LIGHTHOUSE IN A STORM: Call back your power in challenging times

lighthouse3“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ― Viktor.E. Frankl

Sometimes the news media can be overwhelming. And when we hear about certain events, it seems there is little we can do, which can make us feel powerless. But these situations bring blessings in disguise – because they force us to instead go within and discover the source of our real power to make changes – the power within.

We are always guided from within. Behind the static-in-the-radio of thoughts, is accurate guidance. This is our intuitive sense; our gut feeling that knows just what to do at all times: where to go, what to do, what not to do. And it’s 100% reliable.  Just as the sun always shines behind the clouds, guidance always guides us behind the clouds of overthinking. All the time it communicates, through the language of instinct and intuition, this “birds eye view” which knows how to get us where we need to be, in the perfect time.

So many people have made the mind-chatter of thoughts their guide – and the mind-chatter is useless as a guide. So the important question is – how do I sync up with the guidance within?

Search without: Information overload

In this era of information overload, which information do we trust? Reading and re-reading the news, or social media, or comment pieces, or any one of the other billion or so articles of opinion rarely leads us to clarity – but instead deeper into fear and the complex maze of overthinking that goes along with it, where our sense of empowerment is clouded and we are cut off from hearing our inner knowing; the most important source of information we have.

Listen within: Meditation

You sync up with your inner knowing by focusing in a way that clears your mind. When the clouds of mind-chatter are cleared, guidance is revealed.

Meditation is a proven way to clear our mind of mind-chatter – and gets us in touch with the wisdom of our Real Self. When we listen within, we connect with our guidance which knows what to do. I recommend spending time each day in meditation – whatever your method is – giving you space to be attuned to this source of accurate information.

Meditation is simply finding a point of focus that doesn’t get you to go into thinking. It could be using a mantra over and over again (and preferably one in a another language, as words you don’t understand won’t activate thoughts). It could be focusing on your breath, in and out. Or a consistent sound. It doesn’t really matter what it is – just something that works for you by holding your attention and stopping you from going into the clouds of overthinking.

What to do to align with the times: Time for action

Many people on the spiritual path have heard all about spiritual theory in countless books or YouTube videos, trying to make meaning of it all; trying to work out about all the different laws of the Universe, and the dimensions, and how it all works. They’ve thought about spiritual concepts a lot. But this is about as useful as watching fitness DVDs and doing nothing else in an attempt to change your body. It may be the first step and it may be entertaining – but it’s not enough. Action is required. You want to find your “gym programme” and then do it – not just think about it; you want to find the practices that get you connected with the power within – and then do them. 

Focus on what makes you feel good

And if the news is scaring you and affecting your view of life – turn it off. Don’t use the excuse so many use, “I need to know what’s going on”. I used to work in a newsroom and trust me – it isn’t what’s going on, but a perception of what’s going on. Watch or read if you want to, or if you feel guided – but ask yourself “How is it making me feel?”. If engaging with it is not making you feel good and not getting you to love this amazing life – you may want to find a different activity to take part in – one which makes you feel better. And you feeling better is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, others and Life in general.

My essential guidebook LIGHTHOUSE: Navigate the emotional storms of life and discover the power within you is available through my website www.michaeljames.be/books

Dealing with worry and fearful overthinking (from Watkins Magazine)

IMG_7883When you go into worrisome or fearful thinking, things can get very bleak and the world seems to change: visuals may come into you mind of all the bad things that might happen. Your breath might become shallower and your body feel tense. Your mind races and the storm of thoughts begins.

This is simply what the mind (and then body-mind) does when you’re overthinking – everyone’s mind, not just yours. Before you know it, you are absolutely convincing yourself of nightmare scenarios. It can be shocking how detailed and negatively creative the mind’s projections can be. It’s all fiction, of course, but it seems so real.  And like being trapped in a spider’s web, the more you try to fight it, the more trapped in overthinking and fear you seem to become.

Dispelling fears

The feeling of worry or fear is a sure sign that you are not tuned in to You. You don’t feel like yourself during these times – and that’s because, in many ways, you’re not. You have temporarily disconnected from your clarity and are connecting with the static in the radio – not the radio broadcast itself. And that static plays all kinds of miserable, untruthful drama and judgement and projected worries. It really is like you are under a spell. And this article is all about how to break the spell; break the circuit in your overthinking.

