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Tag: anxiety

When fear and desire are in residence, we are self-exiled from our immortality

Happiness is a choice

With apologies to Joseph Campbell:

When you are in a place

Defined by fear or desire

Then you are self-exiled from your own immortality.

Entertain fear or ambition, and you have exiled yourself from your own immortality.

Is it possible to escape fear and desire?

If you were brought up in the west, you probably think my assertion is absurd.  So I’ll break it down logically.   The statement seems to have 3 logical parts.

  • We do this to ourselves
  • There is something called our own immortality
  • Fear and ambition have the same effect

Our own immortality

Let’s define immortality simply.  When you are exiled from your own immortality, you feel a sense of not belonging and being uncomfortable “in your own skin” and “in this world”.    You feel restless, dissatisfied and disrespected.   Of course, that does not mean there is anything called your own immortality, but that is enough for now.  You would simply prefer not to feel restless, dissatisfied and disrespected!

We do this to ourselves

Yup, fear is real.  Desire is quite fun when we don’t over do it.  Ambition is cool.  We can imagine relinquishing ambition, but relinquishing desire and fear?  The big test is to prove to you that fear is a choice.

Fear and desire have the same effect.

I need to show you that they both have the same effect.  Let’s see if I can!

#1  Fear and desire are both about what is not rather than what is

With fear, we fear not being in some way. We don’t fear being.  We fear not being.  Isn’t ambition exactly the same?  We want to be what we are not? Desire is similar.  We want what is not.

Fear, ambition and desire are essentially about nothing.  They are about absence.  We are focusing all our attention on what is not.

#2  We do this to ourselves

Why are we thinking about nothing?  Why not think about who we are and what is?

#3  Can we think about who we are when we are frighten or driven?

Yes, we can.  Indeed it is the only way to stop thinking about what we are not. Forsake fear, ambition and desire and we have time for ourselves. (TG for our small minds; we think of one thing at a time.)

Being present

It’s an odd idea, or so it seems to us in the west.  But it is a long standing idea in east.  We can call it mindfulness.  Pay attention to what is here, now.   Other religions call it giving up attachments.

In the secular world, we help ourselves move from agitation to calm thinking by making checklists and keeping gratitude diaries.  Other people meditate.  Take your pick!  If you pray or balk at prayer, try a gratitude diary on for size.

Is being present selfish and irresponsible?

The curious thing about stopping and focusing on what is closely around us is that there is an immediate effect of connecting us more fully to the world.

Paulo Coelho suggests a simple exercise of stopping to listen.  Close your eyes and listen for the furthest sound.  You thought your fear and ambition came from paying attention to the world.  Now you feel your horizon of attention recede a little and the world seems more alive, more interesting.   There is more space for you.  You come back from your self-imposed exile.  You can breathe.  Try it. It is amazing!

Yes, it seems as if our fear and restlessness came from shutting the world out, rather than letting it in. We are scared and dissatisfied because we are not paying attention.  Or rather we were attending to what is not there rather than to what is.  We drove ourselves into exile by worrying about what is not.  Nuts.

Interestingly, you can call back the fear and ambition any time you want it.  But why replace the exciting world around you with nothing?

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What do you think the world needs now . . .?

What the world needs now

What do you think the world needs now?

That was the theme of TED Global 2010.


I don’t normally bang on about the world needing more leadership.  We are all leaders.  That was the point being made at TED.

But I think the world needs less panic.  Because we are panicking, we are “brushing things under the carpet”.  We do that when we are in a panic, but it really doesn’t help.

But we also, always, have an area of our lives where, for some reason, whatever that is, we are not scared and everyone else is a jibbering wreck.  In this area, on this one thing, we are eerily calm.

We can host the conversation because in that area of our current jumbled-up and precarious existence, where everyone else is frightened, we are not.

What do you think the world needs now?

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Don’t let the recession take over your life! Live anyway.

Nile Crocodile
Image via Wikipedia

Overwhelmed by the threat of the ongoing recession?

