Why I stopped meditating


‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I remember getting curious about meditation, probably twenty years ago or maybe even longer. Reading the local newspaper one day I saw that there was going to be a local talk on Transcendental Meditation (TM) and so I went along with a friend.

I was inspired by what I heard and in 2001 was taught TM by Jonathan Hinde. From then on, I meditated, as you do with TM, twice a day, every day.

The purpose of meditation is to experience the meditative state. To allow thought to drop away and to experience a more silent, peaceful state of consciousness. There is extensive scientific and credible research on the many benefits of TM.

It certainly helped me.

For example, about six months after I began to meditate, I decided to sell my financial business and become a coach. I had been unhappy and dissatisfied for a while and yet it wasn’t until I got clearer in my mind that I decided a change in course. I attributed my decision to the increased clarity of mind I got through meditation.

I was very committed to my twice a day practice and I was utterly convinced that I would continue it for the rest of my life. There were times when my meditations were so deep that I got a truly extraordinary feeling of presence, connection and peace.

And there were also plenty of times my mind was so busy it felt like I got nothing, but Jonathan said that the regularity was the key.

In 2012 I attended a three-day seminar being given by Dr. Dicken Bettinger on the Three Principles. Dicken has a wonderful presence and way of talking and on that first morning, I had an incredibly powerful insight into the nature of being present.

I cannot convey the feeling I got with words. All I can say is that I realised that being present is a wonderful feeling and has nothing whatsoever to do with time. That feeling I got lasted for weeks and weeks. It was like one long, very deep meditation.

When I got back after those three days, I stopped the practice of meditating. There was no thought about stopping. It was not a decision I had to make, it just didn’t seem to make sense to do it anymore. I have even tried to go back to it a few times and even though I do very occasionally meditate I have not gone back to it on a regular basis.

What I have seen is this. The wonderful feeling of presence is what we all have when our personal, habitual thinking drops away. Every single one of us has the potential to drop thinking so that we are left with a quiet peaceful mind. Even when our thinking is at its very worst, we are only ever a thought away from complete inner peace and harmony.

I realised that I didn’t need to follow a practice to experience a quiet mind. This is not to say I have a quiet mind all the time, because I don’t, but I now see that a quiet mind is a result of not doing rather than doing. The less attention I pay to my personal thinking – thoughts like worry, tension or simply over-thinking – the quicker I return to the present.

The understanding of what is creating our state of mind, moment by moment, is all we need to see. The understanding, rather than a practice, does the work for us.

The little understood power of the present moment

When we truly understand the power of the present moment, then it becomes the most important thing in our life.

I learned that to truly connect with others I had to be fully present with them.

I learned that happiness and contentment are not circumstance dependent; they are a function of how present we are in our lives.

I learned that to perform better in anything I do then the quality of my attention is the most important thing of all.

How much time do we spend in our heads?

I was listening to an interview with the renowned scientist Bruce Lipton when he said that research has shown that most of us spend only 5% (or less) of our time being present.

So, for a staggering 95%+ of the time people are thinking about the past or the future.

They are habitually chewing over lots of unnecessary thinking rather than being present with who they are with or what they are doing.

Of course, it is sometimes useful to remember the past or imagine the future, but Bruce was not talking about that.

He was talking about how disengaged most people are from being in life.

Holding a space for someone is when we are willing to drop all our thinking and be there for them completely.

This is a game-changer yet how many people practice it?

Most people ‘steal’ a conversation. They just can’t help jumping in with what they think.

Someone tells us they would love to retire to Spain and the next thing we do is get out our Spanish holiday snaps because we just know how interested they will be!

I have just returned from Phoenix where I met the legendary Steve Hardison.

Steve is coach to billionaires, pro-athletes, CEO’s. People pay him upwards of $200,000 per year to work with him.

They don’t pay him this because of what he knows. They pay him because of his extraordinary quality of presence.

I listened to him speak for a couple of hours and one of the things he said was:

“You get to choose – heaven or hell – every thought you have.”

Every single one of us experiences negative thinking and low moods, but as someone I know astutely said:

“The ultimate in narcissism is believing every thought because I thought it.”

When we identify with our thoughts, we create anxiety and our life becomes a living hell of separation from what we want.

But thoughts only have any power if we give it to them.

Fear and anxiety are thoughts of what might happen, not something that is happening in the present moment.

Eckhart Tolle in his book, ‘The power of now’ said:

“As long as you are identified with your mind, the ego runs your life.”

