cost me my job.

It wasn’t a big mistake. In the great scheme of things it was within the realms of understandability. But, it was the latest in a long list of mistakes that have happened recently, and the client was not happy, not happy at all.

There was a very real chance that they would be out for blood. And me, being a freelancer, am easy to get rid of. If the client wanted a sacrificial goat I’d be it, and really who could blame them? Get rid of one to help the many.

It was enough of a reality to keep me awake at night. I found myself lying in bed at 4am worrying about what was going to happen. I started Googling things like “I might get fired” and “What to do if I get fired tomorrow”, but they were no help. They just brought up long lists of ways to know if you’re on your way out. But I already knew that. I needed more practical advice.

Then I tried “Getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to me”, and that led me (eventually) to this video:

Here I was, lying awake, stressing about “…doing things [I] don’t like doing in order to be able to go on doing things [I] don’t like doing!”

The ridiculousness of the situation struck me. I realised something had to change. Maybe me losing my job would be a good thing? After all, as a friend of mine said, “…sometimes we all need a little push.”

As it turns out I didn’t lose my job in the end. Not over that incident anyway. But! a couple of days ago I got an e-mail telling me that the company was restructuring, taking on new permanent members of staff, which meant that come April there’d be a lot less freelance work available (ie: none).

So after all the angst and worry, the late night philosophy and the return to business as usual, I lost my job anyway. How’s that for a turn of events? Do you ever get the feeling the Universe is trying to tell you something?

Now, I was already thinking about what I really wanted to do? I’d been looking at properties in the Lake District (more late night musings) and thinking about finishing my novel, when I came home one day to catch the end of this documentary* about one of my favourite authors, Terry Pratchett. (*only available on iPlayer until 13/3/17)

Most of his story I’d heard before, but there was one line in there that really struck me:

“The thing is, I’d have written [the books] anyway, whether they’d paid me to or not.”

Terry Partchett wrote for the joy of writing. He wrote because he loved doing it, just as Alan Watts suggests in the video. Success was a by-product to him. He was doing what he loved.

I realised I wanted that. I wanted to be doing what I love, whatever it was.

That was a wake up call for me. I realised it was time for me to do what I really love.

The next day I finished third draft re-writes on my novel. I did the last half, 120 pages or so, in a day. Now I just need to type them up, get it proof-read, and then I can send it off to people, try and get it published.

The road ahead is/was clear.

I wasn’t prepared for the job offer that came my way.

It was TV work again, full time, 8 hour days, 20 days a month, €40 an hour (effectively €75,000 a year, or £65,000 at the current exchange rate). But it would just be until September. And it would mean relocating to Amsterdam. The minuses outweighed the pluses, but still it was a tempting offer.

Having learnt from my previous mistake I got some more information, then took some time to think about it, but in the end I turned them down.

If I’d gone to Amsterdam it would have just been for the money, and that’s not enough for me anymore. I want more out of the things I do. I want the things I do to be interesting, and fun, and exciting, and worthwhile. I want to do what I love and love what I do, and sod the money side of things.

Because if you do what you love not only are you already a winner, but eventually you’ll get good at it (because doing things is how you get good at them). And then one day someone will give you money for doing what you’re doing because that’s how the world works. People like what you do and they give you money for it, either so they they can do it with you, or they want you to do it for them, or to them, or they just appreciate that someone is out there in the world doing this thing so that other people can do something else. And even if they don’t give you money for it it doesn’t matter because you love what you do! You’re already way ahead of everybody else, pretty much.

You just have to figure out what it is you want to do? I need to figure out what it is I want to do? And I need to figure out now, because this is the first day of the rest of my life, and there’s not a moment to waste!

Let’s Talk About “Stupid”

I have friends who won’t use the word ‘stupid’. They see it as too negative, and so unhelpful in their spiritual growth.

They get upset if you describe something as stupid, they get very upset if you jokingly say something they have done is stupid, even if it is (some people don’t see a distinction between having a laugh with someone and making fun of them, which is exhausting); and, bizarrely, they even have a go at you if you describe yourself or something you have done as stupid (because it’s not ok for you to judge yourself negatively but it is ok for them to patronise you for some reason).

Personally I think all words were invented for a reason, and they all have their place. Yes, finding a positive way to look at things is a good thing to do, but sometimes no matter how hard we try we end up doing something stupid, and there’s no getting away from that.

my view of the satsang

A couple of weeks ago I was offered the chance to go to India for a month to help out on a Teacher’s Training Course. I said no.

