Michael Geary / Cranmore Academy LLP https://michaelgeary.co.uk Sun, 02 Feb 2020 05:45:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/cropped-favicon-32x32.png Michael Geary / Cranmore Academy LLP https://michaelgeary.co.uk 32 32 Drunken Monkeys https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2020/02/02/drunken-monkeys/ https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2020/02/02/drunken-monkeys/#respond Sun, 02 Feb 2020 05:21:21 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252238

Drunken Monkeys

Most of us have taken a knock to our confidence at one point or another. Generally, we find our footing and get back in the game. But sometimes the effects can linger making it difficult to regain our sense of self-worth. What do we do then?

What follows are excerpts of a recent conversation I had with Chelsea, a sport-scholarship student whose injury and illness redefined her sense of self and challenged her ability to be the strong, confident champion she is used to being.

“I can’t seem to reconnect with the strong person I used to be. I shy away from difficult situations, cry for no good reason and walk around saying ‘sorry’ to everyone, even to strangers, for no good reason. I used to be so confident, I was the toughest on the field and everyone looked up to me. I was a top scorer and inspired other team members to dig deep and win with me.”

“I understand that your illness was in part a result of pushing yourself too hard, over training, and maybe the wrong diet. Is that right?” I asked.

“Yes, that is true. But you have to do that to compete at my level. It wasn’t just one thing, but a combination of things including pressures to perform academically.”

“Are you well now?”

“I’m physically better, but not emotionally. I can’t seem to get back to my former self.”

“Is there anything else you haven’t mentioned?” I inquired. “Are there other factors contributing to your depression?”

“Well, yes there are. My classmates and teammates haven’t helped. Friends I cared for and who I thought cared for me, now ignore me. It seems like I’m not one of them anymore. It feels like they are afraid of me, that maybe my bad luck will rub off on them. A couple of them have actually been quite mean. Some of my teachers also don’t seem to get it. They look at me and remember the old, ‘better me’ and try to push me back into shape. I am sure they mean well, but it’s having the opposite effect.”

I took the time to reflect back to Chelsea what I had heard from her. I empathised with her experience and validated the feelings I understood she had.

“Shall we talk about making a come back and regaining your confidence? Look at a few ideas that can help you do that?”

“I was hoping you had some advice.”

“First step is to talk it through with someone, like you are doing with me now. Let’s take some time to reflect on your previous successes. How did you achieve those? You’re a winner by nature. Looking at your past hard work and how it paid off will help. This means remembering the good.”

Chelsea told me about her past challenges and successes. I wrote them down and shared them back with her afterwards. I encouraged her to feel the positivity of her wins and to connect within herself as the observer, the witness of those wins.

“The next step is a kind of meditation. Clear your mind of all concerns. Step back into yourself and observe that you are different from the mind. You are the viewer of what goes on in the mind, just like a person in a cinema watches a movie projected on a screen, you are observing changeable mental chatter being played on the screen of your mind. Sometimes the chatter is helpful and feels good, sometimes it’s not and causes us stress. The movie in our mind changes all the time. Some days are good, some days are not. The movie changes, but the viewer, the witness which is you – does not change. Yoga teaches that this viewer is the soul, the real and unchanging self. Yogis who know this are able to change the script of their mental chatter and make it positive, even joyful.”

“I’ve been thinking about this. I have a sense of it. In my better days I observed my mind as strong, determined and able to will myself toward success. Then I got ill and my mind reacted to that, which created a different inner dialogue.”

“And from what you said, it sounds as though that negative voice was reinforced by what you heard from your friends and teammates.”

“Yes, that is right. At first their negativity confused me and then I started believing it! It was like they were reading out from the same script I observed in my mind.”

“So, you get the distinction,” I said. “You are more than just the mind. You are the observer of the mind and you can write it a new script.”

“I get it. I’ve recognised that I can’t fight the mind. It’s too stubborn. And it’s painful when I think I am the negative chatter of the mind. Especially because I know that I’m not. I am capable of better.”

“In the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna tells Lord Krishna that controlling the mind seems more difficult than controlling the raging wind.”

“How does Krishna reply?”

“That it is possible, with practice and detachment.”

“Detachment means stepping back from the mind and not identifying with its chatter?”

“Yes.”

“And the practice? What is that?”

“There are many practices that can strengthen the mind and make it our friend. A simple practice is to observe and perceive.”

“Can you explain?”

“The very attempt to control the mind illustrates that the mind is not the self. The mind is not the observer or the witness. For instance, if you say to your mind, ‘don’t be negative… don’t think bad thoughts,’ it will certainly resist, and become more stubborn. If you tell the mind to quiet down, it raises its voice. Lord Buddha said that it’s as though the mind is populated with drunken monkeys who want our attention.”

“It seems that you are saying that I shouldn’t engage in conversation with the negative chatter.”

“Exactly. My suggestion is that you should converse with the higher mind, the part of your mind that thrives on the positive, the hopeful and the dynamic.”

“That is the old me, for sure. I get the point about changing my perception and not believing the negative mind, or my negative friends. Are there are other things I can do to rebuild my confidence.”

“Let me tell you about simple practices that can help you do that. With a little bit of effort and some patience, you will see how you can change your mind and your outlook for the better…”

—Michael

—To be continued—

 

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Talking in circles https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2020/01/25/talking-in-circles/ Sat, 25 Jan 2020 16:06:04 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252212

Talking in circles

We are living in the “Information Age”, a time when we can broadcast our thoughts, amplify our opinions, multiply our connections and leverage our influence. One timely tweet has the potential to connect with hundreds of thousands, one cute video the chance to find an audience of millions.

The Flynn Effect tells us that the increase of information is raising our IQs over time. We have more data, more information and we are getting smarter, but are we getting wiser? Are we better listeners as a result? And do we understand each other better? What follows are excerpts of a conversation with a client about her challenges in talking, listening and being understood.