I have found that being present makes sense to almost everyone, but they then say:

“Ok, I get it but how do I do it? What’s the technique?”

But just as you cannot slow your bike by peddling faster you cannot experience a quiet mind by doing more thinking.

Your mind already knows how to return to presence and clarity without your conscious intervention – it is an allowing rather than a doing.

P.S. I have posted this short clip (about the present moment) before (1m45s) but it is genuinely funny. Click here.

Towards a fearless life

Very few people live a fearless life.

In fact, I only know of a tiny number of people who live truly fearlessly.

Byron Katie is one of them.

I’ve never met her personally, but I have read her books and been to see her speak in London.

At one time she suffered from depression, agoraphobia, overeating, and addiction.

Then she experienced an awakening at the age of 43. She said:

“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but that when I didn’t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.”

Just recently I’ve been reading a book by Melissa Ford called ‘Living Service – the journey of a prosperous coach.

She had an awakening too when her coach asked her:

When are you going to stop living like you’re never going to die?

Isn’t this a powerful question to ask yourself?

When am I going to stop living like I’m never going to die?

As we come to the close of a year and the beginning of a fresh new one, what are you going to do?

Repeat the year you’ve just had or evolve?

Most people are sleepwalking through life with the same beliefs, habits, and insecurities they have always had.

They never question them.

They just accept them as though “This is just who I am?”

But is this true?

Are we the thoughts we have about ourselves? Or are we something else?

After all, we didn’t arrive with a self-image. New-born babies don’t arrive with a mind full of insecure thoughts.

We arrive as pure love.

The self-image comes later and it’s the source of virtually all our fears.

Taking on the feeling

When I go into my ego-based, fearful thinking (which still happens often) my coach showed me how to ‘take on the feeling’.

Byron Katie does the same thing with ‘The work’ (I highly recommend her book ‘Loving what is’).

When you feel discouraged, down, worried, anxious, not enough (or whatever ways you have of taking yourself down), take it on…

Make the enquiry:

Am I feeling what is real?

Or am I feeling my thought in the moment?

There can only be one answer.

We feel our thinking in the moment. And it’s not real. We don’t have to believe what we think.

A thought is harmless unless we believe it. It is not our thoughts, but the attachment to thoughts, that causes suffering.” Byron Katie

Learning to laugh at our foibles

Just how much success, money, fame, material goods, power, etc. would you need to eradicate your insecurities?

I recently read an article about the actor Brad Pitt and it was interesting to read how he is still beset by self-doubt.

He said:

‘It’s a constant battle. You gain wisdom as you get older, so self-doubt gets less, hopefully. But it’s universal, that battle in the mind between beating yourself up and finding a place of peace.’

Let’s reflect here for a moment.

Brad Pitt is one of Hollywood’s most successful actors. He is not a bad looking bloke either (twice voted sexiest man alive) and he is reportedly worth £240m.

But he still feels self-doubt from time to time.

One of my favourite authors is the late Dr. David Hawkins and I read in one of his books a suggestion that you should write down your foibles.

So, I began to make a list. It is still growing but here is some of what I wrote:

I can sometimes feel low and negative. I can feel insecure about the future. I can take life too seriously at times. I have some insecure thinking around money. I experience self-doubt. I worry sometimes. I can fear rejection.

How it seems to me is that people can spend a lifetime, as Brad Pitt alluded to, having this battle in their mind between their insecurities and a place of peace.

But here is the thing…

This internal battle, if you make it a battle, is one that you can never win.

The fact is that, as a human being, you will experience insecure thinking, low moods and negative thinking. We have very little control over our thinking. We get what thinking we get.

This may seem somewhat defeatist, but we have something huge going for us too.

The capacity to understand what is happening in a completely new way.

Our insecurities and uncomfortable feelings are not caused by our circumstances. They are thought in the moment. They have no meaning unless we make meaning out of them.

No matter how bad you feel, you can only ever feel your thinking.

The only reason we hang on to insecure thinking and create a battle in our mind is because it does not look like thought.

I had someone say to me only last week, ‘I know we feel our thinking and all that, but this time it’s real. I’m really feeling what’s happening to me!’

When it seems as though there is real substance to what we are thinking it unsettles us and it leads to even more errant thinking.

But battling with our errant thinking does not make it go away.

The ego is reinforced by condemnation – beating yourself up with criticism or punishing yourself for your own thinking does not bring peace of mind.

It just adds fuel to the fire.

Real progress is when we see thought for what it really is. We can laugh at our foibles because we are seeing our humanness rather than getting caught up in the illusion.

