From Discipline to Habit

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Last week I reached a personally significant milestone of 365 consecutive days of meditation. It seems like a huge number to some, but I knew I would not stop, ever, since day one.

So what was it, that got me to commit so utterly to meditation on 11th of May last year and to never skip a day from that day onwards?

It is this: I realized that meditation is a habit. Exactly the SAME as basic body maintenance (daily exercise) or dental hygiene (brushing teeth). The key that people miss is that every habit starts as a discipline first.

And this is how you turn discipline into a habit:

If you want to do it – you do it.

If you don’t want to do it – you do it.

If you are full of energy – you do it.

If you are tired – you do it.

If you are happy – you do it.

If you are sad – you do it.

If you have a lot of time – you do it.

If you don’t have much time – you do it.

If you don’t have any time – you sort out your priorities and do it.

Every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 5 minutes again… The duration isn’t important, the intensity isn’t important, the ‘i just can’t switch off my mind today’ isn’t important. The REGULARITY is what’s important.

Focus, inner peace, mindfulness, awareness, confidence etc etc – those are the mere side effects of the meditation habit. Just like muscle gain, strength, energy, vitality, flexibility etc etc – are all mere side effects of the exercise habit.

The discipline is what sets you free.

Power and Namaste to you 🙂

Comparison Trap and How to Leave It.

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An air of comparison was very rife in our household when growing up. Younger siblings were compared with me, often elevating me to a higher status, and I was compared to my classmates and friends, encouraged to think I was the smartest, prettiest, best at everything. And when that was demonstrated not to be the case, because perfection doesn’t exist, there was great disappointment and recriminations. Often my classmates would be criticized by my mom (of course not to their face) for traits they couldn’t help, like crooked legs or large calves, and for being less of a quick study, anything it seemed, to make mom feel better about the kids she had. When however the classmates came ahead of me, it was a huge disappointment. No grade existed by itself. It was always: what did everyone else get? And if I got an A+, but even one other person got an A+ as well, the A+ did not count. Because I clearly wasn’t ‘the best’.

That’s how the mindset of scarcity and comparison can begin to form in our childhood. It’s punctuated by the outward focus, basing our values on what everyone else is doing. Then the real world, especially the western world infected with the Affluenza virus. The classroom competition and comparison continues into real life. Without inquiring into it’s origins and questioning it’s validity, the comparison mindset doesn’t let up and it is the most poisonous mindset you can unconsciously adopt. It leeches all joy, creativity, courage and passion out of your existence. Because instead of living a life for yourself and from your own principles, guided by your own purpose and standards, you are living it for some external authority’s approval based on your being better (by some arbitrary standard) than somebody else.

Friendships become tainted. Relationships become battlegrounds for competition, insecurity, jealousy and misery.

The story of exodus:

It was one of my relationships. It got so bad that I went into the deepest of depressions, which was punctuated by suicidal thoughts, feeling absolutely worthless and rotten, not good enough to be with the person I loved. And this is the crux of it, the most hideous agony, to keep thinking (mistakenly) that who you are is not good enough to be loved by someone you love more than anything. Of course it was an illusion. But just as the seemingly most beautiful and successful people out there can be walking around feeling like the ugliest losers, those thoughts seemed very real.

So, something had to give. In that instance, it was the relationship that gave out first.

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And then I was left with something else. That relationship woke me up, even in its dying throes it kept delivering incisive relizations. Upon beginning to practice inquiry and meditation, I noticed that the comparison thinking didn’t leave. Relationship was the trigger (harking back to childhood memories of fighting tor parental love, of Affluenza that Russia got infected with in our formative years) but it wasn’t the cause. It was unsettling, so see the thoughts latch onto my life. I could see them, seeking out aspects of my life they can compare now, positively or negatively. Seeking the approval they can fight for. I saw that even in the absence of my lover, the mindset was still operating. There were other triggers. And because the ego response was less overwhelming than what it was in the love relationship, I could observe the thoughts, instead of ‘fighting for my life’. And through gradual exposure and observation, I started to untangle myself from those beliefs.

The thing is, when we are young and our ego is barely formed, it is using the tools available to it. Ego, even though it gets a bad rap in the West, is actually the only rational [art of our mind, according to Freud. But it operates only with the rationale that is available to it at it’s level of development. As a young child the ego perceived that in that particular environment, to be loved (and therefore protected and fed) by the comparison-ridden-yet-still-vitally-important-for-survival parent, it needed to compete and be the best. It did it’s best to help me survive. And I thank it for it’s hard work.