“We don’t seem to connect and understand each other anymore! We talk with each other, but the more we do, the more it feels like we are drifting apart. We seem to talk past each other. We don’t fight, but neither do we seem to gel like we once did. The lack of connection is irritating to the both of us – well at least me, but so far, we’ve kept it civil. We both want to connect, to reconnect, but it sometimes feels more like we are strangers than a long-term couple, and that makes us wonder who is it that we are trying to connect to. In a nutshell, it feels like we are talking in circles.”

Emma and her partner Rob have been together almost twenty-years. Both are professionals that travel regularly, often separating them for up to a week at a time.

“I’ve also been talking in circles too recently,” I said.

She looked at me quizzically.

“A different kind of circle. I’ve been talking in sacred circles. It’s a wisdom model of communication in which everyone has an equal place in a sharing circle. We take turns. We all get a chance to speak and be heard as well as a chance to listen carefully to each other.”

“Wisdom model?”

“Most wisdom traditions have some version of the sacred circle, where open and honest expression are encouraged, and patient reflective listening is practiced. Sacred because wisdom traditions see each individual as sacred and vital to the wellbeing of the group.

“How big is the circle?” she asked.

“Between 6 and 9 people, depending on the day and who is free to participate.”

“That’s more complicated that our situation. There is only two of us.”

“If it can work for 9 people it can work for 2.”

“How does it work?”

“Like I said, everyone takes a turn to speak. We call it ‘checking in’, which means expressing where we are at, how we are feeling, what is challenging us and where we could use some support.”

“Is that it? Does it work?”

“There is one step more that helps it work and that is reflective listening. The speaker can invite any member of the circle to ‘reflect back’ to them what they heard. This lets the speaker know that they have ‘been heard,’ which creates trust and openness.”

“So, the person giving feedback is not giving advice?”

“If the speaker asks for help and advice then yes, advice or opinions can be given. But sharing opinions is not what the circle is about. It’s about creating a space where people feel heard, understood and supported.”

“What do you think is the main benefit of sacred circle sharing?”

“My experience is that it creates emotional understanding and connection. This brings people together and creates acceptance of each other for who we are and where we are at.

“It sounds like a good way to stop talking past each other. I was thinking about my communication with Rob the other day and wondered if we are talking to each other like we are making posts on social media. That kind of communication is one-way… while I talk, he is thinking about what he wants to say. It feels more like a debate, like posting an opinion that is better than mine.”

“Sacred circle communication helps to take the competition out of communication. The goal is connection and mutual understanding, not conquest or dominance.”

“So, how do you think Rob and I could apply the sacred circle in our communication.”

“Start with a simple practice. First thing is to sit down with each other and don’t rush into talking. Take a moment to be calm, breathe and get centred. A minute of quiet can be helpful. Then take turns. Let him speak and listen carefully. Let him talk until he feels he is done. Then he can tell you that he is ‘checking out and his turn is over.’”

“OK. We definitely don’t do that now!”

“I understand. That is another reason for the word sacred. You take extra care with something sacred.”

“Go on. What’s next?”

“Then you reflect back to him, as accurately as you can, what he said. Try to enter into his mood. Speak respectfully to that mood. Go through the main points of what he said. When you are done, ask him if he ‘feels understood.’ Then he can confirm to you that you’ve understood him and also explain important points that you may have missed.”

“And then it’s my turn?”

“Exactly. Once you have had a chance to speak and he has reflected back to you, once you feel understood, then you can both take turns deepening the exchange, following the careful reflective listening way of doing things.”

“Well this is something new, isn’t it?”

“Well not really. Sacred circle sharing is ancient. But if you think back to when you first met Rob, I wager that you spoke to each other with the same careful listening I’ve been talking about. You were both attentive to each other, and it felt wonderful to know that someone cared enough about you to listen to your views and feelings, fears and hopes.”

“I’d like to get back to that. I am going to try it and will let you know the results.”

“You’ll be surprised how magical and transformative careful listening can be. I am sure it will help revive your understanding of each other.”

“Thank you.”

—Michael

 

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The solstice, Christmas and new year celebrations

The solstice, Christmas and new year celebrations offer us a time to go within, to hear our inner voice, to renew and prepare for new cycles of fertility and creativity in the year ahead. It is an ideal time to take stock and perhaps to reconnect with your Vedic chart to gain some insight and guidance on the year ahead.

I invite you to contact me to arrange an appointment or to order one here on my website. And in the spirit of Christmas, I am offering two of my limited edition giclees, astrological colour-field portraits – one of Muhammad Ali and the other of Albert Einstein (pictured below) as a gift to the first two orders I receive.

I look forward to hearing from you and keeping in touch in the year ahead. Carry the flame. Stay positive. Love life.
—Michael

Or contact me below for info …

If you’re not sure what type of consult to book with Michael, please fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you to find a most suitable solution.

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Solstice, Shamans & Christmas Trees https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/12/22/solstice-shamans-christmas-trees/ Sun, 22 Dec 2019 03:32:28 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252145

Solstice, Shamans & Christmas Trees

The weather is wet. Dark clouds hang low in the sky as a wane sun goes down on a day of days that grow ever shorter as we approach the solstice. Sitting in front of the fire my thoughts drift to the time of year and how nature marks the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.

We haven’t put the Christmas tree up yet, even though that potted fir is in the garden waiting to play its festive role for a fourth year running. I remember that the practice has its origin with European pagans, who decorated their homes with evergreen branches to mark the approaching solstice, as did Romans who decorated their temples with evergreens for their festival of Saturnalia. Decorating with firs, and evergreens like mistletoe and holly that flower in winter, symbolise a revolt against the darkness of winter and herald the renewal of life, new cycles of fertility and the eventual spring that lies ahead.

I started thinking about change and the need to let go in order to achieve renewal in our lives. Without that renewal our lives can become stale and stagnant, like water that doesn’t flow.

I thought about our resistance to change and our fear of the unknown, which we sometimes try and overcome with well-intended New Year’s resolutions that too often fail to stick.

