Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Who are you when you're not thinking?

Who are you when you're not thinking?

What does it feel like to really, consistently, know the difference between stress-thoughts and inspiration?

When we learn how to regularly relax into present moment experience without resistance or control, a whole new world opens up... a world of intuition, ease, purpose and friendliness. A world of knowing who you are, what you're meant to be doing, when to wait, when to take action, and when to lie back and smell the flowers.

This world is the place where all systems of the body operate optimally - the nervous, hormonal, and digestive systems are in rest and restore / healing mode. In this world the mind is open, fresh and curious... creativity is awake and problems are resolved easily.

The problem is not that we don't know this world. We've all had moments, and even long periods, of such enlightenment. The problem is that we are so conditioned to let stress override our experience of it and so surrounded by others doing the same, that it is very difficult to maintain. 

We may glimpse the light then check Facebook and it's gone; we may find the groove then chat with someone who subtly knocks us out of it. We are in the zone then all of a sudden we are not.

So, what can we do? How is it possible to remain mindful in such a mindlessly driven world?

I spent quite a few years studying and going on silent retreats in the Buddhist tradition. Although as a religion it is as imperfect as all the others, there are some very helpful concepts that I find myself understanding and valuing more deeply as the years go by. 

Buddhists 'take refuge' in something called the Three Jewels or the Triple Gem:
The Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

Put simply this means devoting oneself to:
The Buddha - the possibility of becoming free from all suffering, i.e. enlightened.
The Dhamma - the spiritual teachings passed on by the Buddha, including meditations and a personal code of conduct.
The Sangha - the other people devoted to awakening in the same way, including monastic orders and lay people. 

For years this was my daily focus. I meditated, read and listened to talks. I was 100% devoted to freeing myself from the traumas of the past, and was friends with people who were focused in the same way.

Eventually though, as I became disillusioned with Buddhism, I let the idea of Sangha go. I settled back into 'normal' life.

I continued to meditate every day. I continued to read and listen to spiritual teachers. But the third leg of the stool - the Sangha - was gone.

And so I began to wobble. My two-legged stool couldn't support me. I lost my focus, my zone, and bliss. All those years of hard spiritual  work got covered up by my culture's film of hazy, grey, making-do-ness.

This making-do-ness is the primary problem of our western world. Call it auto-pilot, unconsciousness, or living in the shadow, it is an old foggy getting-by that people put up with while waiting for something to happen that will save them... waiting to meet 'the one', waiting to win the lottery, waiting for that inheritance, for retirement, that better job, bigger house, fitter body, shinier car or more positive personality... even waiting to be more spiritual.

We wait and wait and wait... distract, force, get busy, zone out... Lost in the fog we forget that we're not our thoughts and that it is actually those thoughts that stand in the way of what we truly yearn for.

I realised that who I relax with is who I will become. Us human beings really are that socially sensitive. I had begun waiting just like everyone else... putting off happiness until I got my new house so I could run silent retreats from it, waiting for sufficient income to expand my business, waiting for my new man who would make everything alright...

I understand now why the Buddhists call them jewels. These days I have a Sangha again and am more often in bliss than not. This is because I look inside for everything, and can be consistent in doing so because I'm supported by and aligned with people who are doing the same.

I am not my thoughts, and neither are you. If you want to live a life of ease and growth then find your version of the Triple Jewel... Find a daily spiritual practice that grounds you in the present moment. Find teachings or a teacher that really speaks to you and align with them. And finally choose to spend quality time with people who are devoted in the same way, limiting time spent with people who pull you back into unconsciousness.


  1. I so need these words right now Aoife. Thank you xx

  2. perfect gems of wisdom for me to read today, thank you x

  3. Thank you Margaret and Caroline - I was a little nervous about this one for some reason, so good to get the feedback <3