Category Archives: acceptance

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.

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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.

Accepting Your Country and Your Roots

In many of my previous blog posts I have touched upon the topic of acceptance. The acceptance of your life, your wounds and scars, your personal history. I deeply believe it is through acceptance, not through denial or repression, that we heal and become whole. It sounds easy, but it is often more difficult than we believe. It somehow seems so much easier to resist, fight, and deny.

Celebrating the Vietnamese New Year. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Celebrating the Vietnamese New Year. Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Recently I’ve been thinking of one area of acceptance that in my life has passed by a bit unnoticed. I have become more aware of my roots. I have started to see my own country in a different light.

I have spent many years in Asia and Africa, and of course those years have influenced me a lot. At times I have been extremely critical about my own country, and I’ve only seen all its negative aspects.

Now I have been back home in Finland for two years. During the past year I have also spent several weeks in Sweden, our Western neighbor, that I very much like. A new acceptance and appreciation has begun to grow in me. I understand that in many  ways I have been lucky to have been born in this Northern country with cold winters and long distances.

I have started think of my family and my ancestors. I’ve come to a point where I look at myself and understand that there were lots of people before me, and I am only a part in a long chain of generations.

And as I’ve been mulling over and experiencing these openings of new vistas, I have also thought of one foreign country that has a special place in my heart: Vietnam, where we lived for five years.

In Vietnamese culture ancestors have always been a living part of also the present day.

In 2005 I was able to participate in a meeting in Hanoi in which spoke a Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Thanh. He had come to visit his own country after over 20 years of exile in France.

I want to share a passage from Thich Nhat Thanh’s  book Teachings on Love. I am not a Buddhist myself, but as I am open to various sources of inspiration, I treasure this piece of text, the first of the five practices of “Touching the Earth”. To me it speaks of the acceptance of my own roots:

“In gratitude I bow to all generations of ancestors in my blood family. I see my mother and father, whose blood, flesh, and vitality are circulating in my own veins and nourishing every cell in me. Through them, I see my four grandparents. Their expectations, experiences, and wisdom have been transmitted from so many generations of ancestors. I carry in me the life, blood, experience, wisdom, happiness, and sorrow of all generations. The suffering and all the elements that need to be transformed, I am practicing to transform. I open my heart, flesh, and bones to receive the energy of insight, love, and experience transmitted to me by all my ancestors. I see my roots in my father, my mother, my grandfathers, my grandmothers, and all my ancestors. I know I am only the continuation of this ancestral lineage. Please support, protect, and transmit to me your energy. I know wherever children and grandchildren are, ancestors are there, also. I know that parents always love and support their children and grandchildren, although they are not always able to express it skillfully because of difficulties they themselves encountered. I see that my ancestors tried to build a way of life based on gratitude, joy, confidence, respect, and loving kindness. As a continuation of my ancestors, I bow deeply and allow their energy to flow through me. I ask my ancestors for their support, protection, and strength.”

Relax, You’re Ok As You Are!

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I have been on a fascinating journey for the past nine months. During the past few weeks I have been preparing for the end of this nine months’ journey, and at the same time I have been preparing myself for another, new journey. That’s why I haven’t been writing anything for a while.

So what’s going on in my life?

In some of my earlier posts I have briefly mentioned that at the beginning of January I started Zen coaching training in Sweden. (Zen Coaching is an approach developed by Norwegian Kåre Landfald, and it is based on both Western and Eastern sources. You can read more about it in here.)

Last week my training came to an end – at least for now, because it is a lifelong journey, and I can always go deeper.

I still have some requirements to meet, but after I have received my diploma I’m planning to start working as a Zen coach. I won’t stop blogging, but there will be a new strand in the tapestry of my life: I will be working more in a direct contact with people, in personal encounters and through the Internet. I’m going to build a new website for my work. I will let you know when the site is ready.

What is Zen Coaching then? Explaining that would actually require much more than one or even several blog posts, but I try to explain what the training has personally meant to me.