Breaking my reverie, my wife Lalita walked into the room. I looked up and asked, “how do nomads deal with constant change?” Her quizzical expression told me I had failed to bring her into my internal dialogue. She shrugged and left me to ponder further.

“Do nomads have an easier time with change? What gives them a centre for their lives?”, I asked myself.

I did some reading and discovered that their peripatetic lives give them an advantage over ‘sedentists’ (people who stay put). Psychologists report that nomads have heightened levels of perception, greater cognitive discernment and are generally more self-reliant, independent and self-confident – traits which are cultivated in their childhood through a culture of encouragement, play, and creativity – without the imposition of any form of harsh treatment.

“Is our modern fear of change rooted in our cultural emphasis on conformity and sameness?”, I wondered.

I read further and discovered that nomads find their centre with the help of shamans, who guide them to connect with their inner spirit world and the natural spirit world around them. “Is their practice of shamanism one reason why they are so comfortable with constant change?”, I asked myself.
Lalita poked her head in the door, this time holding out my mobile phone. “It’s Tim. He wants a word.”
We met Tim, who works for an NGO in Peru, at a recent Cranmore Foundation wisdom conference.
“Hi Tim. What’s up?”
“I thought you might like to know that Mercedes is in town. I thought the two of you should meet up.”
Tim had previously mentioned Mercedes, a Peruvian shaman who lives close to Aguas Calientes, at the base of Machu Picchu where his NGO is based. I couldn’t ignore the synchronicity between his call and my question about shamans and so called Mercedes straight away to arrange a meeting and an interview for my work at Cranmore Foundation. We met the following day.

Mercedes is a Quechua woman born in Cusco. She is a Q’ero altomesayoq shaman who works with mountain spirits. I told her about my interest in how we all deal with change and my curiosity about the role that shamans play with change. Here are excerpts of my conversation with her:

“How does your tradition view the role of change in our lives? How do shamans help people manage change?” I asked.

“We are here to be reborn, again and again… to gradually discover our true inner spirit and our place in the world. To do this we have to be open to receive and adapt. We have to be ready to let go of the ways that don’t serve us well anymore. To move forward we have to accept change, willingly, with an open heart, with the mood of a warrior, with courage and with humility.”

“And the shamans’ role in helping with that?”

“Shamans act as a bridge to the spirit world. They help us reunite our inner spirit with the great spirit. They help create order out of chaos. They guide us to the invisible reality and show us other possibilities. Shamans help us drop the falsehoods that we mistake for who we are. Shamans travel with us, to support us in dealing with change that is healthy and rejuvenating. Shamans can light a fire of courage in our hearts.”

I had to take a moment to let all that sink in. I fell silent and busied myself taking notes.
“Sometimes change is forced on us. Sometimes we seek it out. Is there a difference?” I asked.
“Change comes of its own accord. When we are internally ready, we seek it out. When we are stubborn and attached, it is sometimes forced on us. But change keeps us vital. It wakes us up from the slumber of our own convenience and comfort.”

“Tim told me about the shock of your initiation into your role as a medicine-woman — how you were hit by lightning!”

“I was so stubborn I needed lightning to wake me up!” she said with a mischievous grin and glint in her eye.

“Is there a gentler way for those of us unwilling to conduct high voltage shocks into our lives?”

“Yes, but there is always a healing crisis of some sort. It depends on the individual’s circumstances. The more we can willingly embrace change, the more chance the crisis will be less sharp.”

“So, there is no progress without discomfort?”
“No.”
“How do shamans facilitate such a healing?”

“There are many ways and many traditions. You know them, I think. Inipi or sweat lodges, where you sit in circle with others and embrace the discomfort of the heat and dark in order to induce an inner shift with yourself. There are dietas, where you fast and take medicine from plants and trees in isolation from others to achieve an inner transformation. There are vision quests, where you go to the mountains or forest on your own, fasting from food and water, to quiet the mind and rediscover your inner voice. And there is shamanic breathwork, something akin to intense yogic pranayama, which is accompanied by drumbeats and chanting.”

“So, the essence of the shamanic way is to accept some discomfort to achieve change and transformation in our life?”

“Yes. And it can be done in lots of ways. Perhaps running a marathon is one way. Or setting out on a long lonely trek is another. What matters most is our intent… our motive… are we embracing sacrifice to arrive at a higher place within ourselves? The outcome is what matters most.”

We talked late into the night. I was grateful to have the chance to exchange with Mercedes. The following evening, she did a ceremony for me and Lalita, which was a special experience and gave us insight into the magic of the shamanic path. In turn, I was happy to consult Mercedes on her astrological chart, which indeed symbolised a real shaman sitting in front of me. As she was leaving, she requested that we “keep in touch on the spirit plane,” with a wink and that special grin of hers.

 

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Book a consultation

In the spirit of Christmas, I am offering two of my limited edition giclees, astrological colour-field portraits – one of Muhammad Ali and the other of Albert Einstein (pictured above) as a gift to the first two bookings received.

The solstice, Christmas and new year celebrations

The solstice, Christmas and new year celebrations offer us a time to go within, to hear our inner voice, to renew and prepare for new cycles of fertility and creativity in the year ahead. It is an ideal time to take stock and perhaps to reconnect with your Vedic chart to gain some insight and guidance on the year ahead.

I invite you to contact me to arrange an appointment or to order one here on my website. And in the spirit of Christmas, I am offering two of my limited edition giclees, astrological colour-field portraits – one of Muhammad Ali and the other of Albert Einstein (pictured below) as a gift to the first two orders I receive.

I look forward to hearing from you and keeping in touch in the year ahead. Carry the flame. Stay positive. Love life.
—Michael

Or contact me below for info …

If you’re not sure what type of consult to book with Michael, please fill out the form below and we’ll get back to you to find a most suitable solution.

“Being well. Doing well.”