And then I educated it in the new rationale. That the one who will give it approval is myself (or my higher self, to differentiate it from the little ego). That the standards for its performance are dictated by me. That is is LOVED no matter what it does or doesn’t do.

So, what helps to change the mindset of comparison making, and allows to unleash creativity and authenticity?

  1. Adopt a Growth mindset. Check out ‘Mindset‘ book by Carol S. Dweck. This mindset is imperative for developing an ability to stop comparing. Growth-versus-Fixed-mindset
  2. Inquiry into thoughts. You cannot go around it, thoughts need to be observed and heard. No matter how harsh and painful they might be. We might pay attention to them. Meditation helps to observe the thoughts, and Byron Katie’s The Work helps to inquire into them and demonstrate them to be false. Comparing with others normally comes from a set of false beliefs and repetitive thought patterns that, when the light of awareness is shone upon them, naturally dissolve without much struggle. The only effort is in making it a habit to regularly shine the light of awareness on stressful thoughts. They’re easy to recognize – feeling stressed. There’s always a thought behind stress, always. taking-responsibility-for-your-beliefs-and-judgments-gives-you-the-power-to-change-them
  3. Self acceptance, love of learing and curiosity – it is important that during the process of shining the light of awareness there is no judgement. This part was the toughest for me, because I’m actually insanely judgmental towards myself, when I don’t watch it. However I am also insanely curious and I like to learn. That was my salvation. The way I now think of it is this (this example isn’t mine, Byron Katie gives it in one of her books): imagine you have a child and the child, in their childish naivete, is thinking that there is a monster under their bed. The kid is certain and scared. You won’t judge the child for being stupid, would you? You also wouldn’t ignore it, because it won’t go away. It is a child, this is what they do, it’s part of their growth process and they need adults to help them grow, they need to imagine monsters, because they haven’t experienced enough of reality yet, to know better. That’s where you come in. So you gently ask the child about the monster, and then you grab a flashlight and get under the bed, and check. And you might have to do that many times while the child is young. And none of the times you would blame the child. The beautiful thing is that eventually the child itself will grab the flashlight and check whenever they are scared and fantasizing about the monster. They won’t need you. The process will become automatic, your mind (which the child is the metaphor for, by the way) will question it’s own thoughts. It is very capable, because that’s what the mind does best, it inquires and finds things out. And then eventually the child will realize there is no monster, and most likely move onto another thing (if they are a teenager by then it might be that they’re the ugliest thing on earth) and you will have the chance to help them see reality there too. It’s learning at its best. So, acceptance and curiosity are hugely important. Without them, you will be running away and dissociating from your own thoughts. And as we know, what you resist, persists. maxresdefault
  4. Be willing to be uncomfortable. As JP Sears says in his YouTube videos and Brene Brown says in her books, learning to be ok with being uncomfortable is one of the most important skills you can ever practice. As I say in my first blog post on The Cost of Truth, it is being uncomfortable and experiencing feelings that you wouldn’t normally choose to have, such as sadness, disappointment, shame, grief, disgust, insecurity etc. They are like a purifying fire you need to walk through, the price you need to pay, for growth and deeper realization. download (3)
  5. Know that it will never end. This is like showering, brushing teeth and exercise. You don’t just do it once, or for awhile, and then stop. It does get easier, but inquiry into thoughts and meditation must never stop. It is the nature of the mind that it needs to be observed, attended to and questioned to function at its best. Just like the body works best when we exercise it regularly, consistently and lovingly (not just doing it once in awhile, via a month-long punishing and horrendous Lose-10-pounds-in-4-weeks-or-die-puking bootcamp setting), the mind works best when we do the same.Habit-1
  6. Progression. Those things are better addressed bit by bit. Not all at once. And better to start small. I don’t know whether I would have been able to face those huge demons if I stayed in the relationship. Granted there were other things that contributed to it ending, but constantly battling a ton of monsters, after a lifetime of blissful ignorance was not a good environment, either for me or my partner. I am glad I spared the ex any further drama. Because without the triggers of the worst kind (at the time it was facing the thoughts of being discarded by the love of my life), I could address the smaller issues first, and with those small victories under my belt (check out Jordan Petersen’s talk on slaying dragons) I could tackle bigger and badder beliefs. I am a strong supporter of progression and baby steps. Of course life throws us curve balls and we have to just suck it up and ‘shine’ as my ex used to say. But any long term, sustainable change only happens through progression, consistency and self acceptance.200021956-001
  7. You are full of shit. And it’s okay. As JP sears teaches in his Awaken course, in the very first lesson, it is very important to know that you are imperfect, will always be imperfect and that is exactly what makes you a human and a complex evolving being. All the other people you know are ALSO full of shit. And that’s okay as well. So, stop taking yourself and others so seriously and fantasizing that you – or they –  are somehow going to ever achieve prefection, because that won’t happen. Start loving yourself for the weirdo that you are NOW and will always be. 5833ab64bd837.image
  8. And my favorite part, something that helps me every day, something taught by one of the meditation and yoga teachers, Sanghuru from India. And it is this: I am mortal and I am going to die. You are mortal. Keep that in mind, remind yourself every morning and every night, that you will die and see how much less of a fuck you will start giving to comparisons, other people’s opinions and seriousness, and how much more focused and open you will become to the present. When you know that this life is all you got, you start to spend much less time comparing your trip to someone else’s and just enjoy and make the most of your own journey. Alex_Grey_dying

