Lucky

There are times in your life when you feel as though you’re supremely lucky.

They don’t happen all that often, but when they do, it’s like all of the sweetest nectar of the juiciest fruit of the most bountiful tree of goodness has been bestowed upon you. (The tree is laden with metaphor.)

Were you stood underneath this tree, the weight of its laden fruit would land on you softly, like a tonne of feathers, caressing you with  unfathomable peace and plenty.

It is times like these that it feels truly wonderful to be alive. In fact, I believe that this is the state that we are all meant to inhabit. This is the place that we are all meant to be.

Our conditioning, however; our thoughts, our angst, our worry and our forward planning; inhibit us from being exactly where we are supposed to be for the length of our short, wonderful times on this world.

The Dalai Lama, the reincarnation of Buddha himself, is apparently the only enlightened living being on this earth. The rest of us can – if we choose – spend our days trying to attain enlightenment. Most of us have but heard of enlightenment. It is, at best, an ephemeral state of being that we can strive for all our lives to reach.

At worst, it’s a word. A concept, something the hippies talk about and the bible bashers assault us with. They claim we don’t wash enough, smoke enough weed, do enough good, follow the path as we should, pray enough or live cleanly enough to experience the joy the Lord intends for us. But what do they know anyway?

But when we do experience those moments of pure, unadulterated, unsought for and sublime joy; when we feel so at peace with just being; when we think, “Hell, why isn’t it always this easy?” We  often can’t enjoy it as we should, because we’re too busy worrying about what’s next,  analysing how we got there in the first place, thinking about how to get back there in future, about work tomorrow and that email we must write.

So the next time it just feels really good, when it seems as though the planets have aligned to deliver a moment of blessed serenity, of incredible beauty and amazing love out of nowhere, just stop.

Stop and take stock.

Stop and give thanks to whichever higher power you may believe in. Or give thanks to nothing.

Just BE WITH IT.

Because THAT is how it is supposed to be.

All the time.

Every time.

For life.

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Dignity and Grace

I’ve started doing Tai Chi lately, and there is nothing more graceful than a master completely absorbed in Tai Chi. Just witnessing them practice has a calming effect on you. Watching the flowing movements and effortless poise with which an advanced practitioner moves through the sequences is quite an experience.

When you are practicing yourself and you start to really feel the flow a profound sense of peace and liberation comes over you. It is also a very powerful feeling, which is quite a juxtaposition when you think of it, to feel both peaceful and powerful at the same time. This is probably why martial arts have been so popular throughout the ages, for they teach both a physical method of self defence and a mental approach to achieving peace of mind and general wellbeing.

Some time ago, while going through a particularly difficult time in life, my coach advised me to ‘cultivate dignity and grace.’ I wasn’t sleeping well as a result of an accident I had had, and was awake for about 19 hours a day. I was training the house down, trying to get sponsorship to compete in The Death Race in Vermont, USA, starting a new career and helping out at home with a newborn child and toddler in the house.

My coaches advice was – and I still have the piece of paper with this written on it – ‘to resist the impulse to act, to speak and to run. And to cultivate dignity and grace.’
I love that phrase, ‘cultivate dignity and grace.’ It is something we could all aspire to do. If we did the world would be a better place.

The imagery itself is nice. That your life is a rich field, upon which you can sow and cultivate important values such as dignity and grace. That each day is full of loamy soil, rich with the nutrients and minerals required to grow those things which are important, even essential, to living a good life.

When I observe the old people practicing Tai Chi with me, I see a lot of dignity and grace. They laugh easily, are comfortable in each others’ company, and take an innocent joy in the weekly classes. Most of them speak no English, so I can’t communicate with them much, but they seem to me to be people who lead good lives.

The classes are free. They are held in a community centre, no one seems to be overtly wealthy, outgoing, ‘successful’ – by conventional means – or particularly blessed, though I think this adds to the sense of peace and togetherness we feel.
I know them so little that they could well be all of those things, but even if they are, it isn’t on display, nor is it important. To themselves or to anyone else.

We are who we are, a group of people gathering to practice Tai Chi.

Even though I am this big, tall, young westerner among a group of short, old Chinese people, I am welcomed warmly and made to feel at home.

There is an 82 year old woman who moves better than I do, and she is more than double my age. I watched her practice with fans along with the other women recently. It is quite a fast, almost aggressive form of Tai Chi. Impressed is an understatement of how I felt. I certainly wouldn’t mess with her, or any of the other ladies.

There is one gentleman who is so relaxed while he practices that you can see his hands shaking with the Chi that is flowing between them. I feel as though I can almost see a pulsing ball of luminescent energy between his hands.

I’ve had a few shaky conversations with them around class times, and when I complimented this man on how I feel I can almost see the Chi between his hands, he just laughed politely.

Whenever I have thanked the master for her lessons, she is always very obliging and pleased I am enjoying them. Recently she said I was either ‘very calm’ or ‘welcome’ but she definitely said I was ‘very good’, which is encouraging for a new comer.

I find myself really looking forward to the classes, and even desirous of more than one class a week. Perhaps it is due to the fact that, while practicing, I am physically and actually cultivating the dignity and grace I’ve been wanting to for some years now.

Whatever the case, I definitely want more of it. I want to be more like those in my class. To spend more time with them. To get to know them better. To learn from them. To absorb some of their own share of dignity and grace.

Wouldn’t you?

Happiness and Its Causes

I went to the ‘Happiness and Its Causes’ conference recently in Sydney, and I had my two little boys with me while I was picking up my delegate pass. The woman at the counter made a comment about taking them along, and I replied with something smart like, “That’s Happiness and Its Causes right there.”

