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Lonely is as Lonely Does.

1334590327_4ever_alone_gagWe talk about “where we’re at” from varied perspectives: geographic, demographic, career stage and evolution, the reality though is that we are only ever in one of two places: inside our heads or not. This morning I was walking the dogs when a question came to me, perhaps a remnant from earlier meditation: is loneliness and being alone the same thing? The easy answer of course,  is not necessarily.

Being alone is a choice, a time when you decide that you would prefer your own company to that of others. Whether it’s to recharge, to create or to just get your feet back under you, time alone can be a positive experience. Being lonely on the other hand, is being by yourself when you would really prefer to be in the company of others. The step it takes to cross the gulf between being by yourself and with others can seem insurmountable to those who struggle with it. An absolute wall of fear stands between them and the rest of the world.

When I looked deeper though, I see both are simply choices we make. They may not look the same and I’m sure they don’t feel the same, but in each case the individual makes a decision to spend time with themselves; the only problem is the lonely person sees it as a prison, the alone-person as a sanctuary.

Being happy is about being free, free to choose. I sometimes think this is the only  true basis for happiness. The alone person then is actually a happy person, they have made a decision to do something they want to do; the lonely person is an unhappy soul, saddled with the burdens of a mind that won’t listen. Hiding inside their own mind, trapped by the fear it generates.

It’s like the elephant story: firmly held by a tiny rope and a stake in the ground it never tries to escape; the only reason the elephant doesn’t escape is that it thinks it can’t.  Itremembers the strength of the rope when it was just a calf. If the now grown elephant decided to break loose, the ties that held them would break like thread in a tailor’s hands. So it is with lonely people, they are trapped by a belief that is only of their mind’s making: the one that says that they deserve to be alone and as long as they hide behind that facade they will at least be able to control their state of affairs.

Maybe this goes for all our fears, there are rational fears that are there for our protection, but there are also millions of illogical fears that we hold our selves hostage with, rather than confronting them and finding freedom. We all know those individuals that seem to harbour no fear at all, they’ll dive from high cliffs, speak loud and clear in a room full of strangers, wear outrageous clothes because they like them or ski down a black diamond run without any reservations at all.

This rule ( lets call it a law) applies to almost every non-survival decision we make where fear is the main driver. The more Zen in the crowd might call it resistance, the desire for things to be different but the unwillingness to do the things that will make it happen. What we really need to learn, is the ability to ignore most of the stuff our mind tells us.; to be able to detach ourselves from our fears and doubts and recognize they are only thoughts.

Our mind is like a the search button on our radio, the one that scrolls through each station, stopping long enough to give us a taste of what is playing but never landing permanently. Our thoughts continue to ruminate in our heads, jumping from one to another with lightning speed and no logic. Our mission then, is to control this beast; the thing is, the less we try the easier it is. The more effort we put into directing our thoughts and feelings, the less success we have. The only thing we need to do is be present with those feelings, don’t think about them or analyze them, simply observe them. Be detached and let them slowly fall away.

Be the casual observer, not one who in disappointment says its raining, but who notices that its raining and carries on, no worse for it.



The Sound of Silence


Like an old radio, my brain gets these fleeting moments of clarity.

As I turn the dial, I go slightly past the station I’m looking for; I turn back and go a little past again; then forward and all of sudden I’ve hit the sweet spot, the place where the sound is crystal clear. Better than real life. But it’s only for a second, soon the edge comes off and a little static slips in, next thing I know it’s broadcasting another station or a mix of the one I want along with one playing some old classic metal crap like Def Leppard.

I realize the whole world is talking and very few people listening, myself included. Sure I know how to seem like I’m listening, but it’s just like when I drive home from work and arrive with absolutely no recollection of the drive.  I smile, I nod make some innocuous comment to show empathy, and all the while, I’m actually wondering if my tax refund is waiting for me at home in the mailbox or if I have time to pick up my dry-cleaning on the drive home.

This is the way we communicate today: perceived attention. Problem is, it leaves us feeling alone, and the more alone we feel, the more time we spend inside our own heads. The more time we isolate ourselves, the less we listen and the less connected we become to those around us. And this is when we’re being polite or are stuck at some stupid networking thing; when we’re less concerned about offending others, we interrupt, talk-over, interject when our “conversant”  takes a breath. Or all too often, we just start talking about something that has nothing to do with the original topic.