In Africa, we have a lovely though terrifying expression.

When we up to our armpits in crocodiles, it’s hard to remember that our goal is to get to the other side

What do we do when we are surrounded by crocodiles?  Ignore them ~ they’ll have you for lunch.  Scream – a stress reliever that accomplishes nothing?

Read on!

Threat captures 100% of our attention

The threats of job loss, business failure,  mortgage default etc and boring etc have become very real.  For everyone.  These are the crocodiles.  They grab our attention and we can think of little else.  At best, we hope they will go away.

Well they won’t.  Like crocodiles, they have found us.  We didn’t find them!  They are not going away unless we make them!  And right now they are taking over our entire lives.

Reclaim your attention by labeling threats as threats (not goals)

The trouble with crocodiles, and recession-type threats,  is that they are so scary, we completely forget our goals, and indeed that we ever had any at all.

The mental trick to claiming back our attention and capacity to think straight,  is to label a threat as a threat.  Neutralizing a threat is not my objective.  Fighting crocodiles isn’t the goal (for most of us).  Getting to the other side is our goal.  We need only to neutralize the threat to getting to the other side ~ not neutralize the threat itself.

Go it?  This is how it works.  When we label a threat as an annoying distraction, we focus all our knowledge, knowhow and strength on sorting it out, and sorting it out quickly.  When a crocodile threatens us, we get over our initial panic and we poke  our fingers in the crocodile’s eyes .  The crocodile is neutralized sufficiently and get on our way to the other side!

Pick our battle ground and have the battle it promises

It’s still a battle, of course. We could lose. We will get hurt.  We are still frightened.  So it is heaps smarter not to play in crocodile infested waters in the first place!

If we am going to, and sometimes we have to, sometimes we find ourselves there by mistake, then we’d be very wise to keep a sharp look out for predators and to be ready to paddle into the deep water they don’t like.  The battle goes not to the swift or the strong, but ye who thought ahead and pays attention?

We must also be prepared to have a fight, win quickly, and not worry to much about it when it is over.   There is no point in ranting and raving about crocodiles when they are a part of the very life that we have chosen.

They are there.  Deal with them.  On their own terms, not in terms of some fantasy.

Deal with them as threats to be neutralized sufficiently to be on our way.

On our way!

Which is   .   .   .  which way?  We have been so busy fighting crocodiles that we have forgotten!

Do an elementary SWOT on the back of an envelope!

  • T = Threats.  You know those.  That’s all you’ve been thinking about lately.  The crocodiles that threaten to eat us up.
  • W= Weaknesses.  You know those. All the little things you’ve been angsting about.  All our worries about crocodiles are bigger than us!  The things that are out of our personal control.
  • S=Strengths.  You have a canoe and you know the crocodile hates deep water. You read books and it doesn’t!  What have you got going for you?  List every small thing at our disposal.
  • O=Opportunity  Where is the opportunity?  Have you forgotten?  Where is the opportunity in a crocodile infested river?  Look around and spot it.  Get there!  Now!

And poke out the crocodiles eyes.  You are bored with crocodiles now.  They are just at threat.  They are not our purpose.

Don’t forget your goal is to get to other side!

A long recession

This recession is going to go on for a long time.  Live your life anyway.  Get on with it!  Pay the recession as much attention as it needs just as you pay the crocodile as much attention it needs.  Then go on your way!

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Respectfully describe reality and it will respect you

Sign No.
Image via WikipediaWhere are you in your life?

Where are you in your life?

  • On a complicated English roundabout with 15 exits and cars whizzing around on all sides of you?
  • Streaming down the motorway, very happy that there is no tailback but a little bored?
  • On a country lane with hedges to the left and to the right – you feel lost because you cannot see ahead?

The situations seem very different.  Yet they are not!

  • Pay attention to what is happening around you

In your worry about where you are going (or boredom on the motorway), don’t ignore the traffic around you!

  • Don’t rush

The best thing you can do is keep moving with the flow. If you miss the exit, keep going and “turn around when possible”.