The power behind the throne

The world we live in consists of the visible and the invisible. The form and the formless. The finite and the infinite.

The business world focuses almost exclusively on the form and what is visible.

If you want to improve results in any area – marketing, sales, leadership, management, communications or the game of life – there is a huge amount of help on offer.

How to think. How to behave. What to say. Strategy. Tactics. The 10 steps to… . The 7 habits of… .

A lot of fascinating material but how much does all this information help people?

Are we like robots who can simply follow the instructions of other people and get similar results?

Or does the invisible have far more to do with it than we may ever imagine?

What about…

Presence? Charisma? Timing? State of mind? Inspiration? Grace? Momentum? Creativity? Confidence? Resilience?

These and many other things are in the realm of the formless and yet are they any less real? Are they not the real power behind the throne?

People talk about the invisible dimension but the words can only point.

The business world likes what is concrete because the intellectual, conceptual mind loves form. It likes content, processes, steps and formulas.

To the intellect (and boy do we live from our intellects!) it is highly attractive to discover that to get what we want there is a process, a formula or some steps to follow.

Even though life does not lend itself to this approach.

The business world tends to struggle with the invisible, formless dimension.

I often hear people talk about mind-set, for example, but the talk is almost always about form.

People offer prescriptions – change your words, choose the mind-set you need, surround yourself with the right people, create a new set of habits, take a small step each day – the list must be endless!

Back in 2004, when I began coaching people, I focused on the form too. I thought that people just needed to know what to do. They needed a technique, strategy or instruction.

But I began to see inconsistencies.

For instance, with exactly the same information or technique, why did some people get great results whilst some got dismal results?

Why did people’s performance seem to randomly fluctuate (my own included)?

Why did some people change but others not?

I did not know the answer but when you sit with enquiry things show up. Often in unexpected ways.

A series of seemingly chance conversations lead me to the inside-out understanding and I had a huge ‘Ah-ha!, so this is what is going on!’

For the past seven years I have been pointing people towards this understanding and how it creates our moment to moment experience of life.

Has it all been plain sailing?

No.

I stumbled around in the beginning. When sharing it with people you must be patient and stay present because the formless is difficult to grasp; the intellect is of no use whatsoever.

And some people do not hear beyond the words because the illusion they live in is precious to them.

But this is all fine with me.

Everything comes back to the understanding in the end because our experience of life is thought created – every problem or challenge we can ever face exists only in our thinking.

This is not to say there are not things in life we need to deal with or get through because, of course, there are. But if we see ourselves as victims of circumstance, being bullied or pushed around by our circumstances, then we lose our spark.

The world of form is limited whilst the world of the formless is limitless.

The clearer and deeper you see the mechanics behind how we perceive life the more you live with presence, intelligence and free from struggle.

Instant freedom from limiting beliefs

A client and I were in a coaching session and he had been sharing how he seemed to run into the same problem in his life, again and again.

The subject of beliefs and how pervasive they can be came up.

Beliefs are just thoughts yet when something looks true to us we live through those eyes. In fact, when we believe something to be true we are constantly gathering evidence to support it.

I shared the story of Ellie, a lady I met several years previously. She was beautiful, intelligent and talented. This is what I and others could see.

Yet Ellie could only see what she thought was wrong – with everything!

In other people she could only see their mistakes. In situations she could only see problems. In herself she only saw defects.

I remember, at a training event one time, Ellie was asked to evaluate the work of a colleague and the instruction was to begin with what she saw was good.

But what happened next was not what people were expecting at all!

The first words of her evaluation were, ‘Well, what I think is wrong with this is…’

She was stopped, reminded to begin with what she saw was good, and given another chance.

Her next words were, ‘Where I can see this is just not right is…’

Once again she was immediately stopped. The atmosphere got a little tense. We were all wondering what was going to happen next.

Ellie was asked if she understood the instructions. She said ‘Yes!’ She was asked if she could manage to carry them out, by starting with praise and she said ‘Yes!’

So, she was given another chance.

The next thing that came out of her mouth about her colleagues work was, ‘What I can see is wrong here…!’

Some people gasped. Others were open mouthed. I remember being fascinated.

What was going on?

The trainer was brilliant. He saw an opportunity and asked Ellie’s permission to explore why she responded in the way she did.

She agreed and we all sat in silence as the trainer skillfully asked questions and listened.

It turned out that when Ellie was a little girl her mother had entered her into lots of beauty contests and being as beautiful as she was, she had won many of them.