First of all, despite its namel it is not only about Zen Buddhism. Actually it might be more correct to speak about Zen-inspired coaching, because there are also many other elements woven into Zen Coaching, to make a coherent whole. But the emphasis is definitely in seeing your life as it happens just now, and allowing and accepting whatever you see.

What does it mean to “see” your life? First and foremost it is not about trying to mentally, through thinking, to understand what is going on in you. Above all else it is allowing yourself to experience and feel whatever it is that is happening. Be it anger, stress, frustration, happiness, excitement and so on. It is about saying, from the bottom of your heart, a big YES to yourself and your life.

It is actually thoughts that take us away from living in the present moment. Thoughts as such are not anything bad, but they tend to shut the door to the moment that is there just in front of you. They throw you either into the past or the future.

But there is a way to experience the present moment, the present reality, and it is by looking at your feelings and emotions as they show themselves in your body and your breathing. It is the humble and undervalued instrument of the human body that is essential in connecting you to the present reality.

We tend to think that it is through thinking that we solve our problems, but it is feelings, particularly our deeper needs and longings, and the body, that carry us to a place where we find our deepest wisdom.

And what is our deepest wisdom then? It happens when we recognize how we have lost contact to ourselves on the deepest level of our being. To get to that place one has to pass through the various shields of pain that we all carry with us. If you are willing to face your own pain without resisting it, you will find your treasure under the pain, the diamond that is hidden in you.

– Ah… More images, more words and concepts. I’m sorry for that. But that is exactly what happens when one tries to distill the freely flowing, constantly changing experience of life into words that can, at best, only refer to something.

Anyway, let’s try to get a glimpse of it. Think about a small child who is less than one year old. A baby that is loved, well fed and in good health. What can you see? You see full trust, you see joy, total openness, love. That is an image of all of us in our original state. But the image of a small child is not only a personal beginning of a human being that will later be an adult, but it is also an image, a metaphor of something that I might call the transpersonal, the universal child in all of us. It is something that we all are part of, even though we don’t know or understand it.

And when you find contact to that child you understand that you can relax. There is nothing wrong with you, nothing to fix, nothing to improve. You don’t have to get anywhere, you don’t have to achieve anything. Because the diamond is still within you, though hidden under the weight and layers of the defense mechanisms – called personality – that you created in order to survive in this world.

When you find your diamond, you may realize that the problem you thought you had dissolves all by itself. Or you may find a solution. What is different now is that the solution comes from within you. It grows out of your whole being. It is not achieved through hard work of thinking or through willpower. It grows out of you like leaves from a tree.

This is what I’ve been going through during the past nine months. Of course my journey did not start only at the beginning of this year, but during the past nine months these discoveries have become conscious and very living to me. I have come home to myself.

And the journey goes on. I know I will wander off from my “diamond”, and I shall have to come back home to it again. And again. Because that’s what life is about. A never-ending journey of leaving and coming back home. A movement, a mystery, a flow to be experienced and embraced.

Late Afternoon Lethargy and How to Deal with It

Do you ever nap in the afternoon? Have you ever noticed that if your nap is a bit too long or you take it a bit too late – for example after 4 pm – you will feel sad and melancholic when you get up?

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

Photo: Maarit Suokas-Alanko

I don’t know what it is in this combination, but for me it results in a miserable mood. If the nap lasts for 15-20 minutes, it is still ok, but if I sleep for example for forty minutes late in the afternoon, I can be almost sure that I will feel sad when I wake up.

Yesterday it happened again. I woke up from a nap that had been too long and taken too late in the day.

It was a dazzling August afternoon and the whole world was smiling. But not me. I felt like I had experienced a terrible loss of some kind. I felt gloomy and lethargic. And of course I did not like the way I felt. I would have preferred to feel like that brilliant August day outside: totally happy and full of energy.

I looked at myself and my feelings. Through meditation and the practice of Zen coaching I have gained some understanding and experience of how to work with the various weather conditions of the mind from rapidly shifting moods to racing thoughts.