I’ll pause for a moment to let that sink in…

I’m guessing most of you reading this would have jumped at the chance for what I believe would have been an expenses paid yoga ‘holiday’ in India. I know I’m starting to think I might have made a boo-boo.

So why did I say no?

For one thing, that was my knee-jerk reaction. Being asked to help out with the TTC was interesting. But then it turned out they wanted me to go to India, to do the technical side of things – sound mixing, lighting, etc. – and it was in a month’s time. Each new bit of information made it sound like a less and less attractive prospect. But why?

Taking each point as mentioned:

There’s an assumption that is you do yoga you have been to, or want to go to, India. I personally have very little interest in doing that. It’s just not on my radar. I have a big list of places I do want to go, and India isn’t one of them. If I’m going to spend my money it’ll be going places I want to go.

Though I do a technical job, I hate it. I just do. I mean, I know a lot of technical stuff, and I’m actually pretty good at it, but when it comes to what I like doing I err on the side of the creative. I like thinking, and making, and doing. Plugging in wires and adjusting sound levels is just boring.

I can do stuff at short notice, but going away for a month in a month’s time is a daunting prospect. I mean I have a flat, and work, and all kinds of stuff I want to be doing over here. To just up and leave so quickly is a bit mind-blowing.

And that’s another thing – money! Even if the flights, food and accommodation was taken care of, it still would have cost me £1000-1200. What with rent, bills, etc., plus the fact I wouldn’t be earning any money while I was away, I’d certainly be out of pocket by the end of it all.

But would it have been worth it?

As is natural, I started to second guess myself. Had I been too hasty? Perhaps I could have gone after all. I mean, it would have been an interesting experience. Most would give their right arm for such a chance. And I could certainly do with the holiday/sadhana time.

It’s hard to turn down what, on paper, is a good opportunity.

I started leaning towards the idea of going. I started persuading myself.

A few days later I contacted the swami to get some more details, but it turned out I was too late. They’d already found someone else. I wasn’t sure how I felt?

So I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Was I stupid to turn down such an opportunity? Should I have said yes straight away? Should I at least have thought about it for a while before saying no? The fact of the matter is, I don’t think so.

Sure, maybe I should have gotten some more info and then sat with it for a while, see how it felt, but my initial reaction was to say no, and if I wasn’t excited from the offset about going, if I had to persuade myself into saying yes, then I’m not the one for the job. It’s something for someone else to enjoy.

So, was I stupid in saying no? I was not. I didn’t really want to go, and besides, there’s a lot here I want to be doing instead. Stupid would be to not learn from the experience. To spend the next month doing nothing, instead of writing, or teaching, or getting on with one of the many other things I keep saying I want to do. To sit on my fat behind eating pizza and playing video games. Now that really would be stupid!

Yoga In The Media

There are as many reasons to come to yoga as there are ways to shuffle a pack of cards (that’s 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636, 856,403,766,975,289,505,440, 883,277,824,000,000,000,000 in case you were wondering), but I often wonder just how many people are missing out because of the way yoga is portrayed in the media?

Unless you’re really into yoga, and are doing some specific research, chances are when you come across yoga photos online it’s going to be some celebrity on a sun soaked beach performing asanas as the sun goes down, all bronzed and gorgeous and serene as hell.

yoga google screen grab

Or if not, then it’s an article on some new weird type of yoga that, let’s be honest, was probably written for people to have a good chuckle at the hippy weirdos.

You rarely get articles on the normal, average, day-to-day yoga that most of us do, the yoga that happens in a church hall in Croyden on a wet Wednesday afternoon. But in a world of click-bait headlines, with so many things vying for our attention, is that really a surprise?

Yoga
image © distelfliege, via Flickr

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve suggested yoga to people only for them to tell me “But I can’t even touch my toes!” With so many pictures out there of experienced practitioners doing advanced asanas really well people just think “Well I’ll never be able to do that, so why even bother trying?” With all the emphasis on the physical benefits of yoga that happen further down the line, people miss out on the positive mental benefits they can experience right away.

Which is why, when I come across a good yoga story that isn’t all about bendy celebrities, I like to highlight it.


image © Lee Ann Olwage, via sevaunite.org

I recently came across this story on the BBC News website, which I found quite inspiring. (NB: If you’re outside of the UK then chances are you won’t be able to view the content. If so then here’s another article on the project that I found on the Guardian website instead.)

In summary, the Prison Freedom Project is about bringing yoga to prisoners in South Africa, allowing them to learn and enjoy the benefits of yoga, and enjoy a feeling of liberation despite their incarceration. It is a voluntary, contribution driven organisation, that has already made a difference to many inmates, and will no doubt help countless more find health and happiness in their lives. To me it embodies the true spirit of yoga, and I like what they’re doing so much I decided to make a donation.

