Imagination – it’s useful but can it predict the future?

I will never forget 15th October 1987.

Michael Fish, the BBC weather man, said:

“Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way… well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!”

I left my house the following morning to go to work and whilst driving down the road I saw a tree down and thought, “Wow, that must have been a strong wind last night!”

Then a few hundred yards further on I turned the corner and was greeted with the most extraordinary scene. Hundreds of trees down. Cars smashed up. Houses with roofs torn right off.

Here we are again, decades later, and amid another extraordinary situation.

Yet something has not changed.

Despite technology, huge amounts of data, and some of the brightest minds in their fields, we are still not able to predict the future with any certainty. The variation in predictions of the virus and its effects have been enormous.

This is not a criticism of people who are undoubtedly doing their best, it is simply an observation.

Our gift as humans is that we have this extraordinary ability to imagine the future.

This can be an intelligent thing to do. It can help us anticipate, prepare, and get through situations better.

Yet as soon as we begin to add uncertainty into the mix, we can end up scaring the living daylights out of ourselves.

Why does this happen?

What the mind will do when we feel uncertain and insecure is create thoughts about a future that we do not want to experience. Such as catching the virus, having no money, or losing everything.

Thoughts can and do create very powerful emotional experiences and this is why we forget that we are experiencing thought and instead it seems that our circumstances are directly responsible.

But do circumstances directly cause feelings? Is this even possible?

Surveys have shown that for many people, public speaking is more frightening to them than death. Jerry Seinfeld joked that people would rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy!

But it is also true that many of those people taking part in these surveys have never spoken in public. So, what they are responding to is their thinking about speaking in public.

They really do not know how they would respond in a real public speaking situation. For all they know they could be amazing. I have seen this happen… people who have got up for the first time in front of an audience and were brilliant!

This goes for everything else in life too.

How many times have you allowed your imagination to run wild with uncertainty and felt terrible as a result?

We can worry about money, work, relationships, health, the state of the country and all manner of things. When we try to predict the future, we will often pick the worst-case scenario and use this to make decisions.

You do not have to do this.

When we see the nature of thought and how it is creating our moment to moment experience of life it brings us back into the present.

When you are ‘in the moment’, rather being than lost in a load of erroneous thinking, you are well equipped to make wise, intelligent decisions.

You can be present to what is and not what might be.

The future is uncertain. How can it be anything but?

Yet rather than this being something to fear, by understanding the true nature of the system we are part of, we can navigate through life with ease, intelligence and, for the most part, enjoyably.

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.

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.

The biggest ‘Megatrend’ of our time

Scientists seem to generally agree that we humans are the most intelligent species on Earth.

You would think, therefore, that we would have this experience of life nailed down and in many ways, we have.

This intelligence has allowed us to do what no other creature has come close to. We have built civilisations, come up with literally millions of products and ways to make our lives richer and physically easier, and we continue to evolve at a breath-taking pace.

A few years ago, I read a book called ‘Megatrends 2010’ by Patricia Aburdene, best-selling author and renowned social forecaster.

Through accurate and compelling research, she identified that the biggest ‘Megatrend’ of our time is that we seek more spirit (78% of people).

She realised that in a world that seems increasingly turbulent, unpredictable and uncertain, (and likely to remain this way) we naturally begin to look within.

And with good reason.

Anyone who has watched ‘The Blue Planet 2’ can see that we are destroying our world.

It is plainly obvious that far too many people are struggling with life.

A greater and greater number of us are realising that rampant materialism does not create lasting happiness and contentment.

So, what does looking within really mean? How do we do this?

To me, looking within means acknowledging, connecting with and nurturing our spiritual (non-physical) essence. It means seeing that we are an expression of something bigger than our individual selves and that we are all connected.

The more we are willing to see this truth, the more we open our hearts. As this happens we naturally live in greater harmony with ourselves, other people and the world.

On the question of ‘How?’, I think this is the wrong question.

I was out to dinner with a friend recently and we were talking about this very subject.

I shared that in 30 plus years of being a seeker of what looking within means I have come across two communities of people who experience evolving, improving and lasting levels of well-being and spiritual growth.

These two communities are the people who have learned to meditate (and practice daily) and the people who have learned the inside-out understanding.

I am not saying there aren’t others, but this is my own (and relatively limited) personal experience.

I was very committed to the practice of meditation for over 12 years and then I stopped (my blog about this is here if you want to know why).

The inside-out understanding is something that doesn’t require us to do anything at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is the realisation that we are part of this intelligence that is greater than our personal mind and, when we allow it to, it will beautifully and gracefully navigate us through life.

We don’t have to think about any of the trillions of processes that run our body from moment to moment, do we? You don’t have to think about taking your next breath, digesting your last meal, healing the cut to your hand, making your heart beat or walking without falling over (unless you’ve been on the sherry too much!).

The intelligence is built-in and does the work for us.

The mind is no different and yet we have taken on this idea that we need to try and control our lives.

It is the ego that wants to control and it can be an easy trap to fall into. Wayne Dyer used to say ‘ego’ is ‘Edging God Out’.

The result of this is a great deal of unnecessary inner conflict and, therefore, is at the root of all outer conflict – the greater mind is gently trying to point us in one direction and the little mind is trying to go in another.

If we truly want to thrive, experience our lives as meaningful and leave the world better for us having been here, it is so simple we can easily miss it.

The mind only works one way. From the inside-out. This truth is an utterly reliable constant.

The content of our thinking changes all the time and we have thousands of different thoughts every day. If we believe that the experience we are having has something to do with our circumstances then we’re immediately caught up in an illusion.

When we see ourselves as the thinker and that the nature of thought is that it is constantly changing, then we can be at peace with whatever experience we happen to be having.

We are then free to ‘be in the moment’ and enjoy life fully, even with all its ups and downs.

I have shared it before but as an end to this piece, this short video from Michael Neill is worth less than a couple of minutes of your time…