At Metta Legal, our clients’ wellbeing is just as important as their case. The following articles form the “Client Wellbeing Series”, with ways to bring hope, positivity, identity, perspective and hopefully a smile that comes from the heart.
“Negative thinking is tiring; positive thinking is invigorating”
When we are stuck in our whirlpool of worries, anxieties, fears and pessimism, we are feeding our mind with negativity. We may not realise it, but our negative thinking saps a lot of our mental energy. It’s also a very addictive thought pattern, where our worries snowballs into bigger worries, and our fear grows even larger if it’s not curtailed. So ironically, as we worry about the future, we take away precious mental energy that could be used to deal with whatever the future brings.
Positive thinking, on the other hand, is when we approach whatever life has brought to us, or will bring to us, with an open and optimistic attitude. Gearing our minds in this way, our attitude inspires us with hope for the future, and we are more likely to turn adversity into opportunities. So positive thinking not only saves us mental energy by stopping negativity in its tracks, it also boosts our energy and invigorates our enthusiasm.
The practice is to notice the times when we are stuck in negative thinking. Even the simply act of identifying the negativity would be enough to stop it even just for a moment. Each time you are able to pause the cycle of negativity, make a conscious choice on how you want to proceed. Do you choose to continue with the negative thought patterns of worry, anxiety and fear, or do you choose to let this negativity go and replace it with a positive outlook that embraces life instead? Make your choice, and investigate into how your choices shape your life.
Some people say that worry and anxieties are inherent to their personality and they can’t change it. I say that negative thinking is merely a habit that’s ingrained, seemingly difficult to change. Though, however difficult it may seem, it is still possible to change by injecting positivity into our lives…one thought at a time.
“Chaos is often the precondition for the change your life needed”
A fact of life is that it is not an easy ride. Things never go according to plan, never being what we wish it to be, and never leaving us with a total security because deep down we know that at any time we may lose our health, our loved ones, our money, our possessions, our reputation, our jobs, and anything else we want to call our own.
Generally, we bob along the bumpy road. At times, it’s a smooth ride as we whiz down the highway, but other times, we feel we would never start the car again. There are times when we are engulfed in chaos, when nothing seems to go right and problems seem to overwhelm us one after another. In those times, we often throw up our hands and shout to the heavens to stop the barrage because we don’t know when we won’t be able to dodge any more bullets.
Yet, like a soldier in battle surrounded by the enemy, we can choose to surrender or to battle on. In the darkest times in our life, we are often worn from having to deal with the endless stream of difficulties that come our way, and we may drown in a sense of hopelessness. Winning the battle seems like an illusion that would never happen; merely surviving is our immediate concern.
The greatest war stories are those who fought in the face of the enemy and in the face of death. These soldiers cast from their minds the fear that paralyses them, the doubt that entraps them and the lethargy that comes with hopelessness.
Most of the problems we face aren’t life and death situations, but they carry with it the feeling as if they are and we are similarly paralysed by fear, doubt, lethargy, hopelessness, anxiety and stress.
But if we understand the nature of the chaos in our life, it is simply life not going accordingly to how we want it to go. We feel that life does not fit into our demands of how it should be.
If you feel this is happening in your life right now, then this practice is catered for you.
The practice is to stop trying to change life to fit in with you, but change yourself to fit in with life. Look into the habits of your life and your mind – is there a comfort zone you are stuck in that you do not want to move out of? Is there a habit or view that you don’t want to let go of? Is there a way for you to use this chaos to take a leap into the unknown? See chaos not as the ‘enemy’ or the ‘problem’, but simply life’s call to you to take that leap out of your comfort zone (physically and mentally) and make the change in your life for the better.
“Surround yourself with people who make you want to be a better person.”
Just as flowers bloom only if they are planted in fertilised soil, we are similarly shaped by our environment. When our environment is toxic, our physical and mental health is affected. When our environment is supportive, we are more likely to thrive.
One of the main factors of the environment that envelops us are the people we associate with on a regular basis. As social beings, we are interdependent on those around us, and more often than not our relationships with others are what make our life a more beautiful one (and also more stressful depending on the types of relationships you have). On a daily basis, we come into contact with a range of people, in a range of contexts and situations. Some bring us happiness and provide us with loving support. Others bring us down and make us feel worthless.