Think about politicians: an interviewer asks them a question, they don’t answer, they answer the one they wanted to be asked. Advertisers keep trying to sell us a bunch of stuff we don’t need, won’t use and in all likelihood will throw away or store permanently within the first three months of buying. It’s like Groundhog Day every day, except we keep waking up to a Filter Queen presentation, the one where the guy only wants to hear you say ok, otherwise he’ll keep talking and trying to sell you the $4,000 vacuum regardless of what you have to say about it.

So I ask myself, what if I stop talking so much and start listening? I know it won’t change the world, but isn’t the reason we all talk so much because we just want to be heard? We have hopes and dreams and nobody cares; not because they’re bad but because no one is listening to them. So I’m going to try listening. I have this feeling that people will probably tell me stuff I never imagined. They might think I’m the most awesome person at the party, not because I had anything intelligent or witty to say, but because I gave them the gift of an audience for a rare moment in an otherwise quietly desperate life.

So the next time you feel yourself winding up to make your point – don’t. Sit back, relax and listen to what people are saying to you. Ask them questions; be personal. Most of us just want an uninterrupted chance to tell someone our story; we’re not looking for a miracle, just a little validation.



Jailbreak your Mind

The Silence of the Lambs 2

Imagine you’ve been forced to live the rest of your life in a small cell: no windows, no direct communication and an insane cellmate who never shuts up: constantly bickering, criticizing, judging, narrating, talking, and making stuff up. Waking you up at all hours, stopping you from falling asleep. Now imagine that the “roommate” has the power to influence you and convince you to do whatever they want. They can make you to hurt yourself, hurt others around you, and fear things that don’t exist.

You fight for control everyday but you never win. Sooner or later you just give in, put up the hands and cry “No Mas”. What he says goes; you do your time. The rub is you both have the same life sentences and this will only get worse. Welcome to your mind!

Volumes have been written on mind-fullness, meditation and enlightenment, it doesn’t have to be rocket science though, all any of us really wants is to shut up our cellmate and get the hell out of there. Strip away the gurus, the mantras, the yoga poses and the breathing; all we really want to do is have some inner quite and look out at the world and experience it as it’s happening and as it is.

There’s only one way to get there, some people are naturally closer than others, but for the better part most of us share the same craziness.

The way out is to recognize that your mind is just a part of the machine; unfortunately, it’s the part with the loud voice that is able to talk over everything and become the only thing you hear. The only way out is to not pay attention to it. When your mind starts talking to you about the person in front of you, the one who’s going 20 miles an hour under the speed limit and has their right turn signal light on for the past 12 miles you can get really pissed; you start thinking about how stupid they are and how inferior they are to you. You hate their car, you hate the way they drive and you now hate them!

You pull up at the light next to them in the turning lane, and as you drive by your hand subconsciously forms the bird all by itself. In that split second before you express yourself fully you turn to look and realize it’s your daughter’s BFF’s mother.

Poof, the air goes out of your sails, the anger dissipates and you quickly reassemble the bird into a Queen’s wave and a big smile spreads on your face. That’s your mind, bending in the wind like a sapling poplar tree, doing whatever it wants, regardless of what you think.

The solution? Meditate; sit down for a few minutes everyday focusing on whatever you want to focus on: your breath, a poem, a mantra or sound (think Om), the lyrics to Yellow Ledbetter. It doesn’t matter, it just matters that you keep bringing your intention back to whatever it is your focusing on whenever it wanders away. That’s it. The only thing beyond that is practice. Do it everyday for a few months and you’ll start to see things loosen. You’ll have more control, be less volatile and just maybe you’ll shut the voice up for a few seconds, it’s an amazing thing.

Great place to start is an app called Headspace. Put together by a former Buddhist monk called Andy, it includes 360 or so guided meditations that take you on a journey to re-claiming yourself and your sanity. He’s an English boy, so listening to him speak is a pleasure. He’s also been on TED, if you need to do a little more due diligence. I’ve spent 20 minutes a day with Andy at Headspace, a set of headphones and my iPhone for the past 95 days and you know what, it works! Not straight line, and it doesn’t work everyday, but slowly I’m wrenching my attention back to me, and some of the control away from my mind.

Once you’re on your way, you might want to dispense with the guided mediation and try it solo; a great app for helping you with that is called Equanimity… gong and all. If you prefer the written word, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book: Wherever You Go, There You Are, is the best book I’ve seen.

It’s the only hack I know to getting a little internal peace and quite. Happy Sitting.