I know that the mind is like that – it feels and it thinks. Somehow I’m also beginning to understand, little by little, that it is actually my own resistance to my feelings that usually creates the problems.

“If you have a gloomy mood, fix it and make it bright! Escape it, go to the movies and immerse yourself in the drama on the screen! Talk to someone on the phone!” These are our usual remedies for unpleasant feelings. And as we develop these various strategies to get rid of miserable feelings, then arrives the whirlwind of thoughts. And there we are, totally lost.

So what did I then do to my late afternoon lethargy?

It was very persistent. (I think it actually was a he.) He came to the living room to sit with me on the couch. He was there even after I had a cup of coffee. He clearly had decided to stay with me.

I looked at his depressing face and said: “Ok, I see you want to stay. Let’s then spend some time together and make the most of it!”

I decided to take Lethargy for a walk with me.

We headed for a little lake that is only ten minutes walk from my home. To get there, one has to climb a small hill and then go down a road. As I climbed the hill my steps felt soo heavy, and I was out of breath when I got up. Lethargy was also huffing by my side.

When we started to descend a road towards the lake I noticed how fresh the air was. The dark green trees were casting long shadows in the late afternoon light. A solitary duckling was paddling near the shore, and a swan couple on the other side of the lake was totally lost to the world – they were busy diving for something to eat from the water.

My nose smelt the special fragrance of summer when it has reached its full maturity, just before the first cold nights. The fragrance that heralds the coming of autumn. I could hear the gravel rustle under my feet. I bent down to look closer at flower-looking mushrooms by the track. The whiteness of a birch trunk stuck out from the wood.

So I walked around the lake, sniffing smells, sights and sounds. A bit like a dog, stopping here and there, looking at this and that. My senses were completely open to the world around me.

The rest you already know. At some point during the walk I awoke to the absence of my companion. Lethargy had quietly disappeared. Maybe he had stopped to explore some interesting sight in the nature. Or then he simply had got tired of my company and had gone to look for a more interesting one.

Lesson of Late Afternoon Lethargy?

Everything changes. All the time. There is no guarantee it will last. Whatever it is, see it. Accept it. Say yes to it. Don’t think there is some other place that is better. Don’t think there is some better you you have to find. Stop trying to fix it and it will improve all by itself.

Just relax. Now.

The Journey of A Smile

A boxful of old photographs almost fell into my lap from a closet where I have been keeping them – a surge of memories, moments from the past, frozen by camera. Instants fixed on paper, remnants of times when images still had a material form and feel against the hand. All shoved into a brown cartoon box, sealed with thick packing tape.

Nicaragua uusin

I spread the pictures on the floor and sit down amidst them. There is so much of everything – places, people, events, experiences, and feelings. Episodes that had already disappeared and gotten lost into the labyrinth of my memory.

In one of the photos there is a serious-looking girl of six or seven years old. She catches my attention, and I begin to follow how she changes in the photos.

In the first photo – which is black-and-white – the girl’s posture is slightly stooped and she is tilting her head to the left. There is an air of sadness around her. She is standing in front of a Sami style tepee somewhere in Lapland, with a group of people, one of who is dressed in a traditional Sami costume. Her father is not there, but her mother and elder teenage sister are present. Everyone is looking straight into the camera. Only the two dogs in the front have turned their backs to the photographer. It is summer and the sunlight is bright.  The shadows on the ground are sharp, and everyone is squinting their eyes.

The next photo is taken a few years later. In a class photo the same girl is wearing her first eyeglasses, and that makes her look what she already was at that time – a bookworm. She has created a private world of her own, a place where she feels safe. The early signs of adolescence are visible in her greasy, straight hair, and the coat that she is wearing looks a bit too big for her.

More photos. The girl is growing and changing. Trips with schoolmates. Moments with friends during the years at the university. One photo is taken on her first trip abroad: three young women, the inseparable threesome, are standing in front of a cathedral in Florence.

