“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

“Happiness”. We speak its name as if it’s a wedding vow (acknowledgement to Bob Dylan).

I’m worried that it’s become another compulsory mantra, like diet, “success” (in Western terms – making money).

Please don’t let happiness become compulsory. For then the lack of it will be perceived and felt as failure.

We can create the conditions for happiness – good diet, exercise, mental calm; but if happiness comes it is because of the “Gods”, not something we can “create”, like a slender figure, or money.

Happiness is fleeting but intense and we all want it. It’s a sort of spiritual orgasm. To strive for, but best of all, to be simply remembered, in reflective mode.

I am UNhappy at the current move in our culture to “sell” happiness, or the path to happiness. Such purveyors are charlatans. It is a big ask, but each of us must learn, from living, how to create the conditions for our own happiness. If it comes, it does, if it doesn’t we are not so much poorer. We can be content in our own integrity and the joy and solace we can give to others.

It is in doing those “mundane” things that we have the greatest chance of experiencing happiness. Not, in the Western way, of buying the path to it from a stranger.

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“The Gap”: a self-help technique for addicts and depressives.

Between the two

Today I am going to share with you another technique I use. I call it “The Gap”. It is another tool from my kit which I find very useful.

It is based on my practice of Buddhist meditation. When one learns this one recognises that thoughts are like clouds. The aim of meditation is to simply observe the clouds (thoughts) and not be caught up in them or enter into an internal dialogue with them. “The chattering monkey”, as the Buddhists call it. So the eventual goal is to see nothing but blue sky.
In other words the clouds, which are our personality, disappear. We are then free of all the distractions that our mind imposes on us and then we (“the I”) disappears and we observe that we are part of the Universe. Ultimately this leads to what Buddhists call “Enlightenment”.

I noticed a few months ago that there was a small space between my thoughts, especially those related to addictions and moods. Fortunately I have never experienced serious addictions but I do still smoke about 10 cigarettes a day. When I am ready I will stop. I am not ready yet. That is another story.

If you have an addiction you will feel guilty, but also (strangely)  intent upon repeating it whether it be drink, cigarettes, or anything else. Without knowing about “the gap” you will just do it and then feel bad afterwards and then the cycle repeats itself.

You just go along with it, but if you can stop yourself in that split second between the painful physical appetite and taking whatever it is, you will see that there is a very tiny gap in your thought processes. This is your opportunity to question whether you really want to perpetuate the cycle. The more you think about it the more that gap lengthens and the more you are able to consider it rationally. The clouds are separating.

It is not something that can be learned quickly or easily but it is a habit that you can get into and eventually it gives you so much space to really decide whether you want to have that next cigarette or drink or snort of cocaine or whatever. This applies not just to drugs but to any destructive habit. The other benefit is, as I have discovered, that it also applies to moods. So when I am feeling that I am moving from a good mood to a bad mood I can use my “gap technique” to find out why my mind is shifting in a negative direction. I can then decide what I need to do, e.g. eat, sleep, take some exercise, etc. to prevent myself from slipping into a negative mood and possibly then into a depressive episode.

I have used this technique many times recently and it grows in strength each time. It’s a really wonderful way of controlling self-harm and unpleasant changes in mood. It takes practice and perseverance, but it works for me and that’s why I’m sharing it with you. I would love to know whether you are able to use the same technique and enjoy its benefits.

48 hours of hell

Hello Friends,

It’s been a hard time but I’m still here! I think the negativity/damage started when, on Monday, I came across some old photos. I’m clearing out my house ready for the sale. Moving homes is hard for me, and so is looking at old photos. So much washed up from the past.

Anyway, I hit a nerve with my lovely partner, whom I adore. The thought of losing her terrifies me. But I know I must be SO difficult to have a relationship with.

Then my partner, Rachel, was off to London on business. I am pleased for her. She does her own thing. But abandonment is for me a BIG THING. So many conflicting thoughts and emotions I can’t express them now without boring you all.

Today I felt so miserable. But, hey! I managed to avoid going to the off-licence to get some drink and went on a walk in the country instead. It was hellishly boring, but I knew I’d done the “right” thing. When I got back home I was so tired, but pleased that I’d punched that depressive thing in the face.

Then I picked Rachel up from the station. I admit I’d sent her some angry and inappropriate texts yesterday. After all, why did she have the right to go off enjoying herself with friends in London whilst I was left looking after her cat and her house? Did she love me? Or was she taking me for a fool?

Well, Rachel is not one to avoid difficult conversations so we had it out in a calm way – but it was so painful for me. Still, we cleared out a lot of gunk. I just wanted to get hammered, but Rachel explained to me that that was not the solution. How I love her!

Posting this just to show how living with twisty thoughts is so hard at times. Love is a great healer and a great motivator. Also to prove to you all that I fight (so far successfully) against my generational role models who taught me subliminally that if you have a life problem you either drink yourself into oblivion, or take your Life.

Well, it’s really tough, but I do neither. I keep going. I love Rachel, she is the Woman I’ve dreamed about. But I also love myself, even on days like today, when although the sky was wall to wall azure, inside me there was nothing but pitch black.

Empathy: help yourself and those around you to a little bit of happiness.

What is empathy? It is a key life skill and, when used, is amazingly powerful. The dictionary definition of the word empathy is: “The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation.”
It is hardly surprising that many people have little awareness of empathy. It is a life skill that is not taught in school or college and is often lacking if a person did not learn it from their parents. It has never been a part of formal education. However, the good news is that it can be learnt.
When used correctly, empathy, like genuine praise or compassion, is immensely powerful and affirming for the recipient. It demonstrates understanding of the other person’s genuine concerns and aspirations. It shows care and support, and motivates people through difficult or uncertain times (particularly apt in the current economic climate)
Do not confuse empathy with “sympathy”, which involves whipping out a tissue when someone starts to cry, or comforting them when they are upset. Men, in particular, are scared of developing empathy skills in case it makes them look weak, and this, in turn, makes it more difficult for them to manage and interact with their others. The beauty of empathy is that it can be combined with a strong attitude to Life by engendering happiness and enthusiasm.

