Upon near completion of a master’s degree in applied spirituality, I use the reflective process to expand on three factors that enable our dreams to become a reality.
Embracing the real
There are many examples we can use to highlight what it means to embrace the real. Can we think back recently on an incident that ruptured our relationships? For instance, we were with other people in everyday circumstances such as at home with family or out and about with friends. At this time, we may have had the best of intentions but accidentally forgot about the needs of another. We suddenly heard a complaint that took us by complete surprise. We tried to express our point of view but we did not see eye to eye. Perhaps we were not centred and reacted aggressively in the heat of the moment. As can happen, we reacted to the other person’s reaction and experienced a distance or disconnect. We may have said things that we regretted.
We took a deep breath, thought beyond ourselves and tried to respond in a better way. We took some time-out and connected with an inner peace, but the tension with the other continued. We protected and nourished ourselves, and after chatting with friends or family about the situation we made a commitment to the fractured relationship again. A while later, our lives seemed to be getting back on track – even singing and having some fun – when another encounter rocked us and caused us to experience more pain. This time we acted with greater wisdom and felt conviction in our course of action. Perhaps we are back on speaking terms again, but we remain slightly cautious and vigilant.
These ruptured relationships remind us that there are some situations in life we must face squarely. If we are committed to love and forgiveness it is sometimes hard work to bear the almost unbearable tension. We need to draw on our inner resources in order to live with one another – meditation helps us to respond with assertiveness. Personally, I find consolation in joining forces with my family and friends so we can endure difficulties in the most loving way possible. If I feel down or stressed out, they can support me, and vice versa. We are rarely alone on our quest to embrace the real burning issues of our lives.
Gerald O’Mahony’s influential book Finding the Still Point is still the best source I can think of to talk about balanced mood. As I’ve indicated before, he presents a mood scale that is a bit different from our typical one. On a scale from zero to ten, he considers a score of five to be the optimal point of mood, known as the ‘still point’. Those who engage in just five minutes of meditation per day can understand what he means, for stillness is what comes when we allow ourselves to sit in silence. If we train ourselves to calm our minds by letting our thoughts and feelings drop away, we tap into the opposite of what we consider to be highly stressful.
I’m sad to say that many of us have learned to love stress and anxiety, perhaps because we were brought up in a chaotic environment or because we entered into a profession that demands it. For me, I planned to take last weekend off and it was truly a relief to be practically done with a master’s dissertation that almost killed me (but which my mam reminds me actually didn’t!). As I sat in a food outlet waiting to collect a takeaway meal, I got caught up with stress and anxiety by relying on my mobile phone to fill the time. But, in a spirit of mindfulness I collected my meal, ate in the kitchen of my home, took out my laptop, went out to the warm shade of my garden and started to write this post. I felt the wind blowing around me, I saw the greenness coming back in the grass and in the midst of this calmness I found my ‘still point’.
Gerald O’Mahony recommends that if we’re in a high mood, i.e., 6/10 or above the best thing is to train ourselves to slow down – breathe, stop using social media, connect with a friend who can steady us, turn to our inner strength. In this way we give ourselves the chance to nourish our minds and to love ourselves in the best means possible. It is not that we are necessarily unhappy when we are trying to return to the ‘still point’; even the most contemplative of people cannot remain centred all of the time. We never reach a point where we are completely and forever balanced in our mood. But we can respond to the invitation to return to stillness throughout our days again and again.
It is best to gently push onward when we are at the lower end of O’Mahony’s scale, i.e., at 4/10 or less. When we feel down, e.g., due to relationship difficulties it is very easy to be seduced by distractions that bring false relief and which are only temporary. It takes guts, courage and heart to keep to appointments, go for a walk and remain warm to our friends, neighbours and strangers. The simple things in life that make us happy are not always simple to do, especially if we are torn by a high degree of impulsivity. There is a quiet celebration upon reaching the ‘still point’ once more, and this feeling will become stronger the more we practise meditation for even five minutes per day.
I had the privilege to interview a contemplative nun for my research dissertation, specifically to promote the psycho-spiritual needs of the general public. Here, she talks about the value of time and reached out to others, especially young people: “Yeah, the big thing is to give yourself time to be yourself, give yourself time to enjoy things, give yourself time for everything. You might have to make a conscious effort to slow down but I think your life will change, you know, life nowadays is not healthy… In those days [long ago], they had plenty of time”. I believe that these words from someone who spends much of her life in praise and in silence speaks of a core truth in our lives today. And again we may need training for this to happen.
She continues: “Yeah, when you’re doing nothing you see your mind is processing all the things you have learned that day and you are getting them, you know, kind of filed in your mind, where they should be. Whereas if you’re learning the whole time, you haven’t time.” Have you ever noticed that an answer might arise within your being when you put the phone down for a while – during a moment of doing nothing? That is because your mind is doing what it’s supposed to do without your conscious effort. It doesn’t always need your help and googling to find the answer. Or you may find great peace and clarity after a long pause that enables you to live in the moment, and the next day you notice that your memory and concentration are better.
The development of the three factors – embracing the real, balanced mood and ordinary living – instill much peace and serenity in our lives, but they require great patience and guts in the midst of our inclinations for buzz and excitement. People may react aggressively to us because our contentment highlights their own stress and anxiety that they are essentially deeply unhappy about. With humility on our part and in good time they may follow our example, or they may not. So, hold tight friends, endure the tension and shoot for the stars while having a cup of tea!