If you have your own ways of working with comparison mindset, I would love to know. Let’s acknowledge that we are all full of shit, but we all can learn from each other too.

If you are still reading, that’s amazing, and thank you for sticking through this post with me 🙂

Kat

 

 

Fun vs Happiness

Happiness doesn’t always feel happy (Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project)
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When I was a child I didn’t like chocolate (note: back them in Russia we had no milk chocolate, only dark). Because it was bitter sweet. And I fixated on that bitterness because my immature palate could only take in one flavor at a time. Then I read a book where the main character, a poor village girl, was talking about the ‘sweet’ taste of sour cream, because I presume there was nothing else sweet in the middle of winter. I was very confused at first, and spent several days tasting sour cream and trying to find sweetness in it. When I finally found it, that was when my palate became more complex and I started finding pleasure in things I never imagined (like olives).
You see, dark chocolate and sour cream are complex flavors.
Kids like candy. And fun. Simple things bring them simple happiness. A child’s world is small and a child’s mind doesn’t yet handle complexity well. Not the complexity of taste (bitter sweet) nor the complexity of emotion (bitter sweet), nor the complexity of experience. Children don’t handle polyphony in music (did you notice that even classical music for kids is pretty single-toned, i.e. there is not many melodies going on at the same time).
Children have a favorite color, a favorite food (ketchup), a favorite season and a bestest friend. Their world is small so it can have one best thing, because there are not many things in it.
We make sure however to introduce kids to complexity. A good parent would let the child eat a variety of fruit and vegetables to broaden the palate, listen to classical music, to broaden the auditory perception, and so on. Because being able to handle complexity prepares the child for adult life. We want them to be capable of enjoying the difficulty of overcoming an obstacle, of relishing the effort of practice for an important skill, of appreciating the intricate rainbow of human connections, the bitter sweet combinations of feelings and experiences that make up a truly fulfilling life.
In the cartoon movie ‘Inside out’, the main character is transitioning from the simple mind of a child into the mind of a young adult, where emotions stop being simple and gain richness and depth by being mixed together and creating new ‘colors’.
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But we can have a child’s mindset even when we’re adults. We want happiness to be just that – happy. And real happiness just isn’t that simple. Instead it is rich, like chocolate.
I used to expect work to be fun, and when it was no longer fun, I changed jobs. I never let the job challenge me, really challenge me, and help me grow. Only when I embraced the fact that challenge and even failure is an integral part of growth and fullfilment, did I begin to stick with with what I was doing long enough to weather the storms and come out stronger, wiser and better….
I used to think that relationships happen easily, like a fairy tale. Anything else – when effort is needed, when conflict is rife – is not meant to be. I got scared off easily, lost faith at a drop of a hat, and ran from anything that is too hard. Now I embrace the darkness, the vulnerability, the difficult emotions, the conflict, the longing, the insecurity, the tenderness and fear… Because to run away from anything but light and breezy is to keep running (because nothing at it’s core ever is) and to trade off a deeper love and connection.
A fulfilling life isn’t about ‘enjoying’ ourselves or having fun or feeling happy all the time, or even most of the time. That’s a one dimensional experience of reality and it leaves out the best bits. The bits that make us grow and the bits that make us BIG, the bits that give us depth.
It is important to make space inside, to feel bigger than any particular emotion or experience. That’s the only way that complexity of life won’t suck you under.
A meditation I used put it this way:
If you were a glass of water and someone dumped a spoonful of salt into you, you would be pretty salty.
But if you were an ocean and someone dumped a spoonful of salt into you, you would hardly change at all.
There is an incredible complexity of life and climates that can live in the ocean, without disturbing the ocean.
There is not much going on in the glass of water.
Be like the ocean.
And enjoy your dark chocolate 🙂

The Cost of Not Being a Kid

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A couple of years ago I was doing a self-esteem course. The course had a book with each chapter signifying an area of your life that you need to address. One of the chapters was on your inner child. The book’s author said that if you skipped the entire book and ONLY did that chapter, you would be better off than if you did the entire book and skipped the chapter. That’s how powerful he said it was to integrate your inner child.

