HOW NOT TO KNOW

“I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

― Richard Feynman

Often, I am asked by those close to me, family and friends, ‘Oh, haven’t you learned enough? Didn’t you have enough training? What do you need that course for? When are you going to stop spending time and money on that?’ etc, etc. Of course, my initial reaction is to snap back and become defensive, but then, that leads nowhere. People simply have different values, different viewpoints…For me, learning and growing is like air and water. Those that do not feel that way – I can appreciate that that’s fine for them. I’d like them to appreciate my attitude too – actually it is not an attitude only, it is a way of life…

And so, (we shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’, but I’m inspired to break those shoulds!) instead I decided to use the source of irritation (those near and dear judging me or not understanding me) as a source of inspiration! To write, instead of rant. To present, instead of defending. To offer, instead of arguing…

Learning comes from curiosity and limitless desire for growth. It also comes from the ability to stay open, receptive to change, to new ways of looking at things. It is underpinned by curiosity, child-like innocence, belief that anything is possible and courage – courage to try, fail, learn and try again. The courage to be vulnerable and therefore be exposed to hurt, pain, judgement…

I have heard the term ‘course junkie’ many times, but it seems to be only a label put on the people who are ‘seekers’ by those who are not. Also, I see a difference in the starting point – a behind the scenes talk in your head, such as ‘I am not good enough, I need this in order to be better, smarter, more spiritual, more educated or similar.’ and the one which runs like ‘I am really curious about this, I want to know more. I want to explore and grow and even though I am OK as I am, I know I can always grow, push limits”…One approach is inspired by turning away from(feeling of not good enough, feeling inadequate or unable to deal with life’s situations), whereas the other one is inspired by turning towards (growth, pursuit of excellence, pushing boundaries, creation and innovation of self). I know because I have experienced both, I was running away and running towards. To be honest, it does not matter where you are coming from, if you are moving rather than being stuck, you are actually more likely to be living your life than avoiding it!

Katherine Woodward Thomas refers to it as ‘living the questions’. It is spending your life in enquiry, in wonderment and also being able to tolerate the uncertainty – not knowing. The rigid mind is fixed in right or wrong, correct or false, there are only definitive answers and judgement. The not-knowing bit is really difficult to tolerate, the mind is always racing trying to find a solution. I can tell you though, that my life really started to change once I shifted my focus on asking questions, rather than frantically trying to find solutions, to respond to everything and everyone, first of all to my ego’s calling. Asking questions, quality questions, that bring insight, as opposed to asking questions that demand a quick fix solution, is what I found creates incremental, but sustained change. Sometimes the change can be a breakthrough – a moment when illusions and until then deeply rooted cherished beliefs are shattered -like a glass ball bursting into million shards in front of you. You may get cut or grazed a bit in the process, but your eyes and your mind will be focused on the pouring light that is coming through – the fresh insight.

In juxtaposition to a rigid, closed mind, that believes has all answers (or even avoids contemplating that questions are endless, let alone answers), is a fluid, open mind that allows uncertainty as well as the possibility that something else, apart from black and white thinking, can be an existential basis from which to direct your life. The Buddhists call it ‘Beginner’s Mind’, in Christianity we are asked to ‘become like little children’ in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono it is the process of cleaning your mind of all memories and returning to ‘zero state’ which is actually the state of divine love inside us, the state free of judgement, blame, guilt, shame and polarity such as ‘right or wrong’. In his book ‘Zero Limits’ that is what Joe Vitale refers to – by taking full responsibility for our thoughts, actions and our lives, without self-blame, and cleaning ourselves of all guilt, resentment, fear and judgement, we actually get ‘back to zero’. A place where we really have no limits, and everything is possible. It is the same as ‘being in innocence’ and allowing the possibility that ‘we do not know anything, therefore, everything is possible’ according to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

Throughout history, there have been many spiritual practises and philosophies that have challenged our beliefs, pre-conceptions, and perceptions that we assumed – were knowledge. After all, what is knowledge? Isn’t it so that new discoveries are always replacing old facts, theories and beliefs, that change is the only constant thing? I have always been fascinated by Koans, self-paradoxical riddles and questions used in Zen Buddhism to exhaust the analytic and egoic mind in order to reveal the more intuitive no-mind. They are not about arriving at an answer, they are more about the revelation that there are no fully satisfying answers.