Download My Free Booklet When You Join Our Mailing List

You’ll also receive our regular newsletter and details about our upcoming events. You can easily unsubscribe at any time.

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Live and let love https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/11/24/live-and-let-love/ Sun, 24 Nov 2019 21:00:45 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252119

Live and let love

My 92-year-old father-in-law Michael had a bad fall last week. He is a fiercely independent English gentleman made of tough stuff from another era. A lot went into making him tough.

He lost his father at fourteen years old and had to step into his shoes and look after his mother and younger siblings, a brother and twin sisters. His dad died young in large part due to the time he suffered as a prisoner of war in a camp hospital at Istanbul, where he was left unfed and, as a tall man, reduced to 35kgs in weight. By a stroke of luck, he was found among the dead on the day of the camp’s liberation, drawing attention to himself by moving his hand. Afterwards the doctors advised him that he could not survive a serious illness as a result of this trauma. And so, he readied Michael from an early age for the eventuality of his own short life and the obligations that would fall on his son’s young shoulders.

Michael was toughened in other ways too. He suffered TB in his school years and lived through the Blitz, war rationing and other privations common in England at the time.

Despite his medical history he determinedly talked his way into the army and become an officer. The army suited him and a lifelong career in the service seemed certain when he was offered the post of aide-de-camp to a general – just at a time when family circumstances forced him to change direction and take a job as a clerk with a brokerage firm in the city of London at the age of 24. He would go on to marry, raise a family of three children and become a successful partner in his firm, with bowler hat, briefcase and brolly in hand and a daily commute to the city, where business was conducted on a handshake and your word and wits were your most important assets. He built his life on his principles, values and his Christian faith giving him a strong sense of duty to family, community and country.

My wife Lalita and I paid him a visit a couple of days ago, walking into his sitting room as the end of the TV news programme he had been watching. After exchanging pleasantries and asking how he felt, we ended up talking about his life, the truth and his concern about the future.

“The world is getting worse, and more complicated,” he pronounced.

“But it’s always been like this, has it not? Different problems, different players—same shenanigans?” I replied.

“It’s true that the world, like me, has seen its share of troubles. C’est la vie, as they say, ‘that’s life.’ Times change, people change, things move on. I’ve seen plenty of that. But things seem stranger now… I think…”

I wondered to myself if this was the inflexible fixed-in-his-ways aspect of his age talking.

“And it’s not my age, if that is what you are thinking.”

‘Busted,’ I thought.

“It’s not a nice place. That’s all. And I am worried about my grandchildren. I want them to be OK.”

“There is a lot that needs to be done to make that happen,” I said. “Where do we start? What comes first?”

“Climate change,” Lalita offered.

“I thought you were going to say sort out Brexit!” I joked. “What do you think Michael? What needs to happen?”

“I don’t have the answers to such problems. It’s all too complicated. But I do know something that would help.”

“Go on.”

“The world needs love. In the end, it always comes back to love. We see it in history, I’ve seen it in my life. Man’s search for love and his perennial inability to find it, not so much in others as much in himself.”

“My dad is sounding more and more like you,” Lalita ventured.

“I’m not sure about that,” I parried.  

Lalita then told her dad about my own experience forty years ago.

My guru had recently passed away and I had left his ashram-monastery. I was sitting in my kitchen in upper Manhattan, confused and wrestling with my emotions and a few of life’s big questions. At least they felt big to me at the time. In retrospect I think I was just trying to make sense of my life. My monastic studies taught me to ask questions and probe deeply. I asked myself what might guide me in my new life and remembered a favourite saying of my guru, “God is love and love is God.” A simple thought then came to me: “be the love you want to see in the world.” And that has guided me ever since.

Michael sat and listened to the story and said,

“We do agree then. Love is the answer. It’s the only sane response to life in this world. The more we love, the more love we have.”

“When we choose for love, we find that we are always ‘in love’. Kindness, compassion and empathy is the grammar of a universal language that everyone understands.”

“In my long life I’ve found that kindness and care is attractive to anyone. There is nothing strange about love and kindness. I told you I had only simple answers.”

—Michael

 

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Winter Rest https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/11/08/winter-rest/ Fri, 08 Nov 2019 19:21:39 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252078

Winter Rest

I looked out the kitchen window this morning to a very different garden than the one I’ve enjoyed over the summer. The bushy plants were gone. Everything was cut back, sharp and stark. The lush rose bushes, red, white and yellow were now only thorny stumps. Vines were cut back to their base, leaves had all dropped and new topsoil compost had been laid leaving a black blanket of empty space that replaced a once happy floral and herbal tapestry. “Winter has arrived,” I thought.

copyright Devan Freeman @free_devan / Unsplash

I asked my wife Lalita, “what happened to the garden!”

“I helped the gardener put it to bed yesterday.”

“Funny way to say it,” I said and drifted off with my coffee in hand to think about the purpose and meaning of winter. It reminded me of the Biblical quote that says that everything has a season, a time and purpose. It’s obvious that everything in nature needs a break, a time to rest and rejuvenate. Winter is a time when everything slows down, when seeds have their ‘winter rest’ in preparation for germination in the spring.

“Do you think that people also need a winter rest?” I asked Lalita.

“I do, but we don’t really get it anymore. We are too busy. The on switch is always on. We are all striving to get the next thing done, or the thing after that.”

“It seems that we rarely stop along the way to take in the view and be present to where we are at.”

“We’ve lost connection to the seasons and their importance to us,” she suggested.

“How so? We have the holiday season, we go on ski trips, or summer beach holidays. We haven’t lost touch totally.”

“Perhaps not in that way, but I think we’ve lost connection to what the seasons mean in a deeper symbolic sense, which I think is important for our psychic, emotional and physical health.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Winter is a time for going within, literally and metaphorically. I think of it as a time of reflection and meditation. It’s a time for quiet listening to what our intuition and heart tells us. When we do that, we have a chance of finding new and better ways of doing things. We grow and develop. Instead of driving forward relentlessly, taking time out to reflect and assess seems a very healthy thing to me.”