In one of the photos she is floating in the water in the Dead Sea in Israel. It is a field trip of her theology class of the university. She has raised her arms up and her feet are sticking out of the water. She is demonstrating how well the salty water carries her.

Then there are a couple of photos of a mysterious Janus-faced young woman. She is already married. She is sitting on a basket chair, wearing hexagonal glasses and a classy dress. She has a plain short haircut. Her head is slightly turned to the side, but her eyes are looking straight into the camera. The look on her face is veiled, inscrutable, and her closed mouth looks like it is holding words inside. Is anger her shield, her protection against the world?

And then another photo, on the same basket chair, completely different. Again the young woman’s head is turned to her right side, but she is also looking up, past the camera. On her face she has a bright smile that reveals her teeth. Her glasses are reflecting the light that comes from the opposite direction. A careful inspection reveals a reflection of the photographer on her glasses.

In the next photo she is 23 years old, and she is standing at a railway station. A railcar and people are standing right behind her. Her old father is next to her, looking down. He is wearing a leather hat with a brim, and a brown winter coat. The coat is slightly open and reveals a striped tie. The young woman is keeping her hands in her pockets.  Her head is covered with a green woven cap that does not quite match with her winter coat. Her shoulders are slouched, and her eyes are down. She looks sad and depressed. There is snow on the ground, and the afternoon shadows behind the father and the daughter are long and distinct, like the seventeen years that have elapsed since their previous encounter.

Kodan edessä - uusin

Next photo. She is already a mother expecting her first child. She is sitting on a bed in a light blue night-dress. She has had her hair permed to get herself curls that nature did not give her. She is leaning against a bed head, and a pillow is supporting her back. Her tummy is big and heavy-looking. Her arms are resting on the sides of her tummy, both hands meeting in front of it. She is pursing her lips and tilting her head forward. She does not look into the camera. What is she thinking, that serious young mother, behind the thin curtains through which the light filters into a quiet bedroom?

Next photo. The turbulent years of divorce are behind, but there is still a shadow of sadness in the woman’s eyes. She is on her first trip to Africa, under the  brilliant sunshine, on the shore of Lake Nakuru in Kenya. Right behind her back there is a huge flock of birds, hundreds of pink flamingos. On the  left side of the woman stands a man with blonde curly hair, tangled by the wind. They both have a very straight posture, as if they had decided to defy whatever life throws at them.

Then there is a very different photo. The woman has come to Nicaragua to pick coffee. In the photo she is laughing with her mouth wide open, and tilting her body backwards. It looks like the laughter is coming out of her whole being. She is standing on a dirt road with another woman – and a guerrilla. A machine gun is hanging from the guerrilla’s neck, and he is holding his arms on both women’s shoulders. It has just stopped raining.

… And so the stream of the photos goes on, and over the years the images begin to disappear into the hard drive of the computer, and they become more ethereal and intangible. The sadness of the little girl in the first black-and-white photos gradually begins to fade in later photos, and the veil in front of the eyes of a young woman disappears, for most of the time. There are more and more photos with a smile and laughter on her face, but even in the later photos, that are now stored on the computer, there are still moments when she does not look into the camera, but into a quiet place inside herself.

*

Äiti ja minä

There I sit on the floor looking at the story of my life unfolding in the old photos. It comes into my mind that in everyone’s photos there are those fleeting moments when the camera has captured the instant of a sad child peeking through the armour of an adult person.

I sit and think that actually my story is not so unique, that we all share the same story; the story in which a defenseless and helpless child faces something overwhelming, something that she cannot deal with. It is the same story for everyone, experienced in myriad versions and in varied quantities. The story in which we all experience our bigger or smaller share of human suffering.

And as I look at my old photos I think of the lesson that I’ve been studying during the past years. It is the lesson of acceptance, compassion and love, not only for other people, but above all else, for myself. For me it has meant meeting the little girl inside, feeling her feelings – and then embracing her with all my love and warmth. She is part of me, part of my life and my history.