***

I’m not saying we need more ‘positive’ yoga stories out there. There’s plenty of those already. What we need is more ‘average’ yoga stories out there. More stories of normal people incorporating yoga into their everyday lives. I might even go so far as to say we need to stop elevating yoga to unattainable heights, and bring it back down to earth (which, ironically, is where most yoga happens, lol).

It’s understandable people want to show off when they do something well. No one wants to share pictures of themselves being average, or, even worse, doing something badly. But, in the interests of science, and to get the ball rolling, here’s a few pictures of me doing some asanas to the best of my abilities at the moment (with examples of how they look when you get good).

my forward bend

my plough

my pigeon

There are many aspects to yoga, and many benefits to be had, some of which you have to work at, and some of which you experience from day one. Anyone can do yoga (wherever you are in life, mentally or physically, that is where you begin; that is your starting point), and everyone has something to gain, one way or another.

Each practitioner is different, each experience is different, and each benefit is different; but all of it is positive, and worthwhile, and beneficial; and if it’s not, it’s not yoga.

What You Consume Matters

Let’s get down to basics. Your body is a machine, and what you put into it matters.

We all know that eating heavily processed foods full of sugar, fat, and preservatives we don’t need is bad for us, yet we still do it; why?

Some people don’t have time to cook. Some people don’t have the means, or opportunity (my work only has a microwave). Some people just don’t know how.

And for some people it’s habit, you eat what you’ve always eaten without thinking. And in that category we can include ‘tradition’ too.

consume 1

As we emerge from the Christmas period into the new year I look down at my new belly and I know where it has come from. Nut roasts, Christmas puds, sweets, cakes, lots of sitting around watching telly, and not much going outside because “it’s too damn cold!”

Yup, in general, what happens to our body is a direct result of what we put in it and what we do to it. But what about our minds?

consume 2

I was on my way into work last week and, out of habit, I was looking at the news on my phone. I was reading about people dying, people being nasty to a blind man, the mindless hate pouring forth from a certain president-elect, when I suddenly wondered what I was doing to myself?

I realised that, just as what we put in our bodies affects how it works, so it is for what we put into our minds.

If you fill your brain with thoughts of pain, misery, and death, first thing in the morning – or, to put it another way, ‘processed negativity’ – then you’re likely to have a pretty negative day. And if you do that day in, day out, over a long period of time, imagine what the results will be.

In general, you get what you expect out of life. As human beings we seek out the things that affirm our life view, whatever that may be. If you expect people to be mean to you then those are the moments you notice. You miss the happiness, and smiles, and acts of kindness. Or if you do notice them, you think of them as aberrations, short breaks from ‘the way the world really is’.

When I did my Month Of Meditation I deliberately deleted the BBC News app from my phone; mostly because, after the US election results, I expected the news to just get more and more depressing, but also to stop me wallowing in misery as much as I did. But then over the past few weeks, as I’ve ‘taken my eye off the ball’ as it were, I’ve gone back to accessing the news on my web browser. I wasn’t going to reinstall the app, but I was still reading the news in all its glorious processed negativity.

Sitting on that train, getting wound up reading the news, I had a revelation. Just as the bad food I eat makes me less healthy, so the bad things I put in my brain make me less happy. The more negativity I consume, the more negative I become. I know it sounds fairly obvious when you put it like that, but for me it mind blowing; and a definite wake up call!

I put my phone away that day, and since then I have been avoiding the news. I know from past experience that should anything important happen my friends and associates will inform me (often whether I want them to or not).

I’ve also been cutting back on my media consumption. Computer games, movies, TV (which is difficult for me considering the work I do – TV transmission controller, monitoring TV channels as they go to air). I’m trying to keep my exposure to external (manufactured) misery to a minimum, whilst at the same time increasing the positive mind work, with uplifting reading and meditation. It’s not easy, and so far the effects have been minimal, but the more I catch myself breaking an ingrained habit and choosing something positive the easier it will become.

Just as eating healthy is hard when all you want is a deep dish pizza and some cheesy garlic bread, choosing something positive over the negatives we have learned to consume without thinking can be a bit of a challenge. But if I want good mental health now and in the future, it’s what needs to happen.

Make Changes. Make Choices.

