Plug Into Bliss
In August I went to a wonderful writing workshop/retreat in the Catskills, upstate New York. Its theme was creative non-fiction and I wanted to learn more about the craft of writing this genre, particularly as I’m increasingly teaching storytelling in leadership.
After the intensity of the last 2.5 years living in central London, I also needed to escape the unrelenting noise of the metropolis with sirens screeching 24/7. I needed stillness and beauty and I found it in the stars: the photo above is of bounteous Jupiter, taken on one of our many nights of soul-restoring stargazing. And I also wanted to cross the Pond to visit dear friends in NYC that I hadn’t seen for 3 years. There were many heart-warming reunions: there is nothing like deprivation for us to truly value what and who really matters in our lives!
It was a very special trip for so many reasons, one of them being I had an abrupt and much needed awakening! On the second day of my trip, I was having dinner with a good friend in Manhattan. We were catching up after not seeing each other in person for so long and he unexpectedly made a comment…very lovingly…that implied I had become miserable. I was shocked. All my life people have told me…sometimes crossly!... that I can find a silver lining in any situation. That however bleak or dark it looked, I would always seek light and ultimately joy. It was a gift I had been born with and fundamental to my identity. And now, after the last 2.5 years I was in great danger of changing my core character and becoming miserable and grumpy, not momentarily in response to a specific event, but as the norm: the psychological death that so many people succumb to. Of course, it was understandable and excusable: so much had happened accumulatively, too much, too often and without respite. But still. This was not who I fundamentally was or wanted to be, and it forced me to wake up.
Three weeks later, fully recharged, and back to ‘me’ again, I landed in London. I jumped into a cab, happy and raring to go and greeted my cab driver cheerfully. In response and within seconds, he listed 5 things to feel miserable about. I looked at him in horror. All my beautiful focus to regain my equilibrium and positive energy and this man was systematically threatening to erode it! I tried to stay in my protective happy-bubble zone and deflect him, but he was relentless in trying to hook me into the misery. In desperation, he moved from moaning about the drought to complaining about the heavy rain that was forecast later that day. My spirit was sinking fast. There was still a long way to go, and I was struggling to keep his dismal energy at bay. So I shifted the energy, asked him very politely to stop talking and then described to him what he had been doing since I got into his cab.
We then had a fascinating conversation! He was a young Somalian who had arrived in the UK only a few years ago. He told me that when he first arrived, he was struck by people’s strange response to his greeting: ‘How are you?’ If they were feeling really great, the best they would say is: ‘Not too bad, thank you.’ Or ‘Oh I can’t complain.’
We are used to living in a culture that prides itself on being low key and wary of great enthusiasm, but what is happening now is something much more troubling. The rest of the world used to laugh at the British for talking about the weather. It was our connector, our ‘small talk’ and it was a great ice breaker. Now, in a few short years, we’ve shifted to complaint sharing. This Somalian, an innately positive man, was merely being polite. He’d learned quickly that moaning was a British custom and assumed all his passengers shared it. What’s happened over these last few years, is having a profound impact on our mindset and culture. Grumpiness, arguing and rudeness have become the habit and norm.
Of course, there are very real reasons for feeling helpless and anxious. In a recent Perspectives Post about Mental Health, one of our contributors wrote:
"Mental health issues have become more talked about in recent years …before the pandemic and then very much so during. There’s far less stigma around the topic and a general appreciation of the link between emotional and physical wellbeing – mind, feelings, body. There’s also greater appreciation that some individuals need professional help to get back in balance. The huge increase in participation in mindfulness practices reflects I think a desire that individuals have to reconnect with themselves and bring in more kindness and compassion. The levels of stress and exhaustion seem to be more prevalent in our fast-paced world and the toll on mental health was becoming evident even before the pandemic arrived.