Tuning into you

When you are fully “tuned in” – meaning when you are relaxed and centred –  you cannot worry. You haven’t got access to those relentlessly negative thoughts when you are tuned in. In an ideal world when the thoughts do start coming you want to ignore the content; that stream of worry thoughts that chatters on forever and will move from subject to subject.

But let’s get real: It’s not always that easy

All the above sounds good in theory. But theory and real life are very different. People read self help books and feel great but when a problem comes up it’s as if they hadn’t read them. That’s because theory on it’s own is useless – you need the muscles honed from practice to work with these ideas. When you are in the middle of an intense situation, all the best advice in the world can go out the window. It doesn’t matter how many positive thinking books you have read or how much you have worked on yourself or how many times you decide to “be mindful and observe your thoughts”, sometimes, despite all the “9 steps to stop worrying” books on your shelf –  you might get taken over by worry or fear. And that’s ok. 

I’ve worked with a lot of people who have the tendency to worry or go into fear and overthinking. This is partly what my book Lighthouse is all about. My effective solutions came from my years of research working with hundreds if not thousands of people – and from a very personal problem: because in my own life, I found it a challenge to deal with worry or fear and nothing had helped me. No books, teachers or therapists could reach me. I frequently went into panic or fear and couldn’t work my way out of these ferocious moods, which were totally ruining my life.

A personal experience 

I remember one of many fearful situations: I went into worry about a close friend of mine, in a situation I couldn’t do anything about. I was waiting for news. I hadn’t heard from him for days. Rather than going into a excitement of how he must be having a great time and be too busy to call me, you guessed it, I did the opposite.

I used to think there was something terribly wrong with my mind – but then I realised it’s the same for pretty much everyone: for some reason the overthinking mind tends to go into the negative and race with thoughts when we “disconnect” from our empowerment.

My stomach went tight and my mind raced with worst case scenarios. I convinced myself that all kinds of terrible things were going on and desperately tried to think my way out of this and try to find solutions. I felt so physically and mentally exhausted with it all I had to leave my place of work and go home and sit down, which hardly improved things, as I continued overthinking.

Worrying about worrying

I’d read a lot of “positive thinking” books which had got me scared about how I shouldn’t be worrying as it would block solutions or even negatively affect the situation, which frightened me and made me worry even more. But trying not to worry was useless – in fact it made it worse. Then I was worried about the negative affects of my worry, so I tried hard not to worry and to think of positive outcomes  – in order to positively influence the situation. Things just got worse, the negative voices and images in my mind got more ferocious. The pain that comes from worrying means you have stepped aside from truth and clarity – but knowing this doesn’t always make the experience any easier. Worry clouds your vision; it’s like being in “static in the radio” where you can’t see sense or hear your intuition. And it’s like being swept up in a cyclone of confusion and high emotion.

So you’re worrying. And it might not be your chosen state of being, but that’s where you are right now. You are where you are.

Fighting against thoughts doesn’t work

You want to look for something to appreciate but let’s be honest, if you are swept up in a drama (like I was) that can feel almost impossible. Trying to focus on other things just gets you to “try not to think of” what you’re currently obsessing about. And it will, more times than not, keep you stuck in your worry. Of course you would love to feel great right now- but that’s not an option. Trying to feel good, trying to change your mood, trying to do anything is resistance. And what you resist, persists.

Make peace with where you are

And so in a situation like this, the first thing to do is face where you are. And that means looking for the good in where you are; looking for the good in worrying.

You may be arguing with this point. But, I ask you, what is your suggestion? When you are caught up in a storm of overthinking like worry, you have two options. And one of them is not to stop worrying or to ‘be positive’. Your two options are: to worry and to fight against the worrying. Or, to worry and make peace with the worry.

“I should be worrying because I am. It’s normal to worry in this situation. It shows I care. Maybe my worry is necessary right now, in a way I can’t see right now…”

When you embrace worry, and see it as a normal feeling, it begins to leave you and you become clearminded. Things then start to happen.