Guess what I did? Yep, I said to myself “This is the part that I actually don’t need to do, I have no inner child, so I’m fine”

Fast forward two years later.

After experiencing a year of terrible depression, and battling things inside me I felt like I had no control over, I thought I’d look into that kid thing again.

Soon after the place I was renting was put on the market and I moved house.

I now live with a young boy named Daniel.  He has recently turned 5. His mother is my landlady. She is Russian just like me. Only from the opposite end of Russia. I am from European side and she’s from far east. Daniel has a Russian mother and a Korean father, who by the time I am writing this, is out of the picture.

When I first moved in I was concerned about living around a kid. I feel very edgy around kids. Even though they seem to like me, I never could understand them. They scared me. I decided that it’ll do me good to live with a kid. And it did. But it was a tough start.

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You see, our ability to interact with children comes from our acceptance and understanding of our own inner child. And I didn’t really do that with mine. So in the first months of living with Daniel I interacted with him as if he was an adult. Because I dissociated my inner child and couldn’t understand how a kid really functions. I couldn’t empathize with the human condition of growing up because I was unwilling to see the kid in myself.

I remember watching Daniel fall in puppy love with me and feeling a mixture of ego flattery and annoyance. The endless bids for attention, from pointless questions to crazy antics to violent outbursts…

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Then I realized one night, while watching Daniel, that this human had only been alive for just under 5 years. Only 5 years! And suddenly instead of being annoyed at his emotionally charged behaviours, I began to appreciate that for someone who has only been around for such a short a time, he is undertaking a monumental task of building his psyche, of learning and absorbing every bit of information around him, of making sense of things.

And I began to appreciate that some emotions were so big, almost too big for his little body to handle, that he needed help sorting them out. And that it was unfair to expect him to know how at 5 years old, when I sometimes don’t know at 33 years old.

That made me think about the things I blamed myself for that went as far back as 5 years old (being scared, being selfish, being foolish), the things and events I was unable to face. Why is it hard to face? Because I was blaming someone who doesn’t know any better and by never integrating it, I didn’t give it a chance to be heard and to learn any better.

My inner child and my inner adult were not related and therefore couln’t work together.

It is our job to integrate our inner child. Not our parents’ or caretakers. They have done their bit, as best they could. But the work is  not complete, we must finish what they started.

So what’s the cost?

The common myth is that if you aren’t in touch with your inner child, you will be extra adult, serious and mature in your life. And the only cost is that you do not play and have fun.

That is actually untrue. My personal experience and research have indicated that you lose much more.

Unaccepted, suppressed and ignored, the inner child doesn’t go away. Oh no. Have you ever tried to use these tactics with real kids? Do they go away? No, they become a real nightmare instead. Kids are biologically programmed to not tolerate being ignored, because if they are ignored and forgotten by adults, it means neglect and death for them. Your inner child has all the characteristics of a kid.

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So instead, your inner child gets pushed underground (into your subconscious) where it festers (becomes naughtier and naughtier), begins to rattle the cage and to affect the show (your life) from behind the scenes (without your awareness).

Your suppressed inner child is all those things in your psyche (irrational irritability, egocentrism, passive aggression, conformism, violent tendencies, lack of emotional boundaries) that run and ruin your life and relationships. And you seemingly don’t have control over them. You didn’t acquire them in your adult life, and thus your adult self cannot uproot and outgrow them. Only the inner child can be raised into an inner adult.

The above awareness comes at a cost, and the cost is…. a fair bit of emotional turmoil of course. For awhile. Because if you have been suppressing the inner kid for years it has turned into an unbearable little monster in an attempt to get attention and be acknowledged. It will throw many many tantrums. But once you begin to address it with compassion and mindfulness (that you have as an adult), you create a continuity in you that includes and transcends the child inside a higher, more evolved, adult consciousness.

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The reward is that it allows you to function better as a human, have awareness and control over your conditioned or lesser impulses, and it allows you to have more empathy for others (especially kids) who are still in the grips of the childhood growth process.

When working with children, it is essential to acknowledge your own and their emotions and thoughts without judgement (only actions can be controlled, emotions and thoughts are to be simply mindfully experienced). This gives them a great example  of how to begin to raise their inner child and grow up into integrated humans.

I was annoyed before but now I’m eternally grateful to little Daniel. He’s been one of my best teachers.