However, her mother had always been quick to point out what she thought was wrong with her. Ellie’s attention had repeatedly been drawn to looking for her (in her mothers opinion) imperfections.

Innocently, she had begun to look at everything through these eyes and yet, until now, this thinking had been invisible to her.

In our own individual way we all get caught up in illusory thinking.

We think we are living in ‘reality’, forgetting that our thinking is made up and that our ‘reality’ is just one version of an infinite number of possibilities.

Our mind is not like a camera, taking in an objective reality that exists independently of us.

It works the other way around, with no exception.

Our state of mind creates how we see the world. As Sydney Banks said, ‘Your thoughts are like the artist’s brush. They create a personal picture of the reality you live in.’

The clearer you see that you live in a thought created reality and that the mind will naturally provide new and fresh thinking with no effort, the more you live in the present.

Living in the present simply means being free from the past and the future. Instead of responding to life in habitual ways you are free to respond to how you see things in the moment.

How important is this?

All suffering and struggle is created through attachment to thoughts.

As old, habitual and unnecessary thinking drops away because we see no value in it, what we naturally experience instead is freedom, joy and clarity of mind.

The surprising truth about happiness

Although happiness is something that is hard to define it is something that we seem to want more of.

There are dozens of books written on it and the subject seems to pop up on a daily basis on social media.

I was reflecting on this and it seems to me that there is one single question, innocently asked, that is at the root of all this wanting…

What will make me happy?

And this is the problem because the answer is… nothing.

Nothing can make you happy and yet our entire society is built upon the belief that ‘things’ can make you happy.

The advertising business is built upon the idea that the lack of something is the cause of unhappiness and then the product rides in on a white horse and saves the day.

They even try to convince you that floor cleaner will make you happy!

Many people believe they need the right person or a relationship in order to be happy. Some have such stringent criteria about the required qualities of their perfect mate that this person may not even exist!

Thinking that happiness is a result of external circumstances leads to the most common trap of all…

‘I’ll be happy when.’

We create an imaginary list of what will make us happy and this is what we put our time into.

I used to be a regular meditator and my teacher made a point that I never forgot.

He said you will never experience a better meditation by really going for it. It just does not work that way.

Happiness is just the same. The harder you pursue it, the further away it gets.

The imaginary content of the ‘I’ll be happy when.’ list is the barrier.

Is there a secret to experiencing greater happiness?

The natural backdrop to the mind, beyond our intellectual thinking, is a space of inner peace, contentment, grace, resilience, engagement in life, perspective, love – there are a many words that point to what is available to every single one of us.

When we fall into this space it would not even occur to us to ask ourselves if we are happy or not.

So, there really is nothing to do.

The logic of the inside-out understanding is that the mind only works one way, no exception. The clearer we realise this truth the more happiness, contentment and peace of mind we experience.

One word, huge implications!

Have you ever stopped to consider how you view the world?

To get an idea of what I mean I will share an example. I was recently in a conversation with someone who was sent on a ‘goal setting day’ by her company.

She explained that one of the exercises they did was to have participants give their immediate answer to a set of questions. The idea being that your first response was likely to be your true reaction.

One of the questions was… ‘The world is…?’

And she responded with ‘Dangerous!’

I am not criticising her response but what is fascinating to me is how you might operate in the world if that was how you saw it.

How would this influence your choices, your behaviour and situations you found yourself in? What would you move towards and what would you avoid?

We all have our own view on how the world works and it is like a lens through which we see the world and it shapes our entire experience.

It is usually so deeply embedded in our thinking that we never question it and often, we do not know much about our habitual thinking until something wakes us up.

An awakening can be a significant life event like falling in love or a serious illness – we suddenly see the world without the filters of our made up thinking.

A great example of this is the basis of ‘Dying to be me’ by Anita Moorjani.

The book is about her upbringing, her life-threatening cancer and, ultimately, her miraculous and unexplainable healing. Since her recovery she now lives from joy instead of fear.

Although awakenings of the huge magnitude like Anita Moorjani, Sydney Banks or Byron Katie experienced are relatively rare, the inside-out understanding points us in the direction of where they come from.

I used to think that because we live in a thought created reality it meant that I had to try and control my thinking. There was right thinking and wrong thinking. Good thinking and bad thinking.

I thought you needed to get rid of one to get more of the other.

In fact, I went down this route with a lot of enthusiasm and for a long time, until I realised this was not helping me a great deal.

We do not need to try and exert control because insight, wisdom and common sense are built into the system. I found that taking on the job of control was a fool’s errand.