Top 10 tips to be more empathetic.
So, how does one learn empathy? The basis of empathy lies in good listening and good communication.
1. Give your full attention to someone and use your body language. For example, mirror theirs to show them that you are there with them and for them.
2. Having listened to what they have to say, synthesise their experience and reflect it back to them verbally, ideally using their own words: “So, you are feeling…”
3. Even if you believe from your map of the world that they are pathetic, try to see things through their eyes and from their map of the world.
4. Don’t judge, criticise, mock or blame them or use inappropriate humour such as sarcasm. This is the worst thing that you could do, especially if they are going through a difficult time.
5. Learn a wide range of adjectives, especially for feelings, so that you can better empathise, rather than using generic descriptors like ‘how awful’ or ‘how terrible’.
6. Practise using different ways of showing empathy, both verbally (like saying “that sounds really…”) and kinaesthetically (such as by touching their arm), remembering that different people will respond to different approaches.
7. Pair up with a friend, look at and absorb a picture and jot down notes. Next, follow them around, matching their movements and body language. Then look at the same picture again. This exercise will enable you to see the picture differently through their eyes.
8. Notice how good you feel when someone is empathetic to you. What do they say and how do they say it that makes it powerful?
9. Ensure that you are being empathetic rather than sympathetic, as the latter can come across as condescending when used in the wrong context (such as “you poor thing”).
10. Source neuro-linguistic programming tools (such as the Meta Mirror) which enable you to stand in other people’s shoes and look at things through their eyes.

Empathy is a wonderful skill that is very affirming to the recipient. Being understood and thought about is like oxygen. Acknowledging people, whether via empathy, feedback or praise, is all too often lacking in our lives: it costs nothing and gives so much.

My experience of suicide. (Part 2 of 2)

My last attempt at suicide perplexes me to this day. I was living on my own in a lovely rented property. I was completely sober. I suddenly had a down and decided that I would hang myself. I just wanted to escape the world. I succeeded in putting an electric cable around an old rafter. After a few knee bends I felt dizzy and spaced out. I was then able to kick the stool I was standing on away. I blacked out. I then came to on the floor. The cable had snapped. It was a very strong cable and I was amazed. Once again it seemed that Fate, or the Universe or God (whatever you like to call it) had intervened.

I had a sore back and a very sore neck for days afterwards. I made an appointment to see my psychiatrist and we talked about the incident. He confirmed what I thought deeply, mainly that I was pleased to be alive. Why did I do it? I think I was trying to prove to myself that I was in total control of my life i.e. whether I lived or died. That’s why I had not used alcohol. I felt empowered but also pleased that I had not succeeded. I have made no more attempts since then. That was about eight years ago.

Suicide is a strange business. I have been lucky. I have not had any suicidal thoughts for years. Partially this is because I have become much more mindful of my movements and depressive thoughts. I have also met a wonderful woman whom I am now living with. She understands me and I can confide in her when I am feeling low. I believe that she comprehends my mood swings and my depressive tendencies and that is a great comfort to me.

I also think now that I am 61 it really is time to just let nature take its course!

I cannot say with certainty that I will not have suicidal thoughts again. They come upon me very suddenly.

However, I would not want to hurt my current partner by exiting this world in such a dreadful way. I also do not want to hurt my children who, thankfully, shown no signs of depression.

I remember reading once that a psychiatrist said that suicide is “ a long term solution to what is usually a short term problem”. I find that humorous, and that appeals to me, but it also makes a lot of sense.

There is so much to enjoy about life and whilst some days I find it hard to enjoy even the simplest pleasures on other days I really am happy to be alive.

I also feel that I have a calling. The suicide of our ancestors removes a cultural taboo. It becomes acceptable to take one’s life in such a way. Also, the suicide of ancestors teaches one that the way to solve a crisis, or deal with unhappiness, is simply to take one’s life. I really do not believe that is right, but that is the subliminal message. My calling is to stop this suicide running down the generations. Suicide is like an insidious genealogical poison. Someone has to stand up and make themselves into an indestructible dam so that future generations are not subject to it. That is part of the reason I am alive for I really do not want my descendants to suffer the trauma and anguish of my suicide. I do not want my partner to suffer that. Those are powerful positive drivers.

The mind is a strange and complex thing. I find that it is necessary to be aware of the workings of my mind almost from minute to minute. It is odd how a minor perceived slight can throw me into a depressed state and ultimately a suicidal one. Dr Jenner touches on this in his blog: “Depression Research Update”.

Only this week I received a slight from a good friend which has affected my mood for three days. However, using my CBT techniques I have been able to deal with it. That is the level of mindfulness one needs when one is a depressive. I know full well that my friend would be horrified if she knew that what she had said had tipped me towards a depressive episode. She is a lovely person and I am sure that we will remain good friends. I remember the (alleged) final words of the Buddha: “Do good, refrain from doing evil, and strive on heedfully”. I think the last phrase of that was an exhortation to remain aware of how our minds twist and turn, so hard to control.

I cannot give advice to others about this tragic subject. I am not qualified to. But I hope that, by sharing my experiences and thoughts with others, they may gain some insight and ideas. I would say to anyone contemplating suicide or to friends of such, seek professional help without delay. The consequences of suicide (apart from the obvious) are terrible. Friends and family are shattered and they have to live with such a tragedy for the rest of their lives.