From time to time I remind myself that it is all about our perception and if I keep asking myself ‘how do I know that?” I will actually never arrive at a definitive answer – it will just be a temporary perception, or perhaps a belief that is so strong and deeply rooted that we equate it with reality. Floating and frolicking with joy on the open seas of a fluid, open mind, is much more fun, and brings the much-craved sense of freedom. It is the freedom from self, rather than of self.

So learning how to unlearn and cleanse and empty your mind is one of the most powerful ways to keep growing. As the Zen master says in this little koan:

https://fractalenlightenment.com/37292/spirituality/5-zen-koans-that-will-open-your-mind

If you have liked this article please share it! Post your comments below or reach out at jelena@whatwork.co.uk

Resources:

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki

Zero Limits, Joe Vitale, Ihaleakala Hew Len

The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell

Multi-tasking….and what about being?

Multi-tasking is a trap that does not make us more productive, it actually makes us frantic, less focused and eventually exhausted.

I used to love multi-tasking. Especially as a busy working mother, I would do all at once, cook, tidy up and while talking on the phone, put the laundry out to dry while my computer was updating and I was gesturing at my kids to keep their voice down while playing on PlayStation. I would run between my desk and the kitchen, listening to an important webinar while the TV was on silent and I was preparing a light dinner or answering emails –or both!…It gives me a headache to even think about it now!

Multi-tasking is a trap that does not make us more productive, it actually makes us frantic, less focused and eventually exhausted. Even worse, it makes us irritable and impatient with our loved ones, with family and friends, as our attention gets dispersed between talking to them and thinking about that last email or phone call from work….

According to studies multi-tasking decreases our productivity by 60% and our IQ by 10%. Do you really want to do that to yourself? Multi-tasking triggers our brain into overdrive and especially, as you may have guessed, social media, pop ups, notifications and so on cause us to pay attention to every little distraction and disturbance, instead of the main task we actually want to focus on.

Do you get the feeling from time to time that there are not enough hours in the day, that you are constantly on a treadmill and chasing after the next task, or rather 5 or 10 of them…? Often fretting in the evening, or even at night, that you have not completed them? Do you feel that you are never in the present, never in the moment, as your mind races constantly, into the future and then back to the past…but you are actually NEVER here, in the present moment?

And then there is this thing called THE FLOW. We have all experienced it, but it seems like a distant memory, maybe. The feeling you get when you are totally immersed in what you are doing, giving it your best and full attention – naturally. Your mind is calm, though working fully, and you are CREATING. Nothing else and no one else is present, you lose sense of time, you just feel the fulfilment and expansion…

I have a friend who is an artist and I’d get frustrated sometimes when I could not get in touch with him, because he left his mobile phone at home! But what a lesson to learn! Honouring your time with yourself, with your creative flow or just taking the time to re-charge- is priceless!

People actually pay to get excluded from all modern-day distractions in order to spend some quality time with – themselves! The boom in the retreat industry is one testament to that (I do love retreats by the way!). Also, we buy apps that tell us what to do, when and how to do it; we work with coaches and mentors to help us prioritise what we know we should prioritise anyway….

Whether it is studying, creating or doing mundane work, the key is to pace yourself in a such a way that you can complete what you set yourself to do, without stressing out! Turn off all the distractions, the phone, the notifications on your computer, the TV, or whatever else is there that may be tugging at your attention. Close your eyes and just breathe for a few minutes and then immerse yourself fully in whatever you are doing. A true sense of fulfilment will follow – not just the temporary feel-good kick that you have crossed off that item on your to do list.

Namaste!