Don’t fret that you missed the exit!  I know it is annoying.  But you will get where you want to be much faster if you keep going smoothly and double back when you can.  Write the missed exit off to experience.

  • Slowly, very slowly, plot your path ahead

Impatience is not going to get you anywhere!  As you have a moment, start to imagine the road ahead.  Don’t try to do it all at once because then you will take your eye off the road.

If you are able to pull over, take a deep breath and get you bearings, good.  Do it.  Otherwise, keep going smoothly and slowly work out where you are going and what you should be anticipating.  Slowly and patiently.

How does this lesson on driving relate to what you are feeling about your career, your work, your life?

Feeling frustrated at work is not much different from feeling frustrated on the road.

  • We feel agitated because getting there on time is important to us.
  • We feel irritable because we feel out of control
  • We feel powerless because we can’t make a solution happen right now.

Yelling at reality won’t make it behave

That is the secret – we are antsy because we can’t make a solution happen right now.  Well we can’t.  And yelling at reality won’t make it behave.  Reality won’t here you (and if it does, it won’t like being shouted at).

Reality likes to be taken seriously and treated respectfully

So start describing reality. Leave your temper tantrum for later.  No one cares – least of all reality.  Just start describing reality.

  • I am driving down the motorway. To my left is .  . .  To my right is  .   .  .
  • I am on a country lane  .     .   . To my left is a hedge (I am driving in UK!).  To my right is a lane for oncoming traffic.  There is or is not a car behind me.  It is so close that if I act abruptly it will bash into me (This is England!  People tailgate like mad.) In front of me . .

Well you get the idea.

Bring your attention in and start describing reality

Be respectful.  Reality does not like being shouted at or ignored!

But it is hard to put our agitation aside

Yes, it is so hard to put our emotions aside. They clamor for attention!

OK.  So listen to them.  Say to yourself, I am feeling confused/frightened/annoyed (hey, embarrassed) to be on a road where I don’t know where I am going.

Feel better for listening to yourself?

Good.  And know I’ll tell you a secret. So is the guy to the left of you, the guy to the right of you, the (****) who is tailgating you.

You aren’t in this alone. We are all slightly confused.  We should all start paying attention to reality.

Respectfully describe reality and it will respect you!

He or she who is able to do that wins -they get to their destination and they get there in a good mood!

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Expand your life: one frontier at a time

Where is your frontier?

Where are the places in your life where you are trying something new and where you know neither the rules and the outcome?

Why those places?  And where are the places that you don’t want to try?

One frontier at a time

I think that like good Generals we can only have one frontier at once.  By their nature, frontiers are scary and ask for all our attention.  Maybe we can have one-and-a-half frontiers – one serious one and one hobby.

Which frontiers are become possible?

More interesting are the frontiers that terrify us.  Aren’t those worth looking at again?  Maybe we can edge towards what we couldn’t contemplate last year.

What terrifies you?  Of this list, which might be quite long, which might you actually want to make your frontier for 2010?  Your frontier where you know neither the rules nor the outcome?  (Breath and breath out slowly!)

I think I will go to bed thinking about the frontiers that frighten me!

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Do you hate your job? Can we swap!

Hating our jobs .  .  . let’s do some extreme living!

You are in good company, aren’t you? Most of us hate our jobs. And it would be cool to have a job exchange.

I have another idea though. I found it on a list of unusual things to do before you die. It’s a kind of “extreme living”. The idea is this : very deliberately find a job that you hate, and do it. There!

Now why would we do that? Why deliberately find and do a job that we hate!

Because we can. Be. . . cause . . . we . . . can.

No, don’t walk away. Of course it is daft to do something unpleasant.

It’s enough trouble escaping what we hate. Why do more?

Because . . . well, you know what I am going to say. Because – we – can.

You dread your job because you are not in control and you think you will never be in control.

There are lots of times in you life that you are not in control.

But you can practice being in situations when you are not in control.