“I hear this a lot from clients, how they would like to stop and take stock but ‘just don’t have the time.’”

“Taking time to prune keeps a garden healthy. Cutting back creates new growth. Stronger growth.”

“But, if you’ll pardon a gardening pun, that runs against the grain of most people. We get attached to what we know and shy away from change, what to speak of intentionally creating it.”

“I agree, it takes a bit of courage and some discipline to stop and pare back to what really matters, to what really serves us well. But if we do, things get lighter and clearer. It feels good too and helps us focus on what counts.”

“Discipline, courage, and cutting back to simplify are aspects of the Dharma principle of Effort.”

“I’ve always thought there was a hidden wisdom in gardening,” she said smiling.

“The gist of it for me is that we should recognise that, like all things in nature, we need time to go within and reflect. To stay healthy, we have to stop from time to time — and look and listen to the deeper part of us. Otherwise, we just keep going along doing what we always do, ending up like a tangled overgrown garden.”

“Indeed. Winter is an obvious time for such reflection. But my experience tells me that we need to tend our inner garden a little every day. That keeps us healthy, agile, fresh and responsive. Leaving it too long makes for bigger work when at some point we come to realise that our soul, our inner world needs cultivating too.”

“And we always get to that point, sooner or later, don’t we!”

“Stop. Breathe. Reflect. The quality of your life will improve.”

“Is it that simple?”

“Look to nature. She shows the way.”

 

—Michael

 

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Karma and Dharma https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/10/25/karma-and-dharma/ Fri, 25 Oct 2019 18:56:57 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252063

Karma and Dharma

Last month I had the pleasure of giving an ‘Advanced Dharma Diamond’ workshop at the Acorn Wellness Retreat in the beautiful Yorkshire dales. Here are excerpts from a discussion I had with Vicky, a successful entrepreneur, on the relationship between Dharma and Karma.

copyright Stephanie Krist @srpphoto / Unsplash

“I like the Dharma Diamond graphic. It’s easy to understand. It’s simple but not simplistic. The more I get to know it, the more I get out of it. I especially like how it gives context for understanding the different parts of my life, and how it highlights areas where I can improve things.”

“I hear that from a lot of people,” I said.

Vicky continued. “I get that Truth and Respect are big ideas that have a lot of meaning. I follow how they relate to each other, how Truth symbolises my personal truth and how Respect relates to or defines my relationships. I also understand that they mirror each other and how my truth connects with your respect and vice versa.”

“Exactly. You said you have a question?”

“Yes. My understanding is that Purity symbolises the values and ideals that inform my choices and directs my actions.”

“That’s right.”

“I have two questions actually. The first being, is my Purity a consequence of the quality of my Truth and Respect? In other words, how do these three principles relate to each other?”

“Your Purity – your values and ideals, is informed by your self-respect and your respect for others. It is the consequence of the quality of your self-expression and the quality of your relationships. Purity is the ethical coherence between your ideals and values and how you live your life. Your values define you, your relationships and your place in the world. Your experience of living your truth and what you learn in your relationships helps you improve your values, teaching you what helps and what doesn’t. These experiences then help you improve over time.”

“OK, I have a problem with this, because I am not living in a vacuum. What happens when I encounter bad actors in my life?” Vicky asked.

“The model seems to presuppose that the quality of my relationships is determined only by how I act and not how others act. This seems too idealistic for me.”

“Purity defines the standards you live by. We all want good relationships. Purity describes what that means. Things like give and take, respect, shared interests, good behaviour and so forth. Consequently, it also describes what we don’t want, such as abuse, disrespect and the bad behaviour meted out by bad actors. In defining the ideal, we also define the unacceptable. Purity isn’t two dimensional. Nor is it static. Like the other principles, Purity is a living expression of our living reality. Like the other principles it adapts, evolves and strengthens over time and with experience.

“Your answer relates to my other question, which is about karma. You’ve taught us that the principles of Dharma can help us live better lives and I’ve seen how that works. But I’ve also seen that there are some things that are out of my control, that no amount of principled living can change. What is the relationship between karma and Dharma?”

Karma is a complex subject. I will explain it in a simple way.”

“OK. That works for me.”

“Dharma relates to actions we are taking now and in the future. Karma relates to actions we have taken in the past. Karma is based on the law of cause and effect. Karma is therefore the reaction or result of past action. If the quality of our past action is positive, then the reaction will be positive and vice versa.”

“We reap what we sow,” said Vicky.

“Dharma is based on the notion of a natural order of things, a sacred harmony if you will. When we align with that harmony, we do not create friction. You can think of karma as a friction that arises when our we act against the grain of that natural order.”

“Is there a relationship between Dharma and karma then?”

“Yes. Dharma guides us to act in a way that minimises adverse karma and increases positive karma.”

“Can the principles of Dharma lessen the adverse karmic effects of past actions?”

“That’s a good question. A deep question actually. Best if I answer it in a simple way.”

“I’m listening.”

“The philosophy of karma is that our karmic reactions are lessons that help us evolve. From this perspective, we can think of obstacles or difficulties as opportunities to learn and grow.”

“OK.”

“When we have an open mind to learn from these lessons, when we take responsibility for our life and the consequences of our actions, then yes, following the principles of Dharma can, in some cases and over time, lessen adverse effects. At the very least, you can be sure that Dharma stops the creation of negative karma.”

“Is there more?”

“The principles of Dharma point us in the direction of the transcendent, what the sages of India call the atma, or soul. Our journey along the road of Dharma eventually takes us to that place, which is a state of blissful consciousness where we live in perfect harmony with the sacred order.”

“That seems very lofty to me.”

“It’s a real destination. It takes time, no doubt, but it’s a goal that people have aspired to for thousands of years. We are all at different points in our journey along the Dharma road. Wherever we are at on that road, is where we begin from today. As we get closer to the goal, our life and actions will work in greater harmony with the natural order. Every day is a chance to step toward that goal, which the Vedic sages say is the path of peace.”