This isn’t about “not doing anything”, but when you are caught up in worry you can’t think clearly and decide the right things to do, if anything does need to be done. This is about centring yourself so that solutions, both within and without, reveal themselves to you. And this is easier said than done and required practice.

Once you’ve made peace, now Life can help you

Once you’ve made peace, ideas for distractions and solutions will naturally appear.  Life will begin to help you out and find other things to get your attention. The path to where you want to be will open seemingly from out of nowhere. When you try to do it “your way” by continuing overthinking there are no gaps between thoughts; It’s like there’s a hardened shield of thoughts around you and Life cannot get in.

A relaxing outcome

I accepted that there was nothing I could do, which initially added to the worry, but then helped me make me peace with my situation. Experience had shown that when I find away to be ok, even just for a minute. Even if I’m in a really dramatic moment. If I can just slightly make friends with where I am, a space is formed where answers can come in.

I did the practice I shared earlier, “good things about where I am”. And then life began to help me out. A phone call came in from a friend, I saw an interesting  article on the internet, which was enough to fully get my attention (and take it from the fearful subject). I began to relax, and feel a little more naturally optimistic. (I hadn’t tried to be optimistic –  I just, as best as I could, settled into where I was.) From this state of peace, more optimistic ideas came in. Sometimes I went back into the fear again, but then I quickly came out of it. And I was certainly feeling a bit better; and a lot more relaxed. I felt like “me” again.

Within about 30 minutes, an email came in, and I got news of the friend I was worried about – the first time in five days. And all was well.

When the storm is over

Practicing meditation and other techniques day to day, when you are not in the grip of worry or fear, will recondition your mind to go there less – and stop these habits of worry before they get started. However, if you do go there again (and if you have been going there you probably will again), you now know what to do.

For further practical, effective solutions for dealing with low feelings – and moving into feeling good again – see the book Lighthouse – Navigate the emotional storms of life and discover the power within you. Out now in paperback.

Being mindful: How less is more when it comes to meditation

51BHZz8H3sLI teach meditation wherever I go – it’s been a central part of my workshops since I started teaching. These days, you can’t go far in the new age without someone talking about something else: Mindfulness. 

This new approach to meditation has got its own teaching schools, accreditations, “best practice guides” and endless books and study manuals. There are 33 million results to the word on Google. It’s amazing to me how complex telling someone to “sit down and be quiet” (which is really all you need to know about meditation) – can get. But then again the mind can make a maze of complication out of absolutely everything- I should know, having over thought my way into addiction and severe depression in my teens and early twenties.

Meditation is about getting out of concepts, out of the mind and it’s stream of mind chatter- not further into it. The journey to Self-empowerment is about unlearning, not learning. And that’s where Mindfulness can go south.

I can normally identify the people who have studied Mindfulness at the beginning of my workshops: They think. A lot. They analyse, they are in their heads. Their minds are full, so to speak – there’s no question of that. Except that is the exact opposite effect mindfulness is supposed to create. 

‘Just be present’

The term Mindfulness is a bad translation of a Buddhist term- just as the approach itself can sometimes be a bad translation of Buddhism. It’s all about eating food slowly, observing thoughts, “being present”… It’s well intentioned – but, when misunderstood can be very dull and it doesn’t give you peace of mind- quite the opposite. It can become about thinking about everything in great detail, rather than reaching the state of ‘no thought’ that meditation is all about.

Being told to “just observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement” is absurd. How do you do this? That’s what I wanted to know, when I first heard this concept. Initially, I tried (and failed) to do this and thought I was missing something. Then I met everyone else who were having the same problem. Including certain mindful teaches themselves. Who can do that? The moment you “try to not judge” – you judge. That’s how the mind works. The thoughts avalanche in and, yes, your mind is seriously full, so to speak.

“Being present” is another of those catchphrases that is overused, totally impractical – and utterly useless. In fact, as soon as you try to be present – you’ve lost it. You are in your intellect and lost in overthinking. You go to war with yourself – and that signifies the tormented look on the faces of some of the Mindfulness people I’ve seen. It’s hard work – and it doesn’t work.

Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie are teachers who I respect, and are often quoted by this mindfulness movement- as they are great examples of what the Mindfulness people are trying to themselves achieve.  The thing is Eckhart and Byron didn’t do any of these mindfulness practices; they didn’t “try to be” mindful. And that’s an important point. Something happened to them – which awakened them to the mindful state. It wasn’t a technique that did it – but a perceptual shift; an instantaneous enlightenment. This is worth bearing in mind when you waste your time “trying to be” mindful.

From mindfulness to meditation

Rather than “simply observing your thoughts” – which gets you to chase each and every one and analyse it- you want to find a focal point, be that a mantra or a sound. You want to move your focus to that until you are dropped into your Real Self; that in-the-zone state that exists in a constant state of, yes, mindfulness, if you want to call it that.

Osho said that when you meditate, you become mindful, automatically. You can’t make it happen –  and starting with mindfulness without an authentic meditation practice doesn’t work so well, if at all. If you try to become mindful, it’s kind of like trying to sleep – it  doesn’t work. It makes you think more, not less. It makes you go a tiny bit crazy with thoughts.

So you lie down and sleep happens. It’s the same with meditation and mindfulness. It just happens.

Of course this is just my experience – for all I know there are hundreds of Mindfulness practitioners experiencing calmness of mind – but in my experience it can get overly-theoretical and impractical. But then again so much of spirituality can.

Osho went on to teach focal point meditation, just as I do, knowing that it drops you into mindfulness – or rather mind-emptiness (which is surely more like it).

Meditation doesn’t happen by reading about meditation. It’s really quite simple- and reading yet another book about meditation is often just another excuse to delay meditation, kind of like going on yet another gym induction rather than just getting on with it.

Perhaps it’s time to put the books down and stop over-studying.  Go to the gym. Get yourself a dynamic hobby. Sit down and meditate with a mantra or by focusing on a sound. Move your body- dance- or drop down and do 50 push ups, for example. Less is more when it comes to meditation, and your access point is to getting in your zone is to do something that gets you out of the mind, not further into it.

On the Edge of Adventure: A new way of looking at challenging times

Fascinating-lighthouseA good adventure story has it all – twists, turns, drama, excitement and triumph. One thing’s for sure – it’s not dull. And neither are these times we are living in.

Climbing Everest is an adventure – but if you are unprepared, I’m guessing it would be a nightmare. Same with these times. It’s the Everest of times – meaning these are great times to be living in if you “get it” and it can seem pretty unpleasant if you don’t.

Throughout history, there have been many times like this; and within each one, amidst the darkness, there have been great lights and great movements and moments – almost like parallel worlds going on.

So when the world seems a little temperamental to say the least – there are simultaneously great times to be had – blessings in disguise – when you know how to tune in.

Manifesting the best of times

Manifest means “reveal” – it doesn’t mean “create”. So many people use the word “manifest” as a way to try to fix things – but “trying to fix” just keeps things the same. Like a radio playing all kinds of stations, manifesting your ideal world is about tuning in rather than changing or fixing. And there’s a big difference. One way works – and the other doesn’t.

The world you want is here now. Not “when we sort this situation out” or “when everyone is peaceful” – it’s right now, awaiting you to tune in to it. 

Meditation is one of the best ways to tune into the channel that you want to experience – and thus experience the world you want. And there are many ways to meditate. I’m not talking about denial: It’s perfectly possible to watch one channel without denying another; it’s a matter of choice.

Accepting what’s happening

If your mind is spinning with fearful thoughts, from what you’ve just read in the newspaper or whatever, it can be very hard to “let go” into meditation. And that is why there’s a step to do first of all: Turning to face the situation, exactly as it is.

So let’s face what has happened in the world that you don’t feel good about – whatever it is that comes to mind. What has happened, has happened.

I’m not trying to hide from what’s going on – nor am I trying to trivialise disasters. But worrying about the state of the world doesn’t help the world. Never has and never will. When something is happening that you clearly have no control over – you have to turn within to control the only thing you really can control – which is your focus. And your focus determines your world.

The message in these times is about realising we cannot control everything. Or anything, in fact. That sounds scary to the “thinking” mind – and it is. But feel for the truth behind it, and it becomes a sanctuary; a blissful relief.