  • When I was a graduate student, I very deliberately went to movies on my own. Other people went in groups. It looked odd for a young person to go on their own. So I did. Until I stopped being uncomfortable.
  • A bit older, I spent three months traveling from city to city in Europe very deliberately arriving at midnight with no accommodation. Until I stopped being scared of finding myself with no where safe, dry and warm to sleep. Or rather until I learned how to find somewhere to sleep no matte where I am. You can imagine I traveled a lot more extensively because of the self-designed training course that I gave myself aged 25.
  • A bit older, I decided to overcome my fear of speaking in public by presenting a public talk every month for a year. I did. Many times, hardly anyone came. But I wrote a new paper (a proper academic paper) and presented it.  For 12 months in a row! I learned the art of getting on with it! And I stopped wasting time on anxiety.

So get over you dread of jobs you hate by deliberately taking a job that you hate!

Bet you learn a lot. Bet you come out the end knowing you can survive any job.

And there are many other things better faced head on.

Part of life is dealing with the dross.  There is no better way than giving yourself a crash course.

Do it over and over again until you are good at it!


P.S.  Great way to apply for a job. “I am applying for a job because I expect I will hate it  .  .  .”  That made you smile.


What happened to that “everything is waiting for me” feeling?

Lost: can’t see the opportunity

When I was young, I loved career choices.  The world was my oyster.  Choices were everywhere, and I was in command.

Some people aren’t so lucky.  They don’t feel like that.  Our somehow they’ve gone through a bad patch and they feel lost. As I have got older, that has happened to me a few times.

What can we do about that?  How can we get back that omnipotent feeling that “everything is waiting for you”?

There seem to be three key things to remember.

1. Look after your emotional health

Negative feelings feed on themselves.  When we are feeling down, lost or confused, we like to wallow.  This doesn’t make us bad or inadequate.  It is quite normal to want to wallow.  Physiologically, we are primed to focus on threat, and our worry captures 100% of our attention.

The corporate poet, David Whyte, talks of arriving at a ravine in Nepal and being scared witless by the sight of a rickety bridge.  Many decisions in life are just like this.  We arrive at a ravine.  We can see clearly that we want to be on the other side.  We are least wise enough not rush onto the bridge, but we are paralyzed with fear.  All our attention goes onto the ravine and onto the rickety bridge, instead of working out our options.

The funny thing is that we hang on to bad feelings, as if they are the bridge itself.  Yet this is the time to get a grip.  At the side of the ravine, we check our pockets and rucksack -knife (check), water (check), food (check), etc. etc.

In ordinary life we have to take the time out to exercise, clean the house, and think about what is going exactly as we want it to.  We must, we must, we must (!) sit down each night, write a short summary of the day, and then answer this question:

Why did I do so well?

I can assure you that you won’t want to do this.  You will want to worry and tell me how badly everything is going.  Just do it! and you will surprise yourself by what has gone well.

It is also more.  It takes our attention off the equivalent of the ravine and the long drop down. It focuses our mind on

  • What we can do
  • What we can do well
  • What delights us and
  • what the world finds delightful about us!

2. Start before you are ready

When we feel lost, we often feel very tired too. The idea of starting anything feels too much.  And anyway, if we haven’t sorted out our emotional health (#1), then we are enjoying our panic attack far too much to give it up.

But if you don’t intend to spend the rest of your life weeping and wailing and gnashing you teeth, you will have to begin to move out of the anxiety, before your are ready.

The way we do this is to focus in what we have at hand.  At the edge of the ravine, that is your water, your food, your map, your radio, etc.

In ordinary life, I look for what you love.  What brings the light to your eyes?  I can give you a magazine and ask you to flick through and point to a picture which represent what you want out of life. You’ll have done it in 1-2 minutes.

Or, I can ask you about when you have experienced flow – that feeling of total engagement where characteristically you don’t notice time, but you do notice being growled at when you were late for your next appointment!  That’s flow.  When do you feel flow?  When do you feel totally engaged doing something you just love to do?

