The two wings

Maarit Suokas-Alanko:

Seeing and accepting, two themes that are essential in my personal approach to life, and in my approach as a Zen Coach. Related to this, I found a quote from a fellow blogger at MIndfulbalance blog, and I want to share the post with you, because it says it all in a nutshell.

Originally posted on Mindfulbalance :

File:Bird in flight wings spread.jpg
The two parts of genuine acceptance — seeing clearly and holding our experience with compassion —are as interdependent as the two wings of a great bird. Together, they enable us to fly and be free.The wing of clear seeing is described …..as mindfulness. This is the quality of awareness that recognizes exactly what is happening in our moment-to-moment experience. When we are mindful of fear, for instance, we are aware that our thoughts are racing, that our body feels tight and shaky, that we feel compelled to flee — and we recognize all this without trying to manage our experience in any way, without pulling away. The second wing of Radical Acceptance, compassion, is our capacity to relate in a tender and sympathetic way to what we perceive. Instead of resisting our feelings of fear or grief, we embrace our pain with the kindness of a mother holding…

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Too Much Focus Kills Creativity

Wanderer Above the Mist. Caspar David Friedrich, 1818. Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Wanderer Above the Mist. Caspar David Friedrich, 1818. Hamburger Kunsthalle.

Days, weeks and months have flown by, and some weeks ago I noticed IT had quietly sneaked into my life. It had started to bleed me dry. It made me feel I had lost something precious.

IT was too much focus.

I had become too goal-oriented, too efficient. I had lost contact with a dimension that has been an essential part of my life for decades – more or less random acts of creativity.

In my attempt to build foundations for a work that I love – that is, to support other people who look for a deeper meaning in their lives – I had become so single-minded that I had forgotten to nourish the sources of creativity in me.

The hollow feeling inside me finally got so big that it forced me to see I was about to become a workaholic.

I’m glad I realized what was going on.

At the same time I wondered why I had to go to the other extreme to find the balance. I knew some of the reasons. One is my ability for enthusiasm. I get carried away. And in my eagerness to accomplish something I forget the big picture. I guess this happens to many of us. It happened to me now. And of course it was not for the first time in my life.

After trying to figure out reasons for becoming over-focused I soon understood it was a futile attempt and would not take me anywhere. Instead I decided to explore the content and meaning of creativity. 

What is creativity to you?

What is creativity to me? Here are some of my answers:

Creativity for me is wandering without a destination.
Creativity is enjoying the journey while not forgetting the destination.
Creativity is browsing books and discovering a poem that opens a new insight or a new world to me.
Creativity is remembering the painting of Caspar David Friedrich (above), finding it in my art history book and allowing myself to be absorbed by the image.
Creativity is music that touches my heart.
Creativity is connecting with myself and with others through random acts of creativity.
Creativity is lying on a coach on a rainy day and suddenly getting an idea.
Creativity is having all my senses open – eyes, ears, nose, skin, mouth – to the impressions that the world wants to offer me.
Creativity is seeing beauty in strange places and unusual details or objects.
Creativity is the ability to enjoy when someone else finds exactly the perfect words or a perfect image to express something meaningful, important, entertaining, beautiful, deep, and so on.
Creativity is surrendering to the process without knowing where I will finally be. It is like being a Feather on the Breath of God, like Hildegard Bingen said 1000 years ago in her beautiful lyrics.

You can continue the list. As you may notice – and what now surprises me – is that creativity is not only the capacity to create or produce something creative, but creativity is also the ability to enjoy and experience the fruits of creativity, and beauty in its many forms. It seems to me that is a total confluence of the creator and created, of giving and receiving.

P.S. If you want to read what science says about too much focus, read a very interesting blog by Emma Seppala at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201403/the-best-kept-secrets-exceptional-productivity

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Is The Driving Force Behind Your Actions?

Painting: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Painting: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

What is usually the driving force behind your decisions and actions in life? Do you sometimes think of that?

I talked about this recently with two different people. After inquiring with them more deeply into the issues something interesting surfaced. They were both feeling bored, and that feeling was so intolerable that they were both planning for major changes in their lives.

Later on I could not resist the temptation to consult my dictionary. The English language is very rich indeed when it comes to feeling bored! Or what do you think of the list of synonyms: weariness, ennui, lack of enthusiasm, lack of interest, lack of concern, apathy, disinterestedness  unconcern, languor, sluggishness, accidie, world-weariness, frustration, dissatisfaction, restlessness, restiveness, tedium, tediousness, dullness, monotony, repetitiveness, lack of variety, lack of variation, flatness, blandness, sameness, uniformity, routine, humdrum, dreariness, lack of excitement.

