This post is going to be quite different to the rest of my portfolio. Usually, I’m fairly irreverent and sarcastic whilst reviewing and (hopefully) insightful when discussing the topic of football. The problem with writing, I find, is that whilst I’m bursting at the seams with creativity, sometimes, if I force it, meaningless drivel comes pouring out onto the page or screen and I’m left deeply unfulfilled. See, writing is what I’m good at. And like anyone else who pursues creative hobbies, I can’t just leave something I’m not entirely impressed with on my blog and go about my day. I’m usually a laid back sort of guy– at school I’d leave homework until the last minute, unless it was something where I could get my creative juices flowing– but when it comes to writing it’s the only thing I’m actually a bit obsessive about.
Lately, however, I’ve noticed a rise in creative levels. Things feel more natural, like I’m not having to force anything. I’m not saying I’ve unlocked my inner Shakespeare (I’m better, obvs) but I’m sharper and it feels pretty good.
Now of course, I’m not writing this without prior knowledge to why this is, I just wanted to set the scene alright? But I shall tell you why. Most people who know me will say I’m pretty chilled. They’re right, I’m positive, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never had a day in my life where I was down and, in fact, I almost had a whole year of it. In second year at university, for reasons I won’t delve into because that’s not what this post’s about, life was pretty dreary and dull.
Looking back on this period, it’s like I wasn’t me, like I was a shadow. Things wouldn’t excite me as usual; things seemed bleak, even when I had something to look forward to. I’m quite adept at giving people advice and mostly I tell them to think about things positively, always look at the bright side. But in this period, I really wasn’t taking my own advice. There would be days where I’d lie in bed and achieve approximately nothing. I’d shy away from new experiences and generally just feel sorry for myself for essentially no reason.
Then, one day, I woke up, as usual, with the intention of going to a lecture, having worried the previous night about talking to people in it, but I was fine. I wasn’t worrying. Things seemed easier and, thinking about my anxieties, I realised how silly they were. But I also realised that it’s okay to be in a bad mood. I think this was part of my problem; I was worried about being worried.
Things started to get better but I had that inner monologue running still. You know the one in your head that makes you worry about things? What about when you think up hypothetical situations, changing what has happened in the past momentarily in your head? “What if I’d said or done this? That would have made things easier.” Or perhaps worrying about a thing that might happen in the future. Point is though, we all know we can’t change the past or see into the future so why do we let ourselves get carried away in our own heads when we should be focusing on what’s happening now?
We’re a weird bunch, humans. How many times have you dropped something, or banged your foot, or missed your train, cursed the inanimate object or gods and then gone about your life with that frustration pent up inside you, which has then made you have a bad day? It sounds ridiculous when you read it like that but at the time you get so caught up in that emotion that you make it a part of you. We all do it. But that doesn’t mean we should.
Through careful investigation and exploration of these ideas, I have found solutions, very simple ones, that have made my life easier. But this isn’t a vanity piece detailing my sorrows and how I’m happy now. I’m attempting to use something I’m good at to help others. Even if I can use my writing to help one person out, it’ll be worth it. Through certain practises, I know you can be happier. I did it, and I’m just a regular human like you who got caught up in my own head.
Firstly, you must remember to stay in the present. A book I believe everyone should read is Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. He reminds us that the only thing we can be certain of is the present and that by focusing your attention on it, we can ensure we don’t waste our lives fretting about the past or the future (It’s worth noting here that Tolle’s wisdom is a tad abstract, but easy enough to understand and definitely worth the read).
As we’ve said, anything in the past can’t be changed (unless you’re a member of the Fiction Depertment like in George Orwell’s 1984), and the future can’t be predicted, or, as knowledgable sci-fi fans will tell you, pardoxes will occur and that’s nasty. So don’t let yourself get carried away on the nefarious and incessant stream of anxiety in your head. As soon as you start to hear that thought pattern in your head, focus on your breathing. This brings you back to the present. It helps to clear your mind, which is what we want to achieve.
You deserve to be happy, no matter what anyone is telling you. But sometimes it’s not others berating you, but your own mind. It won’t let us forget past experiences, reminds us we did something wrong or frightens us by saying we aren’t good enough. But the important thing to remember is something that we often forget: you are not your mind. Your mind is a powerful tool, obviously. It is what I am using to write this blog piece, it’s what you are using to process the information, and it also stores a great deal of memories. I know this might sound wonderfully schizophrenic but it’s true; it’s just an organ in your body.