—Michael

 

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Never too late https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/10/19/never-too-late/ Sat, 19 Oct 2019 13:00:44 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252048
Never too late

Sandra consulted me two years ago about big life changes she was planning. A successful professional in her mid-60s, Sandra felt she was at a crossroads in every area of her life, including home, relationships and work. She had lots of energy and plenty more to give to her life, but she harboured doubts about making big changes ‘so late in life.’ Could she take the radical step to redesign her life? Would she succeed? How would it affect the important people in her life? Would she have regrets if things didn’t go according to her plans?

copyright@BBH_Singapore / Unsplash stockphoto
We used the Dharma Diamond over three working sessions to assess the important areas of her life. We looked at what she wanted to preserve and discussed what she wanted to change. At the end of our sessions Sandra had a reasonable plan of action that included selling properties, moving to a new house, starting a new venture and respectfully reorganising her relationship and social life. All in all, a big list for someone who is extra-careful and risk averse. 

After taking time to think it through, Sandra began implementing her plan with the confidence that she knew she could not continue with her life as it was. She admitted that she felt secure in her old familiar life, but she felt constrained and limited by it as well. She was able to make changes because she felt that she had connected with a deeper, authentic part of her by using the Dharma Diamond. She was confident that regardless of the outcome, that she was strong enough to take a step. That was eighteen months ago.

Sandra recently called to update me on her progress and to ask some questions.

“Things aren’t going as well as I had planned.”

“How so? In what way?” I asked.

“Various complications and delays, mostly. Also, some unexpected expenses. It’s been a tough year of adjustment.”

“How do you feel about it?”

“I have made progress. So, it’s not all bad. But I sometimes have moments of doubt. Especially when uncertainties weigh on me, I second guess myself. Then I panic a bit.”

“That’s natural,” I replied. “Doubt is a function of intelligence. Your professional training has taught you to be a critical thinker. Why wouldn’t you think like that when you meet with uncertainty?”

“That’s what I tell myself. I know better, but still, if I overthink it, I get nervous.”

“Let’s step back from the worry for a minute. How much progress have you made with your plan?”

“Actually, quite a lot. My new project is well underway. I have my website up. I’ve moved to my new house and I am working on my relationships.”

“Are you missing the certainty of your old life?” I asked.

“Perhaps. I think it’s more that I am missing certainty in my new life. I still have a way to go before I can feel settled.”

“Are you happy you’ve made changes?”

“Yes. I am really. I couldn’t go back to my old life. Even though my new life has yet to fully take shape in the way I thought it would, I could not go back. That would be worse than never making any changes, because I’ve tasted a new freedom and feel more myself now.”

“We spent time with the Dharma Diamond looking at the Truth of your life. We asked some tough questions, like ‘could you carry on as you were?’ And ‘could you be happy or at least content in sticking with what you had?’”

“I remember that I answered, ‘no I can’t carry on. I need a change.’”

“So, no regrets then?”

“No. Not at all. The work we did was a turning point for me. It clarified what mattered most to me. It gave me the confidence to act. Up till then I spent a great deal of my life thinking mostly about others’ needs and neglecting my own. Our work helped me realise that I also count. And that I could care for my needs as well as others’ needs.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes. My values guided the changes I’ve made. I’ve been thoughtful about my choices, thanks to our work with the Dharma Diamond. This gave me the confidence I needed to act.”

“And the result?”

“It’s helped me step into the unknown. In taking that step I’ve made discoveries about myself that I didn’t expect, which proved valuable. The process has enriched me and made me stronger. I am curious to see where it will lead.”

“I am too. You said you had a question.”

“I do. Is there a good way to manage my self-doubt while keeping to my plan?”

“Yes. Why not start by looking at how much you’ve done and how far you’ve come in a short period of time? From my standpoint it looks like you’ve made real strides in achieving your goals.”

“Thank you. It is helpful to take stock and acknowledge how far I’ve come.”

“Another thought is that life has its uncertainties. Suppose you didn’t make any changes and kept your life the way it was. You would still have to deal with uncertainties in that situation too. You are more conscious of the uncertainties in your new life, because your plan needs time to fully unfold. Patience is an underestimated virtue nowadays.”

“I like to get things done quickly, so I do have a tendency to be impatient.”

“Keep that in mind as you continue towards your goals. I also think it’s important to celebrate your courage in deciding to make changes at this stage of your life. I think you are a good example that it’s never too late to follow your truth.”

 

—Michael

 

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The Activism of Dharma https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/10/05/the-activism-of-dharma/ Sat, 05 Oct 2019 15:21:50 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252040

The Activism of Dharma

In my last two posts I wrote about a meeting I had with climate activists, one of whom was a monk from an eastern tradition. He suggested that the ecological crisis has its origin in a quality of mind that has lost its connection to age-old wisdom. We left off last week with a young lawyer asking how wisdom principles might stimulate a new quality of thinking that could help solve the environmental problem.

“It’s a very complex problem,” said the monk. “Wisdom traditions teach that solving complex problems requires a deep simplicity. I appreciate that this may sound counter intuitive, but new perspectives are possible when we focus on essentials. Wisdom cultures teach meta-principles that can help us perceive the essence of complicated problems. With this perspective we have a better chance of formulating solutions that address the underlying root cause of the problem, rather than only treating its symptoms.”

“Can you give us an example of a meta-principle?”

“Beauty. When we organise around the creation and preservation of beauty we achieve a finer quality of outcome that benefits us at many levels.”

“Can you be more precise? How would organising around beauty deliver better results? How could aesthetics help us respond to environmental problems?”

“We can start by acknowledging that we are suffering a crisis of beauty. I think we have lost our connection to the meaning and purpose of deep beauty, a beauty that enhances our spirit and preserves us in our finer sentiments. A beauty that guides our choices and actions at every level of our individual and collective being.”