I have no doubt that one of the main keys to success is the people we know. I don’t mean that in the sense that you get ahead by simply knowing all the people in power who make the decisions. I’m talking about having people in your life who inspire you to better yourself, and who support you in your endeavour to make yourself a better person. People whose hearts are big enough to be happy for your success, rather than whose egos are so big they want to compete with you for success. People who want to help you because they want to, not because they want something from you in return. People who see the potential in you, even when you can’t see it in yourself. These are the people who you should have on your team, and in your life.
So the practice is to cast your mind through the people who come in and out of your life on a regular basis. Are the majority of the people you know supportive or unsupportive? When you associate with those who aren’t supportive of you, what kind of person do you become? Do you become withdrawn, distrustful, bitter, pessimistic, unhappy? On the other hand, when you associate with those who are supportive, what kind of person do you become? Do you become open, lighter, happier, optimistic, motivated, stronger, braver?
Knowing this, make a conscious decision to associate more with those who make you happy being “you”, or who support you in being the “you” you want to be. If you have to associate with those who aren’t supportive, then simply accept them as they are, without seeking anything from them more than what they can provide to you. For each unsupportive person you have in your life, try to spend equivalent time with those who do support you to bring that balance to your life.
After all, each person has a seed in them to be the beautiful and incredible person they want to be. All they’re waiting for is that supportive soil to allow them to blossom in full bloom.
“Take the time to heal”
When we speak of grief, we often associate grief for the loss of a loved one. When someone dear to us pass away, we recognise the importance of taking the time to grieve for them, and those around us may support our grieving process by giving us the time and space to grieve.
This grieving process is important for us to heal the hurt we feel when a loved one passes away, but it can also be applied to other forms of loss we may experience in our lives.
Some obvious examples of this is the loss of a job and the loss of security that comes with it; the loss of a marriage through divorce; or the loss of any material possession.
There are also some other subtle forms of loss which may be the basis of our unhappiness, but of which we may not recognise as a loss or a loss that requires us to grieve for.
A personal example of this is when someone close to me fell ill. The illness overwhelmed her whole being, and she seemed to me like a completely different person to who she was. I struggled with this change in her for a long time, all the while holding onto my memory of the person who she was and trying to come to terms with the person she had now become. It was only when I recognised that the person she was was ‘gone’, did that open my heart to grieve for my loss – that I had lost the person who she was. Once I acknowledged this loss and took the time to grieve for that loss, was I then able to allow the wound from the hurt to be healed, and move onto getting to know and accept the new person she had become.
Another example is from a friend of mine who spoke about her making ‘progress’ in her life now that she is recovering from depression, but nonetheless she’s now struggling with the feeling that she had ‘wasted’ a lot of time in her depression. A wise friend of ours advised her, among other things, that she should give herself the time to grieve for the time that has passed.
Likewise, sometimes we may feel we had missed an opportunity that passed us by. Instead of guilt, we can simply acknowledge this loss and motivate ourselves to make the most of any future opportunities that come our way.
A final example are our experiences. Experiences are so fleeting, but memories can be so enduring. Sometimes the happy times that have passed become an impossible ideal for us to recreate. Acknowledge that the past is gone, and the future is anew with possibilities. Things will never be the same, but once we stop comparing, we open ourselves up to the never-ending changes in life.
Loss pervades our existence because everything around us and within us are in a constant state of flux. Things come and things go in our lives, like the wind that blows endlessly without beginning nor end.
Some loss are welcomed in our lives because they remove the unwanted and replace it with what is useful to us. However, some loss linger longer in our lives, and can cut deep wounds into our hearts. This then becomes the seeds of our sorrow, and sometimes we may not even realise the seeds are there until the conditions ripen for them to manifest themselves.
So the practice is to look within ourselves, and acknowledge any wounds that may exist in our heart and mind. If those wounds are linked with a sense of loss for what is gone or changed, then take the time to be kind to yourself and grieve for the loss as if you are grieving for a loved one. Say goodbye to what is lost, as this is your way to let it go. If a good cry helps, then shed those tears and use them to heal the wounds from your loss. In time, we recognise that change and loss are simply part and parcel with our existence, and we lessen the number of wounds that we inflict on ourselves from the loss we experience.
“What seeds are growing in the chambers of your heart?”