Then we deal with the next thought that pops into your head which is  “I can’t”.  I have kids and a mortgage.  I can’t be an artist – I owe it to my parents to make a good living.  I have a student loan to pay off.  I don’t have the skills.  You are looking at the ravine again!  Hold the image of what you want to be, that makes your heart speed up slightly, that makes your eyes light up (you can’t see them can you, but I can). Hold that image.  Don’t let it go.

Now we aren’t going to do anything reckless.  We are simply going to look around our immediate circumstances for things relevant to getting to the other side.  So we take stock.  As we took stock of our map, our compass, etc. at the side of the ravine.  And we do sensible things.  If we were at the side of a ravine and had a radio, we would call in and say where we are.  If we are tired out, we’d work out if it is feasible to eat and sleep.  We secure everything we need to go to where we want to be.  At worst, we may retreat.

But we keep our eyes on what brings us alive?

3. Marshall resources and support

And now for the humdinger, are you the only person in the world who wants you to be on the other side?  Are you Rambo all of a sudden?

As soon as you have yourself secure and have established the all important “time out”, ask yourself who else benefits from you being on the other side of the ravine.  Who else will benefit?  Who else will be delighted?  Who else will enjoy getting you across (however you are going to do it – we’ll leave that bridge alone!).  These questions might make you feel anxious again.  That’s OK. That’s only because this project is something you really want to do and you are about to make it happen.

So, let’s marshal help and resources.  If we were at a ravine, it might be helicopter rescue (do it in style?).  It might be a long trek around. You might be able to walk down and through some shallow water and up. In the morning light, you might realize you can reinforce the bridge. Who knows?  Start bringing together what you need and a plan will emerge.

Once you start to methodically and systematically work on the problem, the universe will conspire to help you.

This can’t be true, I hear you say.  This must be nonsense.  Well not in my experience!  Read on!

Damn the universe, it makes life so easy!

When I first noticed the universe helping me, I did feel nuts.  I felt superstitious and I didn’t like the feeling.  How can this be?  But it happened.  The universe kept helping me.  When I knew what I wanted, and moved towards it, it came towards me.  This doesn’t work if I am dithering.  If I start one thing and I am still doodling or daydreaming about something else, I don’t get any help at all.  I must be totally confident about my priorities and have ‘left all other worlds behind’.

I would get moving on a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and the phone would ring.  There it would be.  How could the other person know I wanted that?  It was freaky and just too easy!

Eventually I decided three things.

  • The world is a munificent place.  Stuff probably comes down my phone all day long, but I don’t notice when I don’t want it!
  • I have good judgement!  My sense of what is right or wrong is good.  I know which ravines are worth crossing and which ravines other people want to cross with me.

But sometimes I go through a bad patch when I am indecisive.  I dither.  Do I want to cross; do I not?  I am not ready to make a decision.    In part this is good judgment.  I don’t rush ahead before I know what I want.  But the reality is,  I am also frozen in fear.  Time to take “time-out” to de-clutter my emotional self and figure out what is going on. I know with a small investment, my head will clear.  I will keep my dreams clear, focus on what I have in hand, and be on my way again soon.

Everything is waiting for you

In poet, David Whyte’s words: everything is waiting for you, it really is (and would like you to hurry up!)

It is just that you have come to a ravine in your path.  You want to get to the other side.  You know you need to be there and you are rightly terrified by the rickety bridge and the long drop down.

The most important thing to do is to acknowledge your fear.  Don’t pretend you aren’t scared.  If you do you will either be paralyzed or you will be reckless.  Take yourself in hand, remember your goal  and focus your attention this minute on what you have in hand.

  • First, attend to your safety and the safety of everyone with your.  Take stock of my situation (maps, compass, radio, food, etc. if you were at a ravine), get yourself fed, watered and tell other people to where you are.  When your are physically able to think, focus your attention on what you want!
  • Then thoroughly enjoy exploring your options.  Bring in help if your need it and invite people to be part of the adventure if they want to be (which they probably do!)