Knowing this has helped me a great deal. I still do find myself judging my thinking on occasion but I am much more awake than I was.

And this is very healthy and healing.

You no longer feel controlled or bullied by your circumstances and have a happier, fresher outlook on life.

And you are free to intuitively respond to the world as you see it in the moment rather than a fixed way based upon old assumptions that may be well past the sell by date.

The most effective sales programme of all

I recently met up for coffee with a friend who runs a business networking group.

At one point our conversation drifted on to some of her members and what business they were in. She was telling me about one particular member who had a business teaching people about how to sell.

The basis of the sales programme (which was a franchise) was that for every and any possible thing a prospective client could come up with, you would have a pre-prepared answer.

So, if the prospect said this, you’d say that. And so on…

The problem was, for this member, was that people didn’t really connect with her and she wasn’t getting any business. Which isn’t great when you’re teaching how to sell!

Here’s an observation.

The more we fill up our minds with thinking the less able we are to connect, in a meaningful way, with other people. To connect with others we need to be interested (in them), attentive, curious, willing to listen and unattached to the outcome.

This is impossible to do if we are listening to our own thinking at the same time – you cannot effectively be in two conversations at once.

This just isn’t possible.

Sales in an interesting activity. Although for many business people selling is an essential part of what they do, whether this is gaining new clients, continuing to add value to existing relationships or sharing ideas with co-workers, it’s an area that holds more than its fair share of challenges.

Just the idea of it can send many otherwise high-functioning, confident, personable and potentially great sellers onto an emotional roller coaster ride of negativity.

Why does this happen?

They create all this thinking around selling that makes them feel insecure – ‘I hate selling.’, ‘I’m just not cut out for this.’, ‘What if they say no?’, ‘I just need to convince them’, etc.

If it looks like the situation (i.e. selling) comes with all these feelings attached to it, then its avoided. People force themselves to cope under the circumstances or they go on a training programme (like the one mentioned) that fills their mind up with even more thinking.

None of these really help but, thankfully, there is another, better approach.

The most effective sales programme you could ever go on would have its foundation in just one fact –  there is no link between our inner experience and our outer circumstances. Selling cannot make us feel a certain way. Our experience comes from thought, not our external world.

It wouldn’t teach you mind management techniques, sales techniques or closing techniques because doing so would be adding thinking to your mind when it is having less on your mind that helps most of all.

Also, it actually doesn’t matter if we get negative thinking or nervous about selling. What matters is our understanding of what is really going on if we do.

When we see that our experience is coming from thought then the mind will self-correct back to clarity and presence. No techniques required.

With a quiet mind, selling becomes a joyful experience of simply giving time to another human being and seeing if we can be of help or not.

What’s the difficulty in that?

The problem with positive thinking

As is the way, the first few weeks of the New Year has seen papers, magazines and social media platforms brimming with articles, ideas and tips from the latest ‘Guru’ telling us how to be healthier, slimmer and happier.

We live in interesting times when it seems that all someone has to do is make enough noise on social media and they get accepted as some kind of expert as people hang on to their every word and give them ‘likes’.

The intention may be good but the problem I can see is that so much of what we hear and see is contradictory and it can easily send people in a direction that won’t help them.

This week I saw somebody had posted up the following quote on LinkedIn…

‘If you realised how powerful your thoughts are you’d never think a negative thought again.’

If powerful means that certain thoughts can be a very intense experience, then you’d have to agree with this.

The special effects department of the mind is far more powerful than anything you could ever experience at the movies.

But never think a negative thought again?

This seems to be suggesting that we get to choose our thoughts and in doing so we would only choose ‘positive’ ones.

The truth is that the human experience, the one each of us is having, encompasses the whole palette of what it’s possible for us to experience.

We don’t even get to choose our thoughts.

As I think of my own experience over the past week or so, I can see that I have felt a whole variety of feelings… happy, low, positive, negative, enthusiastic, discouraged, forgiving, irritated… and lots more.

What so many of the ‘Gurus’ are telling us is not actually possible. Being positive all the time is not a realistic goal.

If we think it is wrong to feel negative then we’ll spend an awful lot of time trying to not be negative, which is the very activity that creates even more negative thinking!

From my own experience, the clearer I get on the fact that my mind only works one way, the quicker my mind clears.

I still get moods, but they are just part of life. If I don’t get preoccupied or bothered with them then there’s no problem.

A healthy, high-functioning mind is what nature gave us and it is only when we try to intervene that we create problems for ourselves.