This post was going to be about preparedness. I was going to talk about the five day yoga retreat I’ve just been on, and how not going to the osteopath before I went really hindered my ability to do all the asanas and meditation. Also I was going to mention the many ‘hikers’ in t-shirts, shorts, and trainers I saw slogging their way up to the very cold and very windy top of Snowdon afterwards. In fact the post was going to be called “I’ve got sun cream and a penguin!”, something I heard one of them say as I passed their group on my way down. I thought it kind of summed it all up really, the idea of the lack of preparation, and how we don’t do ourselves any favours sometimes.

But then I had something of a personal revelation, so I thought I’d go into that instead. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, so you’ll have to bear with me, but essentially it’s about being happy.

So a couple of weeks ago I realised that I was forty two, single, I had a beard, and I had recently become a member of the National Trust. Needless to say, this is not how the young me had expected his life to unfold, not by a long shot! Something had to be done. Something big. I immediately shaved the beard. It helped, but only a little.

I guess I realised that there was a certain underlying dissatisfaction with how things are, something that I’m sure will be familiar to everyone. I thought going on the retreat would help me gain a little perspective. It did, but not in the way I was expecting.

Being on the retreat was tough for me. Physically I was carrying an injury that made some parts difficult for me, plus I think I was a little run down as I constantly felt like I was coming down with something. But mentally as well, I sometimes found it hard to keep my emotions on a even keel. I’m sure never getting a decent nights sleep while I was there didn’t help either.

There were a lot of people there I didn’t know. People who were new to Sivananda yoga. From taking too much food to talking before satsang, they didn’t all quite enter into the spirit of things, and that was frustrating for me. Of course I know that’s my problem and not theirs, but still, it only served to unsettle an already unsettled mind.

I thought I didn’t get much out of the retreat, but all that sadhana seemed to have crept in somehow. After I left the centre I went to a YHA near Mount Snowdon from where I would do my climb (more broken sleep in a room with other people). I realised I was agitated, restless, keen to ‘move forward’. But I was also more centred, clearer in my thoughts, whatever those thoughts might be.

The simple fact of the matter is, I realised I could be anywhere doing anything, so why be somewhere you don’t want to be doing something you don’t want to do? Everything we do is a matter of choice, and whether we choose to stay or choose to go, we have to own it one hundred percent. If my life wasn’t how I wanted it to be, I had to do something to make it different. And there was no time to lose.

I hiked Snowdon, then the next morning I left the YHA. I still had another night booked, but there was no point being there. I’d just be sitting around twiddling my thumbs. It was Friday. I’d be back to work Sunday, so I only had one full day to start making things happen.

Also, I should mention the catalyst to my mood. Our tenancy agreement is up in a few months, and the landlord wants more money, for the same flat, after just one year! It made me mad. It made me want to take back control. And it really tied in with the ‘Where do you want to be? What do you want to do?’ thing.

This year in London was meant to be about getting published. Making a proper go of writing to see if I really had what it takes? Instead I got waylaid by working and teaching yoga and looking for a new girlfriend and, well, life in general. I may have finished a novel and a short story (rewrites not withstanding) but I feel like I should have done so much more!

So I’m refocusing on what I really want, and putting all the rest of it aside. I will put one full day a week aside for writing. That’s not to say I won’t write in between, but one day a week I will do nothing but! No karma yoga, no teaching, no shopping, no admin. Just me, the keyboard, and my ideas.

I’m still going to teach yoga now and then, and do the odd bit of karma yoga, but only if it’s right for me, not because I feel I ‘must’ or I ‘should’.

I’m going to put more effort into meeting someone too. I liked being in a relationship, so if I want that again I need to make it happen. I have been trying, a bit. There was someone I thought might be interested, but every time we talked about relationships she kept saying she was happy being single, so I never really went for it and told her how I feel. Always the way when you really like someone eh? Well I’m not going to do that anymore. If I want someone special in my life it’s time to do something about it!

I know this all sounds a bit dramatic, but there really is a sense of urgency to me now. I’m tired of the hum-drum, the lack of the control, the acceptance of whatever comes along. I want things to be better, and the only way to do that is to make things better. You’ve got to put the effort in. You’ve got to try. You’ve got to make choices to make changes, and you’ve got to do it now, because there is no tomorrow, and now is all we’ve got!

*phew*

Ok. Let’s take a breath. That got a little intense there towards the end there. To counter balance all that, how about some nice pictures of the view from the top of Snowdon? There were actually a few breaks in the cloud for once and I got one or two decent shots, which came as a nice surprise. Check these babies out:

the peak clears

sunlight on the lakes

summit, with train

snowdon lake

me in front of snowdon

Oh! And here’s the cream scone I had at the top, and the chocolate brownie I had when I came down; just because. 😉

a scone deserved

post snowdon tea and cake

And here’s a sheep! 😛

making friends