My main interest here is not of course linguistic, but I want to share the synonyms with you, because I believe that as you read the words you get a better contact with the feeling of boredom.

What I actually want to say can be boiled down to the following points:

  1. Behind any uncomfortable feeling – including boredom – there is a deeper need or longing. Beyond feelings of dreariness, weariness, dissatisfaction etc. there is usually a deep longing for feeling alive.  Deep down we all know what it feels to be truly alive, but we have lost contact with that feeling, and, thereby, with ourselves.
  2. We may end up making very big changes in our lives without really knowing what we want or need! It seems that many people live their  lives like this, just drifting from one solution to another, from one goal to another, because they simply choose any strategy that saves them from facing themselves on a deeper level.
  3. Be prepared also to discover that what you are looking for in your plans may be something that is already inside you! What you look for is not something to be found outside but something that dwells in your heart, and it simply needs recognition to become manifest.

So I am not saying that one should not make decisions or find solutions to difficult situations in life. Also I am not saying that all our actions are escapist attempts to avoid something.

What I suggest is that you bring more awareness into the way you look at your life, and into decisions and strategies you use. For example you could try the following steps:

  1. When you notice that, in some situation, you begin to plan for a big – or even for a smaller – change, stop for a moment. Ask yourself if it is your own unpleasant feeling that you want to solve, or is it really the factual situation that needs a solution. Look at your discomfort. Recognize it for what it is and let it be. Allow yourself to remain in your question without even trying to find an immediate answer. Learn to love also the questions, not only the answers.
  2. Go beyond the feeling of discomfort. Behind the need there is always something positive that you long for. It can be more aliveness, it can be more freedom, more trust, more strength, more love. These feelings are your compass that guide you in finding your way forward. Based on what you long for in your heart, check if the course of action you were planning for is really taking you into the right direction.
  3. If you are able, even for a moment, to accept that life is uncertain, unpredictable and does not give you guarantee of anything, you may notice a new sense of relaxation growing. “Relax, nothing is under control”, someone posted in Facebook.  And it is from that place you may notice how your actions and decisions begin to grow out of you naturally, without forcing, and without fear. Your life begins to be a manifestation of who you truly are.

“The test of a psychologically mature person, and therefore, spiritually mature, will be found in his or her capacity to handle what one might call the Triple A’s: anxiety, ambiguity and ambivalence.” James Hollis, PhD.

P.S. It is for example with issues like this I work with my clients, using Zen way of coaching. Sometimes it is far too difficult to bring awareness to one’s life all alone. Support is needed. Go check my website at http://www.maaritsuokas.com. Or click the new title “Coaching in The Now” in the navigation panel of my blog.  Zen way of coaching works surprisingly well also on Skype.

Trust – You Can Handle The Stress

Trust and acceptance have been themes that I have explored a lot, particularly during the last year, when I have been building foundations for my work as a Zen coach. I have been experiencing stress at times, but because my effort has felt so rewarding, I have kept going.

Then a couple of days ago I ran across a very interesting video on TED talk that gave me a new perspective to trust and acceptance with relation to stress. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, presented results of some recent scientific studies on stress. Her short talk gave me real moments of illumination.

I won’t go into the scientific details. McGonigal explains them much better than me. You can watch  the video at the end of the post, but here’s a few discoveries that will definitely stay with me for the rest of my life:

  • When you experience stress, it is your body helping you to rise to the challenge you’re having. Appreciate your body for its response – the pounding heart and the constricting blood vessels. How you think about stress matters. Don’t consider it your enemy, but your ally.
  • Your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection. ( This is related to a hormone called oxytocin that the body pumps out during stress response, just as it does adrenalin.)
  • When you choose to view your stress as helpful, you create the biology of courage. When you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.

And then the important and big discovery, particularly from the point of personal growth and happiness:

  • Chasing meaning in life is better for your health than avoiding discomfort. Go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.

Here’s the video:

P.S. Yes, to celebrate 2014 I decided to change the appearance of the blog. Not much, but a little. I still like simple, minimalist style.

In Front of A New Scenery

Joel meren rannalla

It’s been an intense and interesting year, this 2013. I started to write my blog at the end of January. On my About page I told that I will ponder the question: Who am I really.

And indeed it has been a year of explorations. Towards the end the year has become even more intense.