You can reach out to me on jelena@whatwork.co.uk

Ways of Being and Doing – multi-tasking, procrastination and everything in between

clear glass with red sand grainer
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In today’s world we are all so focused on doing things, ticking off the boxes on our ever so long to-do-lists, but rarely do we stop to just BE. How about a ‘to be’ list? How you are and who you are is often more important than what you do or how you do it, because being is a pre-requisite of doing. For example, if you are grounded, calm and present, you will DO things in a more productive way than if you are scattered, stressed or overwhelmed. If you tend to put things off, or procrastinate, what state of being are you in and what are the motives for your procrastination?

Let’s look deeper into multi-tasking and procrastination. Though they may seem at the opposite end of the ‘doing” spectrum, some of the ‘being’ states underneath are quite similar. What is the little (or not so little) voice in your head telling you? “Hurry up, get it done, why are you forgetting this, oh no! not again! Why am I leaving this again till the last moment? Or is it:” I cannot believe it’s midnight and I haven’t finished the 3 things I planned to do before bed!” More often than not, we are not even aware of that voice, but it is always there, and it is guiding us, sometimes in a trance-like state. These are the ‘saboteur’ voices that we all have and experience, the question though is: Are we aware of them?

If you are ruled by the Achiever voice, you may be running yourself to the ground, and pursuing all those tasks like your life depended on it – when is the time to let go and just relax, just BE? How many boxes will need to be ticked before you can slump onto that sofa?

If you are governed by the Avoider voice, you will be procrastinating. You may be putting things off because inwardly you worry that you will not be successful, or you may even worry that you will be! You are trapped in the status quo and inaction, because it is safe, because if you do take that action, focus on completing that task or perhaps take a risk to do something new, you will face the unknown and change – by not moving in any direction, you are ‘safe’. More often than not, we have multiple saboteurs running the show from behind the scenes, though usually not at the same time (chuckle).

Essentially, it also comes down to our relationship with time. Do you tend to believe that you do not have enough hours in the day, or perhaps that you can always do it tomorrow? Our understanding of time is completely subjective, and we can change it and remake it, though the process could be trying and demanding. According to Eckhart Tolle: “Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: The Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”

We have all become masters of avoiding the present moment, whether it is Netflix, Facebook or just aimlessly browsing the Internet…We spend time fantasizing about the future (dreaming about our next holiday or worrying about a potential disaster scenario that we have made up in our minds), or perhaps we are trapped in the past, revisiting old grievances and resentment, or even reminiscing about days bygone that will never come back…But are we ever in the present moment, in the so elusive NOW?

Dr Gabor Mate defines trauma as the inability to be in the present moment. Indeed, taken to the extreme, dwelling in the past and not letting it go results in depression, whereas constantly worrying about the future is actually what anxiety is. While we may not be at the extreme of this spectrum, we have all at some point experienced these states to a certain degree, and they all have to do with our being, first and foremost, and then our doing – or not doing- is driven by it.

Going back to our perception of time and the resulting behaviour we may find ourselves juggling many tasks and activities at once, ending up exhausted and not as productive as we had hoped. Or we can find ourselves putting things off, getting distracted and allowing “time to just slip through a crack…” and before we know it, we are beating ourselves up for not doing that task that we have been putting off for ever…

Alas, so what to do? Or rather, I’d say, ‘What to be?’ Being in the present moment is the key and training our brain and the entire nervous system to be at peace with the present moment will take time. Whether you are predominantly Avoider or Achiever, or even Restless, grounding yourself in the present moment will allow you to just be and to start experiencing that elusive peace of mind. As you have guessed, meditation in its many guises and forms is a very good start. Whether you want to use an app or enrol into a Mindfulness course, learn Transcendental Meditation (TM) or choose any other way, you will reap the benefits. Not only will you allow yourself to BE, you will gradually become empowered to choose how you want to BE and therefore carry that quality of being into everything you do.

For more info contact jelena@whatwork.co.uk

www.whatwork.co.uk

Resources:

The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle

https://uk.tm.org//london-victoria for Transcedental meditation classes

Apps: Headspace, Think up, Buddhify, Calm, 10% Happier, Mood notes, One Mind Dharma

Plum Village Mindfulness Retreats https://plumvillage.org/retreats/when-can-you-visit-us/