Once you are able to differentiate between you and your mind, you are able to break free of the negativity it throws at you on a daily basis. What you must do is observe. Observe the negative thought patterns that you are so used to, the ones that entrap you. Notice how you don’t have to make them a part of you. Observe the emotions that come bubbling up to the surface, the ones that tell you to get frustrated about silly, small things. You are also not your emotions. Just because an emotion arises, it doesn’t mean you have to take it on board.
This is something you can practise easily. Next time you drop something or hurt yourself by accident, just observe the emotion of frustration or anger. Then ignore it. It makes your day worse and it’s pointless.
Now we come to another important point: the ego. This is something everyone has, not just Jack the Lads who think they’re God’s gift. It’s the thing that makes you fear embarassment, the thing that won’t let you drop an issue because you think you’re right. The ego, Eckhart Tolle tells us, fears destruction. That’s why you shake your head, bemused at someone making a tit of themselves. That’s why, when you have a disagreement, you won’t let it drop in your own head because you have that need to be right.
It’s okay though. Again, everyone has it. But, similarly, it doesn’t have to be so. While the ego fears destruction, you shouldn’t. We all know embarassment never killed anyone and that you’ll still be alive and kicking whether you were right or not. Have you ever tried to argue with someone who doesn’t care if they’re right or wrong? It’s very difficult. But what the ego does is consume your thinking with nonsensical issues such those aforementioned. But ultimately, you know that they don’t actually matter and that you’ll come through the situation unscathed. Again, observe the ego at work. Notice its patterns.
Part of Tolle’s teachings speak of “Pain-bodies”. They are the pain that you feel when something bad happens to you. Perhaps you didn’t achieve the grade you wanted or you’ve had a bad break up or something else similarly disastrous. The pain-bodies can sort of be seen as parasites that feed on your sadness. They need you to remain downtrodden so that they continue to exist. What we do in times of pain is make that raw emotion become a part of us. It’s normal to feel emotional pain. But what usually happens is we wallow in that pain and feel sorry for ourselves for much longer than we need to.
You might be ripping your hair out and yelling at the screen “but it’s not that easy!” You’re right, and wrong, in equal measures. Right insofar that being a human and having emotions is not easy. But wrong, because it can be easy. If you are in a situation that’s upsetting, there are only two things you can do unless you have a magic wand. Firstly, change that situation. If there’s anything you can do within your power to change it, then you must. However, as is often the case, and there’s nothing you can do, the only other option is to accept it for how it is. This isn’t to say, give up and let things fuck you over. What I mean is, don’t get worked up and full of bad emotions because that isn’t going to help anyone, especially yourself. You might be thinking you have every right to be sad. Of course you do, but do you want to be?
Once you realise and understand what I have said, it leads to a much happier life. If you practise the techniques, you can get to a point where the monologue in your head is but a faint whisper that you treat like a recalcitrant child. And once you have less background noise, it leaves you much more space to think freely and creatively, hence why I feel sharper. It also allows you to pay more attention to your surroundings and begin to notice, with amazement, how beautiful life is.
I would further implore anyone to meditate. I shall perhaps leave my experiences of meditation for another blog piece but all I’ll say now is that I started five months ago and the benefits have been innumerable. Additionally, forgive. Forgive others who have wronged you and forgive yourself for wrongdoing. Life isn’t there to be filled with animosity. Only when you forgive can you truly live in the present; if you hold onto bad feelings and memories from the past, you cannot.
Using these techniques and living in the present is why I, myself, am in a good place. Looking inwards to find happiness is the key, instead of outwards to possessions and experiences. They are transient, your happiness doesn’t have to be. When you are in the present, colours are brighter and life is much easier.
Some who read this may dismiss it entirely, some may have but a smidgeon of curiosity. But, hopefully, at least one person will be affected positively. If you’ve got any questions or challenges to my piece then please, feel free to leave a comment or chat to me directly.
[Here’s a link to some of Eckhart Tolle’s work, just to give you a feel: http://communicate.eckharttolle.com/news/2013/07/12/creating-consciousness-to-grow-in-presence-power/ ]