I was being glib at the time, but in hindsight my comment held more truth than I originally realised.

Happiness is quite an ephemeral concept and it means different things to different people. Some of the causes discussed were that happiness can be achieved when you are experiencing a state of ‘flow,’ that those who are benevolent and engage in loving kindness are usually happier than whose who are not, and that we can achieve happiness by being mindful and living fully in the present moment.

When I spend time with my boys and I am not under any time pressure to be somewhere or do something, I both witness flow in action and can experience it myself. Children have an amazing ability to be completely engrossed in the world around them, to be fascinated by what may seem trivial, inconsequential parts of everyday life, and to revel in them.

If you have young children you will have experienced their (sometimes frustrating) tendency to dawdle, to become fascinated with some wet grass, or a tree, or a butterfly. Undisturbed they have the ability to stand there for five minutes or more, completely fascinated with a fascinating new discovery. Research has shown that large areas of a child’s brain light up when engaged in this kind of activity. Sadly as parents we often hurry them along.

Recently I went cycling with my youngest son to a cafe, and while I was drinking my coffee I watched him push a stool around on the floor with such innocent joy it almost made me cry. Then I took him and his big brother to the library, and spent most of the day with them at parks and at home, taking our time to get places, watching the world go by and just enjoying each others company. Sometimes at night they like to simply run back and forth in the living room with each other laughing hysterically at what fun it is.

On days like these time passes very quickly, and yet the days seem to last forever. One of the ways you know you are experiencing flow is that you don’t notice time pass, as you are completely absorbed in what you are doing.

Mihaily Csikszentmihalyi, a world expert and thought leader on flow, believes that spending time with your family is one of the most readily available and yet underutilised times we can experience flow. We’re so caught up in our schedules, in our ‘busy lives’ that we rush through these times, incognisant of what we are missing.

These days people wear their ‘busy lives’ as a badge of honour. We tell each other we’ve been SO busy, like it is something to be proud of. In my opinion, busyness is an affliction, something to be avoided. Sure, being CEO of a major corporate has a lot of upsides from a material perspective, and there are a lucky few who love their work so much they experience flow every day, however these people are in the minority. Plus being busy at work costs in other areas of your life.

Young children are effortlessly and more often in a state of flow than older people. Their young minds are so amazed at all the new things they are learning, seeing and doing, that they can’t help but be engrossed by the world around them. I’m always thinking, and saying, “If only I were so easily entertained.’ Over time I am training my mind to be more entertained by the simple things in life, and this by practicing mindfulness.

It is easy to be mindful when I am with the boys. It is easy to be really present, to live in the right now, and not only because they require tyour attention almost all of the time to ensure they are safe.

Watching them play is a joy in and of itself. I am amazed by the way they interact with the world and how they take such joy in the little things. In this way they are teaching me a lot. I am learning to pay attention to the little details, the small wonders that surround us. To pay attention to nature and to animals and to sounds, even in a big city like Sydney.

There is beauty and joy all around us, all you need do is look closely and you will see it. I hope you can take the time to do so today.

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Disclosure

Language is a wonderful thing. It is the great equaliser. Any person – regardless of wealth, race, creed, religion or social status – can rise up if they can master their communication, and a sound knowledge of language goes a long way towards achieving this. The truly great communicators are wonderful actors as well. Their body language, their ability to emote, to bring people in and take them on a journey with their language is a joy to behold.

When we talk about linguistics, we automatically think of the spoken word, however, linguistics include any form that can be used to attribute meaning to the world, including drawings, the written word, hieroglyphics, symbols and so on. So to be a true master of linguistics you need to have far more than an exhaustive vocabulary and sound comprehension.

One of the interesting things about communication, and a point which is taught and referred to a lot in journalism, is that the information which one chooses to omit from their communication is just as important as that which they choose to include. That got me thinking about disclosure.

What is too much, what is too little, how much should you disclose and to whom? These are very objective questions and they rely on a huge number of factors such as the audience you are communicating with, what your objectives are in communicating with them, which feelings you are trying to emote and so on. Thus the truly masterful communicators not only have a solid grasp on linguistics and are fantastic actors, they also have the critical self awareness and ability to read a crowd, which informs their decisions on how much disclosure is appropriate.

I’m naturally quite an open person, and as a coach I feel that being honest and authentic in my communication, giving of yourself and opening up to those I work with pays worthwhile dividends. In admitting your vulnerability you allow others to become vulnerable. By confessing your challenges and acknowledging your weaknesses, you are ‘letting in’ those you are communicating with, in a sense. You’re building a connection which makes them feel comfortable letting you in, in return.

I have been guilty of disclosing too much from time to time, and unless it is done on purpose to elicit shock or amazement, then it can get ugly. It can make you feel a little silly, a tad dirty, a bit judged. Though if we are feeling judged, we are really just projecting our insecurities onto those we are communicating with. Which makes me realise that the genuinely confident individuals, those that are at peace with who they are and feel content in their own skin, are usually those that are most comfortable disclosing intimate details about themselves.

Perhaps this means that intensely private people are inherently insecure? On second thought, probably not. I know people who are quite private, yet so comfortable with their own company that they don’t feel the need to share everything with everyone they come across. They will calmly disclose facts about themselves that may be shocking to you, mainly for the reason that you never thought such things possible of this person, let alone would it be possible they might tell you about it.

I’m not really getting anywhere here, in fact I feel I am no further advanced in my understanding of disclosure than I was when I started writing this post. Can you help me out? What do you think is appropriate. More or less? Do you have any interesting anecdotes relating to disclosure in your past?

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