The pandemic has also accelerated the trend towards an ever-increasing virtual world where we’re not communicating in person but instead across a screen. Loneliness is no longer confined to a relatively small percentage of the population. Without those casual chats ‘by the coffee machine’, we’re less able to get perspective, to unload ‘stuff’ that’s on our mind, to share a joke and laugh…to lighten our mood and energy." https://www.cascad.co.uk/post/know-thyself-our-fascination-with-the-psyche
This habit of complaining and focussing on the negative, however, is different and it has become our go to, default conversation and mindset, regardless of what is actually happening.
What can we do to counter this culture of grumpiness? We have to make a psychological gearshift, be disciplined to stop our own litany of complaints, and focus on moments of joy i.e., we need to unplug from misery and plug into bliss!
We all have a capacity for joy: psychologically we call this our ‘Free Child’ and it is the only place within us where we can experience a visceral, not cerebral, awe and wonder. We are born with this gift of joy but, as we grow older, we often internalise negative messages from significant others that form our inner ‘Critical Parent’, that judgmental, harsh voice which insidiously attacks our self-esteem. This cynical inner voice abhors and fears our ‘Free Child’. Heart-singing moments of joy are seen as ridiculous, irrelevant indulgences that interfere with what life is really about.
Our ‘Free Child’ doesn’t know how to fight back and so we have to consciously love, protect, and reconnect with that joyous part of ourselves as we would our own child. Here’s what we can do:
1. Our Free Child loves magic, play, fun, dance, stories, comfort and touch. Keep asking yourself: ‘What brings me bliss?’ and ‘What makes my heart sing?’ Let these be your guide and let go of anything or anyone that does not.
2. Make a daily ‘Plug into Bliss’ list, consciously capturing moments of joy. They can be small or big and there is no finite amount. The more we get into the habit of naming a moment as ‘pure bliss’ the more they flow in!
3. Love and meaningful connection: surround yourself with authentically positive people. This is not about forced jollity with people who are in a loop of denial but about finding kindred spirits. And avoid negative people: both positive and negative states are contagious!
4. Our Free Child loves to laugh! Keep your sense of a warm, connecting humour: it brings such love, joy and perspective and it reminds us that life is very precious.
5. Vision yourself full of inner happiness and start behaving now ‘as if’ you are already there. Your mindset, energy, body language, communication and actions will set up a self-fulfilling cycle.
6. If you find yourself spiralling down, up the moments of joy and kindness to yourself. Transform that inner ‘Critical Parent’ into a ‘Championing Parent’. They will protect your Free Child.
7. Maintain a conscious will to stay positive and see clearly: we are daily bombarded by doom and gloom scenarios…note my cab driver!.. and it is very easy to plummet and only see and expect the worst. Of course, there will be aspects of truth amidst the commotion, but the media survives on selling stories and bad news sells! Be discerning about what you hear and read, including stories of hope, and keep connected to the bigger picture.
8. Work out how you self-sabotage: i.e. being cynical or doubting, freezing in fear, being distracted by the ‘noise’, or not believing in yourself. Understanding the ‘games’ we play to sabotage ourselves and keep us in the victim/complaining mindset, defuses their power and gives us a sense of hope and control moving forwards.
9. Express and own your real feelings: complaining is when we are stuck in our heads and often denying how we are feeling. Share your feelings with others: family, friends, counsellors/psychotherapists. Writing in a private journal will also help us connect and make sense of our feelings.
10. Create an environment of joy, beauty and harmony: when the world around us is out of balance, we need to consciously create a different environment to encourage and reflect the world we want to live in. Focus on your psychological and physical well-being: connecting happily with loved ones, meditation with deep breathing exercises, walking and connecting to the beauty of Nature, exercise, healthy nutrition, restful sleep etc.
Wherever we are in the world we have all just experienced the Equinox. This is our invitation to find balance and harmony in all aspects of our life. How about giving yourself time over the next few days to reconnect with your own Free Child? What would bring you bliss and make your heart sing? Dangerous questions I know, but urgently needed and infinitely rewarding!