“How do we move from superficial beauty to deep beauty?”

“My years of spiritual practice tell me that we can only do that when we cultivate a beauty of inner spirit — a beauty of the heart by attending to a refinement of the mind.”

“Once again, I think we are at odds with each other in our thinking. I am concerned with a deadline of no return, a line of collective behaviour that is leading to the death of nature, like the one described by Rachel Carson in her book ‘Silent Spring.’”

“I also have the same sense of urgency as you do. But I think we have to deeply understand the problem, before we rush out with quick-fix solutions. For instance we know we need to reduce our carbon footprint. But do we know how to reduce the wants/needs that create them?”

“How would an ‘aesthetics of the heart’, to paraphrase you, result in real solutions?”

“Indigenous and first people cultures design around natural beauty. They are attuned to the intricate web of colour, light, texture, patterns, sound, taste and touch – seeing it all as nature’s heart beat, the vital signs that guide them in their relationship with her. They design their lives around the preservation of that beauty, knowing that their own existence is preserved and bettered when nature’s beauty is deeply honoured.”

“I have some appreciation of this idea, but can you give me a concrete example?”

“The aboriginal people of Australia. They have the Dreamtime in which all creatures have equal importance in the Dreamtime space. In Dreamtime, people are co-creators whose attention helps to preserve the delicate balance, order and beauty of nature.”

“By comparison you might say that our relationship with nature seems rather ugly!” said the lawyer.

“So then, I think you accept the potential value of re-framing the problem by looking at it through a meta-principle like beauty?”

“I do. But it raises other complications. For instance how can the importance of beauty change our collective view of the problem.”

“Attenborough’s ‘Planet Earth’ has had significant impact by making the case for beauty and the trauma of its loss. He has done this artfully and sensitively by being Dharmic in his presentation.”

“How so?”

“My view is that he followed the principle of ahimsa or Respect in sharing his message with us. He was gentle in his approach, presenting us with postcards of nature’s beauty and contrasting them with other postcards of the ugliness of our affects on her beauty. He followed the principle of Satya by being True in his presentation and he followed the principles of Purity (Saucha) and Effort (Tapasya) by describing a more ideal outcome and encouraging us to be passionate about achieving it.”

“It’s generally accepted that we need to educate about the problem. My experience as a lawyer tells me that we need to create awareness and broad agreement that the problem is real if we hope to organise an urgent response.”

“Education is important but we need a new quality of education if we hope to be effective. We can rely on universal wisdom principles to help us be effective. Without those principles there is every chance that our solutions will only add to the problem.”

“Do wisdom principles guarantee better solutions and more effective outcomes?”

“We have to understand the principles if we hope to apply them with successfully. If we do, then we stand a better chance of formulating a new quality of solution. There are of course, no guarantees. I venture to say that we would be in a very different place had we taken guidance from wisdom principles in the first place. We can’t turn back the clock, but we can do our best with where we are at now by relying on universal principles such as those found in the Dharma Diamond. The complexity of the problem can be simplified and the causes made more clear with the help of these principles.”

“In essence, you are saying that wisdom can help us achieve a new quality of mind that can help us re-frame our understanding of the root cause of the problem.”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“This suggests the need for a complete rethink about how we do things. This would mean redesigning with the help of wisdom principles and a reformation of society as a whole — our values, what we hold dear and what we think is beautiful.”

“In nutshell, yes. Ideally that reformation would happen organically as a result of an awakening of consciousness. Ideally any change would be guided by ahimsa, by a mood of deep respect.”

“But change we must, if we want to avoid the worst outcome.”

“Change is inevitable,” the monk said. “We can embrace it consciously or wait for it to be imposed by circumstances.”

“If I understand you correctly, you are saying that taking inspiration from wisdom principles like Dharma and beauty could empower our actions.”

“I am saying that principles like Dharma can give our activism a new quality that can make it more effective in the long run.”

— Michael

 

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Dharma of activism https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/09/28/dharma-of-activism/ Sat, 28 Sep 2019 12:59:51 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252032

Dharma of activism

Last week I wrote about an encounter I had with climate activists, one of whom was a monk from an eastern tradition. He suggested that the origin of the ecological crisis is rooted in the quality of mind. Further, that the pollution of the airwaves with untruths spoken by our leaders has more influence than we might think. His ideas divided the room and prompted some lively debate, excerpts of which follow.

“I understand that the quality of our thinking determines our choices and actions, which results in the quality of our results. I accept that the eastern way of thinking can help us reframe our approach to the problem.”

The young lawyer who spoke paused for a moment, her face belying the challenge she was about to voice.

“I have doubts about your suggestion that we should first seriously address the quality of our consciousness — before we ‘rush out’ to take action.”

The monk listened attentively.

“I accept the power and the importance of the enlightened activist. As you said, ‘If we awaken to the quality of our own thinking, if we cultivate a higher order within ourselves, we stand a better chance of addressing the problem.’ You quoted Gandhi who said, ‘We have to be the change we want to see in the world.’”

“Yes, that’s a good summary of what I said.”

“But that seems idealistic to me. It’s not practical or it’ too high a goal for the average person. I am also concerned that we don’t have a lot of time to solve this problem. Perhaps 11 years at most before we reach the point of no return. Excuse me if I sound sceptical, but we need more than navel gazing. I don’t think we have time to expand our consciousness before we take action. How long have you been practicing your path, if I may ask?”

“55 years.”

“And are you enlightened?”

The question raised a few eyebrows in the room.

“It’s not a courtroom, if you don’t mind me saying,” said one participant.

“It’s a good question,” replied the monk. “I would like to answer it — by saying no, I am not enlightened, not in the way I think you mean. But, I can say with confidence that the quality of my consciousness has evolved with my years of practice. What’s taken me years, may only take someone else months. I had high hopes when I started and yes I was idealistic. I still am. But it turns out I was a harder nut to crack than I first thought.”

The monk’s humility and candour spoke for itself, drawing some to the edge of their seats.