Kat

 

The Cost of Truth

This blog was born in the minds of two people – me and my ex. When we were still together we used to have these philosophical discussions about life and how everything is a trade-off. Many events and choices we encountered seemed to always lead to the one conclusion – if you want to have (or continue enjoying) something valuable, you must pay (or keep paying) with something else you also value, but a bit less.

 

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At first this notion seems rather cold and transactional – think like an economist. About your life? About yourself? About relationships? About kindness, love, spirituality and emotional intelligence? How can you think about those things in terms of trade-offs.

But in reality the trade-off view is simply the best way to play the ‘long game’ of life to the best of your ability. To live with purpose. To make your life your own creation. To be mindful of your values, your priorities, your long and short term goals with every choice you make. The cost of life is a mindset, in other words, that helps you have the will to change the things you can control, the insight to accept the things you can’t control, and have the wisdom to know the difference.

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So, since I think all those things are pretty important and I battle with them all the time, I thought that I would get the blog going and make our idea come true. After all, an idea, no matter how small, that is put into action is far better than an idea that exists only as an idea. Someone important said that.

Ironically it was my ex who gave me the domain for this blog as a birthday present. And now, 8 months after we parted ways, I thought about actually doing something about this blog thing. The reason is that both the relationship in all its tender beginnings from a beautiful friendship into romance, it’s turbulent and emotionally charged glory, as well as it’s painful decline and ultimate death, brought such an incredible transformation into my life, that all the suffering was 10,000 times worth the insights and breakthroughs that followed. Even though sometimes I wished I stayed blind but together. It was the ultimate cost of life. So now that time has passed and I gained an emotional and mental perspective, I will be writing things down.

I am not a writer, English is not my first language (Russian is) and I may not be very entertaining. But I like to write, it helps me think, and here I will simply do so, and maybe I’ll get better at it with time and practice. I have written in a diary since I was 12 years old and in love with my best friend. And since we used to read each other’s diaries, and I could never let her know of my inappropriate feelings (it was post-communist Russia and we were both female), I learned to hide myself really well, even from myself. Luckily I have fallen out of love with her and now we’re just really good long distance friends (I moved to New Zealand 16 years ago and she stayed in Russia and got married).

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So what is the cost of truth? How much bliss is ignorance exactly?

Truth can, and often is, initially painful and uncomfortable. Because truth (i call it reality sometimes) is almost always not what we thought was the case. We have one idea about reality, and truth comes along and says ‘oh no, THIS is the reality, honey”. So to know and accept the truth is to know and accept that you were wrong about something in your world. And if we don’t like one thing, it is to be wrong. And if others know that we were wrong, that’s even worse. And since others are often the bearers of truth (more on the nature of truth in another post), we find it extra distasteful to accept the truth in the presence of people. Especially the people we love, ugghh. After all, we want them to like us, to think we’re amazing and incredible and the sun shines out of out every orifice. And those people we love are the ones who hang around us the most, and often either deliver tidbits of truth to us or are there when life delivers it. So we absolutely hate it when we are wrong in front of people we love and yet the reality is that we are wrong in front of them most often. Hmmm. We are hating on reality. A losing battle. But only 100% of the time, as Byron Katie likes to say.

The truth is, that being wrong is the only way to grow. If a child thought it was right about everything, it would stay a child forever, but most likely not survive past 3 years old. So children know that there is nothing wrong with being wrong. But there is a cost to being a child too (more on that in the Cost of Being a Kid).

Therefore the cost of truth is the same as the cost of growth.

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Truth is information about our world and about ourselves. It is a collection of perspectives, as many perspectives as humanly possible, from as many sources as possible, as american philosopher, Ken Wilber, likes to say. The best way for us to operate in life is to base our actions on as accurate a representation of the reality as possible. So far so good. Truth rocks. What can possibly prevent us from ever wanting to know the whole truth?

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However there IS a cost. And that’s emotions. We do not just learn, we also feel. WE attach emotional meaning to our thoughts and our perceptions. And so the truth, whatever it is, will also have emotions attached to it. Positive and negative. And experiencing those emotions is the ultimate cost of truth. The emotionally attached you are, or better yet, the more skillful you are at identifying and experiencing all the emotions and then letting them go, the better you will be at handling truth. The more likely you are to seek truth out, the less afraid you are that the truth will shatter your fragile world of fantasy and plunge you into an emotional abyss of being ‘wrong’.

I have been there. It is called depression sometimes. But the other side of that river is transformation. And I decided to get to the other side. The price? To accept the truth and to commit to accepting the truth for the rest of my life. And that means handling difficult emotions and taming the ego (more in The Cost of Ego).

I am going to stop here and continue next week.

This is going to be a fun ride!

 

Kat