Back at the end of May, I visited the Holy Isle off the west coast of Scotland, completing the end of my first year of the MSc Studies in Mindfulness. It has been a fruitful year, full of challenges but many insights and a new way of being. Rather symbolically, as we engaged with closing ceremonies of our first year of study, I held a mini closing ceremony within my mind for my 31st year on this earth as the end of the course coincided with the day before my birthday. As a close to this poignant time and as I embark on the second year of the course, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and learnings on mindfulness, meditation and life.
1. Energy follows focus
One of the teachings that has come up time and time again this year during our classes and meditations is how energy follows focus. I have found this to hold true within my life. As I have let go of many beliefs that no longer served me this year, this gave space to focus on areas that were important to me. As a result I have witnessed that where I have placed my focus has brought a great amount of energy towards it, with subsequent actions being taken towards things I deeply care about. This means I am achieving things that I want to achieve and no longer engaging much with things that do not enrich my life. Examples of how letting go of old habits and engaging with a new focus has benefitted me include changing roles at work to one I really enjoy, working a 4 day week, spending more time in nature, re-engaging with my passion for music, increasing my environmentally friendly habits, and finishing year one of my mindfulness degree with a distinction (hooray!).
2. Community is essential to wellbeing
A sense of community is so important to wellbeing. My fellow coursemates come from all walks of life and we range a span of ages, but we all hold something very much in common. We hold a combined wish for the alleviation of suffering of ourselves and others. Our similarities simply exist through our common humanity. As a result, we are all open, honest and caring of each other. The community we have built is like a family. After the retreat, we all journeyed back to our respective homes, but the bonds we built will carry us forward in our lives. Feeling such a deep connection is essential for wellbeing. As humans, we can take comfort in the support and caring of others. Finding a community where you can be honest and open is very important for feeling that it’s ok to be your raw, authentic self.
3. Compassionately accepting your wonderful and utterly abysmal self is the path to liberation
Don’t shy away from the praises, nor the heckling of your own mind. Don’t shy away from the blandness of your being either. Embrace every single part of it. Notice the neurosis, notice the foul habits, notice the preferences, the judgements and every pressure or praise you attribute to yourself. And let them be what they are. Celebrate what a wonderful and disgusting human you are. Because most of us are not saints. We are real human beings, warts and all. And that is pretty amazing. If we focus less on berating ourselves and instead embrace ourselves with a compassionate heart, this gives us the space and energy to focus on achieving things that can benefit ourselves and others.
4. Everyone is a wise sage. Everyone is an inspiration
Sometimes we look to celebrities for wisdom or as inspiration. But here is the truth: they are just humans. Just like you and me. So spend some time to see what wisdom people in your immediate life possess and what an inspiration they can be. This includes the people who bring out the worst in you. They are an inspiration for highlighting those areas where you are vulnerable and where you need to treat yourself more kindly.
5. Don’t give up on your childhood dreams
As part of one of our closing ceremonies for the end of the university year, we were invited to share our pledge of compassion towards ourselves and the world. Thinking about the pledge and my life as a whole, I thought back to when I was a child in the primary school playground. I remembered watching kids being picked on and how many of them had difficult lives at home. It made me very aware of a great deal of suffering, which opened me to a bit of a superhero complex at a young age. It also opened my eyes to how bullies often were suffering just as badly as their victims. Everyone was suffering. Back then as a child, I pledged that I would save everyone in the world who was suffering. I tried wherever I could to place an end to the suffering and to look out for those around me. Over the years, I continued my attempt to help others but this began to wane somewhat as I over-burned my resources and was rebuffed for my attempts to help others. I became somewhat hardened to others’ suffering, even though largely speaking people would describe me as a kind and caring person. Through this past year of intense training, I felt my heart open once more. I decided it didn’t matter if it was a superhero complex or not, but that seeing this great community of coursemates who want nothing more than to better the world, my childhood pledge was achievable after all through the actions of myself and those with similar intentions. And so I reinstate my pledge and I share it with you now:
I pledge to free the world and sentient beings from suffering and to build a more loving, environmentally sustainable community.
Perhaps it is a big goal, but that does not matter. All that matters is I follow this intention, this burning desire, because it is to the benefit of mankind that I take my place as a supporter of all of us and our world. As a child, I used to imagine I would be a celebrated superhero for all I did in this world. Now I know better. I will be an unsung hero, an unseen force whose name won’t be remembered after I am gone. And that is absolutely fine. That is better than fine. I will have played my part in the wheel of life and my actions will live on through others and this world when I am gone.
6. Keep on learning and growing
Sometimes we can gain a sense of complacency in our desire to carry on learning and growing. In some cases, people don’t wish to focus on self development and I guess that is fine so long as they are happy. But my thought is how much potential each of us hold and how often people can spend an entire life never unlocking their potential. Whilst we can think of potential in terms of a set of skills like being a great mathematician, musician, artist, athlete or whatever other skills we have, I think of our potential as something more universal. Have we unlocked our potential to really feel free within ourselves? Or do we continue to battle with our thoughts and feelings? How much time do we spend feeling happy or content versus unable to sit with our stress, anxiety or anger? And how do we relate to our world? Do we live life to the benefit of ourselves and not share our wealth (material or otherwise) with others? Do we see ourselves as separate to others and this world somehow? If so, perhaps we should take to the cushion and keep on learning and continuing to bloom into the best version of ourselves.