Things are getting big now, the stakes are getting higher – encouraging us to say “ok, I get it” and surrender. Surrendering doesn’t mean we “give in” – it means we realise our thinking mind is not capable of anything much – except ruining our experience of the game of life – and surrender that approach to living.

When we drop below the cloud cover of thinking, we reveal our Real Self mind; the source of right ideas, insights, a mind that communicates not in mind chatter but in instinct, intuition and knowing. We get clarity and see things clearly. This is the meaning of the times – to encourage us to become our Real Selves.

So. Firstly you want to face how you feel right now:

Good things about… feeling fear

I should be feeling fear because I am

I’m sure I’m not the only one – it’s a normal human reaction

This fear is evolving me to more fearlessness like a workout

This mood is sure to pass like all storms…

And you will find many more of your own.

Good things about… the world situation

People are coming together. Never before have people from so many different backgrounds come together. There is a golden age of peace hidden behind this facade of drama.

It’s forcing me to stay present and in this Now moment It’s waking me up to live my life fully. I feel more alive

It’s waking me up from pettiness and what just doesn’t matter…

You will find many more of your own. As you find ways to see the good in a situation, the situation loosens it’s grip on you and your perception shifts to a brighter and more accurate one.

Tune to your guidance

The most powerful thing we have is our inner guidance. In this era of information overload, which information do we trust? When we go within, we connect with our guidance which knows what to do. When we are tuned to it, we are in the right place at the right time and we know what to do.

Meditation gets us in touch with our guidance. I recommend spending time each day in meditation- whatever your method is – giving you space to be attuned to this source of accurate information.

What to do to align with the times

  • Turn off the news when you feel overwhelmed. The news is an opinion, and if you are not feeling good when watching it, it’s an “off” opinion.
  • Rather than “trying not to think about things” – which doesn’t work, because “what you resist, persists” – face whatever situation is on your mind (including your current mood) and try to look for something good in it. This will allow you to let go authentically, experience a shift in your perception – and you will be open to solutions and new insights.
  • Find a new positive interest or hobby – and choose one that is more dynamic than the pull of the current drama your mind is focused on.
  • Make meditation a daily habit
  • Physical exercise, too, is a great way to get out of thinking and into your natural instincts and intuition; your supreme inner guidance.

New You- New Focus

IMG_8082In the beginnings of a new year, symbolically and historically, it’s a time many people make an intention to change. And yet every day is a new beginning, every moment. And so whenever you are reading this: Now is the time for change.

Change requires a certain kind of effort

When you are beginning a new habit, you may experience strong resistance to doing it. And that’s normal, as your old habits start trying to pull you back. In many ways, starting is the hardest part. Like a shuttle breaking out of the Earth’s atmosphere, a huge thrust is needed at the beginning to ‘break through’ into the new. Then it becomes easier, as you find the rhythm of the new habit.

Many people quit at this point and go back to their old ways. That’s why it’s notorious that the gyms are packed full in January and empty in February. Sure, people intended to continue but that intention wasn’t enough. Effort is needed in the beginning stages, particularly.

When as babies we learn to walk, we stumble and then we get back up stronger. So there’s nothing wrong with a few false starts. However, just as starting to dig a mineshaft for gold- and then stopping and starting somewhere else five minutes later- will take forever to get to the gold, we want to allow ourselves our humanity and yet also be consistent. With commitment, or discipline, the path is much shorter than we will have thought. Commitment or discipline is the secret.

No going back

The Vikings burned their boats at the shore of a new land they were about to conquer. There was no going back to their old ways. And this is how we want to be with our intentions or resolutions. No excuses, 100%, All or nothing. Wishful thinking will get you nowhere- follow through will get you what you want, and faster than you think.

Focus

The teacher Seth said that “you get what you concentrate on, there is no other rule”.

What Seth is saying here: focus: requires a disciplined mind. To do this requires a lot of practice. Because when most people first hear this line in all its many forms, they get panicky. Reading positive thinking books isn’t enough. To an undisciplined mind, this wisdom can become counterproductive; the moment most people hear it they automatically start fighting their fears until they get lost in a fearful cloud of overthinking, desperately trying to focus on what they want whilst inadvertently becoming obsessed about what they don’t want:

I remember someone telling me that she bought a popular ‘Law of Attraction’ DVD for a friend who was depressed. After a few weeks, she asked how her friend was doing with it. The friend answered, sarcastically, “Well before you bought me the film I was depressed. Now I’m depressed and frightened.” This person was lost in depression- and now was being told that these depressing thoughts were going to ‘do bad things’. Or that’s how she understood it.