In general it is simply about still wanting to do something meaningful in my life. I have matured slowly, and I have had to spend a lot of time trying to understand myself better. I started my life with a heavy baggage, but I bless the lessons it has given me. Life has become better and better by the years.There is more stability and inner harmony, and more trust in life and in myself. I do have my ups and downs and some days are grey and dull, or gloomy and distressed, but in general I nowadays return like a pendulum to its equilibrium position.

So I truly feel grateful as the year closes. It has been a year of great discoveries and realizations. It has been a year of making new friends and finding new connections. It has been a year of studying and learning new skills.

I have so much enjoyed the fact that I can connect with people in other countries and even on the other side of the globe. It has been great to realize that “family” is so much larger than just our biological family – which is also important – but that there are friends and like-minded souls everywhere, and thanks to new technology it is possible to stay in contact with them.

It has been a year of opening windows to new vistas, and a year of looking behind doors that I thought were permanently locked. A year of shaking hands with strangers who turned out to be friends. A year of finding sudden support and encouragement from people who I had never met before.

It has been a year when I have felt that life is carrying me. I just need to allow the flow of life to take me to the next place, to the next moment, in front of a new door, to a junction of two roads, to new encounters.

So I end the year thanking life for everything it has brought in front of me. I also thank you, my dear reader, for visiting and reading the blog. I wish that the new year will bring you moments of deep realizations, important discoveries and a lot of patience and acceptance in front of life’s surprises and mysteries.

The Beauty of Northern Lights

Photo: Pekka Sammallahti

Photo: Pekka Sammallahti

This photo was taken yesterday by Pekka. The place is in Lapland near the border of Norway.

I want to share the photo with you because it captures the beauty and the power of northern nature in winter. It is in nature that our small “selves” often give way to something bigger, and we get a chance to change our limited perspectives to something wider and larger.

Beauty is one of soul’s values, and it needs to be nourished. Look at the photo and let the words of the Navajo poem carry you to a place of beauty inside yourself:

IN BEAUTY MAY I WALK

In beauty
may I walk
All day long
may I walk
Through the returning seasons
may I walk
Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully birds
Beautifully joyful birds
On the trail marked with pollen
may I walk
With grasshoppers about my feet
may I walk
With dew about my feet
may I walk
With beauty may I walk
With beauty before me
may I walk
With beauty behind me
may I walk
With beauty above me
may I walk
With beauty all around me
may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of
beauty, lively,
may I walk
In old age, wandering on a trail of
beauty, living again,
may I walk
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

What Wishes to Come to Being through You?

Kuva itsestä kuvaamassa

There is something really nice about aging. Whether others like me or not is less important to me than what it used to be when I was young. I just want to live my truth.

What I’m saying is: of course it is nice if you like me, but I do not need you to like me.

Can you see the difference?

As I have been thinking of issues of aging and my need to live my truth, I remembered some thoughts of a Jungian analyst James Hollis in his book Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life. (I spoke about his book already in one of my earlier blogs.)

Hollis divides life into two halves. The task of the first half of our life he describes like this:

“One has to have separated from the parents long enough to be in the world, to make choices to see what works, what does not, and to experience the collapse, or at least erosion, of one’s projections. By this age, the ego strength necessary for self-examination may have reached a level where it can reflect upon itself, critique itself, and risk altering choices, and thereby values as well.”

The second half of the life may begin as early as at the age of thirty-something, or much later. It has two major tasks: 1) the recovery of personal authority and 2) discovering a personal spirituality.

What fascinates me about this distinction and what I want to share with you is the way Hollis defines personal authority.

“What constitutes personal authority? Stated most simply it means, to find what is true for oneself and to live it in the world. If it is not lived, it is not yet real for us, and we abide in what Sartre called ”bad faith”, the theologian calls ”sin”, the  therapist calls “neurosis”, and the existential philosopher calls ”inauthentic being”. Respectful of the rights and perspectives of others, personal authority is neither narcissistic nor imperialistic. It is a humble acknowledgement of what wishes to come to being through us.

And how about discovering a personal spirituality? According to Hollis this is closely allied with the task of recovering personal authority.

“It is of paramount importance that our spirituality be validated or confirmed by fidelity to our personal experience. A spiritual tradition that is only received from history or from family makes no real difference in a person’s life, for he or she is living by conditioned reflexive response. Only what is experientally true is worthy of a mature spirituality… A mature spirituality will seldom provide us with answers,  and necessarily so, but will instead ask ever-larger questions of us. Larger questions will lead to larger life.”

What wishes to come to being through you? What is your answer to that question?