As we race through the busyness of our lives, much of our focus is on the external world and our place in it. We focus on the job at hand, the looming deadlines, the problem that needs to be solved. We focus on getting somewhere or something, or getting away from somewhere or something (or even someone). We focus on other people’s needs, other’s actions, other’s rights and wrongs.
For those who are more attuned to themselves, they also focus on their own needs, their own conduct, their own rights and wrongs, their relationships with others.
Yet even those who may be attuned to themselves, from time to time still miss something deep within themselves.
It is a like a chamber deep in our heart or mind, where we store things that are difficult to deal with, that get in the way of us dealing with things in our life on a day to day basis. In that chamber, we store hurtful memories, failed plans, humiliating moments, and people we try to forget. Even deeper in that chamber are the emotional seeds that accompany these things – the pain, the grief, the regret, the sadness, the depression, the worries, the fears, the anxieties, and most often, our insecurity about ourselves and our life.
The demand of modern life, with its busyness and ‘get on with it’ attitude, places enormous stress on us. To ‘rid’ this stress, we bury ourselves in the tasks that need to be done, we focus more and more externally, to the point where our emotions are secondary and our chambers store so many of our darkness that we don’t wish to open it up to take a look inside.
But the emotional seeds are still there, and would be triggered from time to time. When triggered, even by seemingly small and neutral things, all the darkness that we have stored there comes bursting out. We may be puzzled at what comes out, or even why it has come out, thinking it is a (over)reaction to what is happening.
The reality is that the seeds we have sown within us are always there, lying latent, in wait of when the right conditions come along for them to come into effect. So if we continuously plant seeds of unhappiness, disappointment, frustration, anger, we are creating whole gardens of negativity, ready to come to fruition whenever the trigger comes along.
So the exercise for this week is to do some gardening. It’s time to pull out the weeds, and work out which seeds to best plant.
In a quiet spot, where you feel comfortable and safe, take a moment to explore your inner chamber. Initially it may be hard to find, but be patient. Open yourself up to yourself…fully. Reassure yourself that there is nothing to fear for whatever may come out, and allow things to manifest themselves in their own time. Stay focused on the task; it will take some time. For some people it could take days. That’s OK. Allow the process to take its own course. Your task is simply to be open and be aware.
As things come up, try not to react to them. Just allow them to come up and watch them disappear. These are only old memories and old seeds; they have no power over you now unless you give them that power by reacting to them.
See this as a weeding process, or a detox for your heart and mind. Allow all the past negativity to surface and disappear. In time, you will come to understand how this chamber works, how things get stored in there, and what happens when you don’t give the seeds the conditions for it to grow. Similarly, you will see also how seeds of happiness can be sown in the chambers, and how with the right conditions, these seeds of happiness blossom into fruits of happiness.
“Bearing witness to your life”
The time we spend living our life is not as often as we think. In fact, life is experienced most intimately exactly in those times when we don’t think.
This may be a difficult fact to grasp. After all, thinking takes up so much of our mental activity, we have come to accept it as being a necessary part of our minds. For many people, they cannot think of what it would be like to not think. They cannot imagine what it would be like to have a mind that is quiet and free from the endless chatter and commentary that accompanies us every moment of the day.
So we develop an attachment to thinking. An ingrained habit to think. We have been conditioned to judge ourselves and others on our ability to think. We believe that it is our intelligence that separates our species with other species, and indeed we even separate our own species into classes based on our different levels of intelligence. We think our thoughts give us the power to be creative, imaginative, innovative, analytical and above all, to survive in this fight of the fittest. To not think would lead us to act with reckless disregard for others and the consequences of our actions, to fall into chaos without any plans or structures, and regress developmentally into babies.
And so we hang onto our thoughts. We place them on a pedal-stool in our minds and believe in everything that is projected by it. We believe the stories that are conjured up; we get lost in our fantasies; we relive our distorted memories of the past; we worry about problems we think may arise in the future; we torture ourselves with anxiety and fear from the movies playing in our minds. What is most concerning is how we allow our thoughts to rule us – throwing us into anger and worry with thoughts of negativity, then entrapping us with thoughts of desire, shrouded with a layer of illusions.
In time, we come to experience the world through our thoughts, perceptions and interpretations. Most of the time, these are distorted perceptions and misinterpretations. So many times we think we know something, or interpret events a certain way, only to find out later that we had got it all so very wrong.