And so, a disciplined and clear mind is essential before we learn to focus. Discipline and commitment again- the secret to working with the Law of Attraction as I said.

Once you use discipline to clear your mind, you drop into your Real Self that automatically moves into focus on what you want. By using your effort in this way, to break through into your Real Self perspective, focus becomes effortless.

So what to do?

Firstly, we want to meditate.

Then, we want to practice dwelling, again and again, on all the good in our lives.

And

Third step: Now you can focus and concentrate on what you want- this becomes an effortless and natural thing to do.

Good luck with your changes: Keep on going- and come along to one of my events to learn more.

Feeling low? It’s not for the reason you think

feeling lowYou may think the reason you feel bad is that you don’t like your body. Or it could be a bad relationship or grief from a relationship breakup. Or that you don’t like your job and don’t know what your life purpose is.

But it’s none of these reasons.

You may have tried everything to fix your problem… And nothing’s working.

It’s because your problem isn’t what you think is.

When I asked someone who was sad about losing a deal if he was always happy before this event- he paused to get his mind of this latest drama and then remembered- of course he wasn’t. The mind moves from one arrangement of drama to another. Different people different places; different situations and scripts. Same feeling. The problem isn’t the details of what’s going on- you have to look beyond that. It’s that you’ve fallen asleep to right thinking; you’re temporarily out of your right mind. 

There’s a real trick of the mind that says if the problem would sort itself out; if he would come back or she would change or a job would be better; if the furniture would rearrange– I’d be happy. But without being in a happy mindset- which means a mind free of unpleasant thoughts-  all the money, love and ‘stuff’ in the world will do nothing to make us happy.

So it’s not about fixing a faulty situation; it’s about shifting to a mindset the works.

If you stay in the lower-level mindset looking for answers, it can get ever more complex. It can be a seemingly endless nightmare. You can move from one book to another; one course to another. Turning over the problem again and again in your mind looking for the solution. But the solution is not here to be found- you’re looking in (or thinking from) the wrong place.

Getting back into connection

When you’re in a low mood the mind goes on at you telling you you have to do something- and fast. Go somewhere else, do somewhere else- the message is always about moving your body somewhere else. But this achieves nothing. You just go somewhere else and end up feeling just as bad, if not worse, because “yet another thing” didn’t work. This is like watching the horror movie channel and then being confused when horrific content comes onto the TV screen.

Or it’s the difference between rummaging through junk in a bargain basement versus getting in the life and going to a floor with things you do like. You can spend years searching the bargain basement and not find what you want. What you want is not there.

Finding the place where the solution is

Meditation, physical exercise and taking a nap are all ways which can help you be retuned back to feeling like you again; the place where all solutions reside, awaiting your return.

In the Greek tale of the Minotaur, the hero Theseus was given a golden thread so he could feel his way out of darkened maze; a maze that symbolises the nightmare the “lower self” mind can be.

Meditation or other techniques which allow you to step back from your mind is the ‘golden thread’ to find your way home; to find your way back to your path; back into connection again.

So in truth there’s only one problem – we’re disconnected. And what’s the only one solution to this only one problem – to connect again. Simple.

But it takes focus to drop into that place, ignoring the chatter, temptations and criticism of the lower-level mind, whose suggestions never lead to happiness- and that’s where the practices I teach come in.

Being sensitive is not a bad thing

Pain means we’re out of our right mind – it’s an indicator that lets us know that we’re out of sync with ourselves; and we can feel this.

One great thing about intense pain is it can force you to give up your way of trying to rearrange the furniture and surrender the faulty mind altogether. That is why we hear often that those really low moments that some people call “rock bottom” were the best things that ever happened to them.

We can often go on for a long time suffering slightly – but it is in these rock bottom moments that we are forced to breakthrough into right-mindedness; where a new beginning awaits.