“So, in a way you agree with me, at least you are honest about what it takes.”

“I agree that the problem is urgent. Given its complexity it is hard not to become despondent. It is because it is complex that we need a new quality of thinking. We need to go back to the wisdom traditions that have encoded universal principles that can get us to that quality of thought. The principles of Dharma are a good example.”

“Doesn’t this take time?”

“Cultivating wisdom is a life long effort. Taking guidance from wisdom principles however, can be done in a moment. And it can be done at the same time that you are taking practical action.

… That is the ideal. Useful action informed by wisdom leads to optimal choices and better quality results.”

“Can you give us an example.”

“Greta Thunberg. That young lady is speaking truth plainly and respectfully. She is a person of action. It was simple at first. Just her alone with a placard in front of the Swedish parliament. Her effort caught our attention. Her strong intent – to speak the truth, as it is, has resulted in millions taking to the streets. It’s given people a sense that they can do something — should do something. You could say that the quality of her mind is resonant with wisdom principles. She is only 16, so she hasn’t had decades to cultivate that quality of mind. Like I said,

… a more enlightened state of mind can be achieved in a moment, especially if one takes the support of wisdom principles.”

“OK. How might we use wisdom principles to stimulate a new quality of thinking in as many people as possible?”

— To be continued

 

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Ecology of the Mind https://michaelgeary.co.uk/2019/09/21/ecology-of-the-mind/ Sat, 21 Sep 2019 11:41:06 +0000 https://michaelgeary.co.uk/?p=252009

Ecology of the Mind

I recently participated in a discussion about how the principles of Dharma could help us address the climate crisis. In attendance was a diverse group of concerned activists, one of whom was a long-time monk of an eastern tradition, whose comments contributed new perspectives on the problem and the relevance of Dharma in crafting a possible response.

“What is the root cause of the problem?” the discussion moderator asked at the start. “The science tells us we have a real problem and only a few years to respond.”

“Yes, and they say it’s an extinction-level event,” quipped a participant.

“Which is why it’s an important question. If we can identify the root cause, we have a better chance to focus our efforts where it will count the most.”

A discussion ensued that touched on all the obvious culprits: fossil fuels, cattle farming, over consumption, population growth and deforestation. We also discussed attitudes and values, the role of greed, short-termism, elitism and denial, as well as how the scale of the problem tends to disempower us rather than energise inspired action. Almost an hour had passed without the monk saying anything. The moderator then invited him to share his thoughts.

“The masters in my line teach that all our problems are rooted in the mind.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the climate problem is not real. We know it’s real. But, can we trace the cause of the problem back to a state of mind that gave rise to it?”

“Are you saying that bad thinking is the cause?” someone asked.

“It’s not that a particular string of bad thoughts created the problem per se. Rather, it’s the quality of mind in which the thoughts occur that point to the underlying cause.”

“What do you mean quality of mind? Why do you separate out specific thoughts as distinct from the function of the mind?”

“The nature of our thought is dependent on the quality of consciousness that we cultivate through attentive awareness. Yoga, meditation, mantra chanting, prayer and other practices are aimed at a refinement of consciousness. Regular practice raises our awareness to higher states of mind, in which higher qualities of thought can occur.”

“Are you saying that we should teach everyone to meditate as a solution to climate change!?”

“I think that would certainly help. For the moment, I am responding to the moderator’s question by suggesting a possible origin of the problem, not necessarily recommending a particular remedy for it.”

“I think you and your masters are right,” said one participant. “It is clear to me that all action begins in the realm of thought. The quality of our thought determines the quality of our action and its results.”

“Yes. The idea takes shape in the Dharma Diamond. The quality of our thought is symbolised by the ideal of Purity, which directs the quality of our actions and the principle of Effort. When we are conscious of how our thoughts and actions affect others as well as ourselves (Respect and Truth), we have a better chance of being more conscious in the choices we make.”

“OK. I follow. But can you give me an example that makes it easier to understand?”

“Yes. Plastic. It’s designed to last forever — in a world where everything, even galaxies die and degrade. The designers failed to consider the adverse effects of designing for endless durability or for the need to design for benign biodegradability.”

“So, you are saying that a gap in the quality of their thinking is the cause of the plastic problem?”

“Had the designers followed the Dharma Diamond, they would have tried to align their creation with the natural order of things. Wisdom thinking tells us that stepping outside of that natural order is what creates the adverse effects of our actions.”

“Can I offer one more example related to the quality of consciousness as the root of our problems?”

“Sure.”

“In the 1970s, one sage I studied with told me that the root cause of all pollution is sound pollution. He said that impure or polluted sound eventually gives rise to grosser forms of pollution. He warned about the ‘very risky business of intentionally invading the sound waves with defective sound.’ He said that sound pollution especially happens when leaders, judges and trusted people of social prominence intentionally mislead or lie to the public. Wisdom traditions teach that being a leader means guiding others to truth with a capital T. It is their responsibility to preserve the Truth principle in Dharma which is the root of all its other principles, respect, purity and effort.”

“Was he speaking metaphorically?” asked a participant.

“You can take it any way you like. I have found it to be a useful meditation which guides me in my vow to always speak the truth.” There was something in the demeanour of the monk that gave his words a weight and caught my attention.

“My point is that the quality of our thinking, is dependent on the quality of our consciousness cultivated through attentive awareness. If we improve the quality of our attention, we have a chance to change the quality of our thinking which could help us address the problem more effectively.”

“What you are saying is that if we expand our consciousness to be aware of the big picture, to see the earth as a whole and all creatures on it being of equal and important value, then that shift could result in a reorientation of each individual’s priorities?”

“I am repeating what my teachers taught me, which emphasises our need to be awake. If we awaken first to the quality of our own consciousness, if we seek to cultivate a higher order within ourselves through wisdom like the Dharma Diamond, then we stand a better chance of affecting the world around us. We have to be the change we want to see in the world.

—To Be Continued

 

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