Remember the three steps

1.  Keep yourself emotionally healthy: ask yourself daily – why did I do so well?

2.  Start before you are ready – tick off everything around you that is useful for pursuing your dream

3.  Welcome support – list everyone who will be enjoy watching and helping you pursue your quest

And do it for g…  sake.  It’s funny how the toughest of people are so bad at this.  Do it.  Whinging is annoying.

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3 steps when goals seem out of our reach

I think back to the most frustrating times of my life and I felt exactly like David Whyte standing in front of a ravine, desperate to be the other side and with palpitations because it seems impossible.

Whenever we feel frightened it helps to visualize the ravine.  And draw the ravine on a piece of paper.

  1. What is on the other side that we want so deeply?
  2. What is the gap and the frayed rope bridge that seems too dangerous to use?
  3. And where are we now?

I want to be clear: when we are really frightened, we forget to do this.  And we chide ourselves for forgetting!  But we shouldn’t – we are anxious because our dream is important!

When we remember, our task is to imagine the ravine and draw, or jot down, our answers to all 3 questions.

Then we concentrate on question 3 and write down everything we can think about where we are now.  We might want to concentrate on the other two questions.  That is understandable but we should write down point after point about HERE & NOW.  Set a goal – write 1, then write 2 more, then write 2 more, until we are on a roll.

Lastly we underline the parts that work well. This is important.  We go through our list of HERE & NOW and underline what works well.

And if you don’t think of something that will move you forward, write to me and complain!

But I guess you will write to me to say how well this method works.

Come with me!

  • Think of your biggest dream that you have put aside to attend to your obligations or because you think you have to be cautious during the recession.
  • Feel your fear and honor it!  You only feel fear because this goal is important to you.
  • Then draw the diagram and remember to write down in detail where are now  Finally, underline what works well.

Are you feeling better?  Can you see a way forward?

Prepare for a winning week!

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Overcome your fear in 3 steps

There was David Whyte, on his own, standing at the edge of a ravine in Nepal.  He knew he wanted to be at the other side but the rope bridge was in a bad state of disrepair.  He couldn’t go on and he couldn’t go back as his friends had taken another path.  He was terrified.  What should he do?

Situations which frighten the life out of us often have THREE parts.

  • A goal that feels distant and unreachable – Whyte knew he wanted to be the other side of the ravine.
  • A gap between where we are now and where we want to be that seems impossible to close – the rope bridge was in a perilous condition.
  • And where we are now – which in our funk we have forgotten about completely.

The gap between where we are now and where we want to be is sickening.  We cannot see how we can get across and we are awash with strong and negative emotions. In this state, we can think of little else.

Now I will tell you that if you are experiencing a deep, debilitating funk every 6-8 weeks, you are not living!

When was the last time that you felt so nervous you almost threw up?

Come with me!

Think of when you last felt that something you wanted was unreachable.   Or think of something you presently feel is unreachable.

Then draw the ravine.  What was on the other side that you wanted deeply, what is the gap and the frayed rope bridge, and where are you now?

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you the secret of dealing the overpowering emotion and finding ways out of seemingly impossible situations.

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Poets advice for surviving the financial crisis

In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.

Dante in the Inferno

Mid-life crises, sudden loss, tragedies, and world-wide financial crises are certainly different in degree, and different in content.  But they have one thing in common.

They are unpleasant to experience.  We feel that we have lost our way.  And we have a vague yet pervasive feeling that there isn’t a way and that we were mistaken to believe that there is.

David Whyte, British corporate poet, explores this experience in poetry and prose, and uses stories and poems about his own life to illustrate the rediscovery of our sense of direction, meaning and control.

Using his ideas and the ideas of philosophers and poets before him, we are able to refind our balance, and live through the financial crisis, meaningfully and constructively.

Come with me!

David Whyte has a 2 disk CD, MidLife and the Great Unknown.

If you get a copy of his CD, I will listen to it with you.  And we can discuss it online?

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