So we come to see the world not as it is, but as we think it is or as we think it should be. Over time, we forget there is a way to experience life directly, and that to truly see the world and our life for what it is, we can only do so by removing the filters that stand in between us and the reality that is occurring at each moment.
So the practice for this week is to bear witness to your life. To come closer to reality than you have ever before. To truly understand that your thoughts play a role in your life in helping you navigate this world, but your thoughts are not you, nor are they in command of you.
Here’s some ways I’ve found have helped ground me in reality:
1. Be present: Reality only occurs in the here and now. By the time you contemplate what has occurred, the reality is already replaced by what you think took place. Likewise, contemplating what is to come is simply you guessing what will take place. So if you want to see reality for what it is, you need to be here for it, at the time when it happens. As you become more centred in the present, you remove the tendency to jump into the past or the future.
2. Be open: So much of our time is spent on resisting what is happening or being afraid of what will happen. Conversely, we may be chasing after what has past or what has yet to come. Being open to the present moment as it is, without wanting to change it in any way, takes away the filters of fear, worry, anger, and discontent.
3. Be observant: we spend so much of our time doing and rushing, or changing reality to suit us, that we don’t usually stop to just watch life unfold in its natural way. If we are to understand reality, our life, our nature, this existence, we must observe it in the same way a scientist observes without interfering.This kind of observation at its purest form is free from thinking, but a direct experience of what is occurring at the present moment.
In our observations, we move from observing the obvious to the more subtle and refined. For example, we move from observing our displays of anger, to our inner anger, to finally see the seeds and causes of our anger. To do so, we try to catch each spark of anger, watch how it stays, and watch how it disappears. Over time, we will see how anger operates; we come to understand anger and anger becomes a choice rather than an automatic reaction.
4. Be centred: There will be times when we are confronted with reality, we want to run away in pain, or we grab it tightly with desire, or we simply don’t know what to do with it. Being centred allows us to maintain an equanimous, calm yet strong mind, to face head on with whatever reality presents to us. It is this ability to be centred and equanimous that allows us to see clearly what is going on, without bringing our own emotions, self-interests and preconceptions into our observations of reality.
5. Be sharp: Unlike what people may think about direct observation, the lack of thinking does not mean the mind becomes dull, but quite the opposite. The mind becomes extremely sharp, sensitive and concentrated, so as to pick up very fine details and penetrate deeper into the reality of whatever object of observation you choose. Developing this ability, you build an awareness and concentration, that helps you direct your mind to whatever you wish to use it for. Your mind becomes less scattered and more focused. In daily life, you will see how the sharpness of your mind can also be used to sort through very quickly enormous data that your mind receives at every moment.
6. Be patient: The development of the mind is rarely achieved overnight. It is something that is developed over time, or perhaps over an entire lifetime. When you first begin, you will be inundated with thoughts. This is normal, as it is the habit of your mind to think. To help settle the thoughts, you need to be gentle with your mind. You need to give it the time and space for it to settle on its own, but you can help it by anchoring your mind on something, such as your breath if you are doing meditation. The idea is not to stir the thoughts up with more thoughts. In its own time, the mind will become clearer and the thoughts will quieten down.
Want to try?
To get an idea what it is like to experience life directly without the filters and to experience the richness of life, you can try this exercise. You may need to do it a few times or in different settings for it to work. Whilst doing this activity, see if you can feel the difference between the two experiences.
Firstly, find a spot on your body that is touching another surface, such as your legs or back. Try and describe that experience to yourself. Can you feel hardness, pressure, heat, etc?
Secondly, drop the descriptions and just feel the experience as a whole.
Do you notice a difference?
Try this at different moments throughout your day. When you’re on the train, when you have a moment to take in the last rays of sunshine, when you are out walking.
Do you notice a difference in the moments when you are in thought, and the moments when you open yourself to the experience as it is?
For me, when I first opened myself to the experience of walking as it is, it was like walking for the first time. Since then, these moments of direct experience of life fills my heart with a joy that is so extraordinary for the most seemingly ordinary things.
I wish you a joy that surpasses the worldly joys, and a life that is made up of moments that string together to make this life a most meaningful one.
© Tina Ng 2014