envisioning a culture of happiness instead of productivity

I’m taking a Mental Health Day today because I started to notice my window of tolerance was narrowing – I was becoming easily irritable, easily triggered and generally just unhappy and stressed. A lot of shit’s been going down lately, and we can’t seem to get a break lately, so I decided to take one. I’m starting a small business, and part of the reason for doing this was so I could keep my own hours – what’s the sense of starting that and then doing 40 hours weeks because my conditioning says so!?

I have a vision for our culture where taking such Mental Health Days is normal and encouraged, more important than the days we are being productive at work. What’s the point of being productive if we’re fucking hating ourselves for it!? This is something like GNH instead of GDP but I don’t want to unpack that now.

A lot of sadness was near the surface for me yesterday and I figured something must be going on or coming through and I want to stop and be present for that.

Also, I need to fill my cup.

As I mentioned the other day, we are living with complex trauma and expecting ourselves to be “on” all the time is a bit silly – we need downtime, time to rejuvenate. By “we” I mean “Nikki and I” but also pretty much everyone in our whole culture, considering everyone is living complex trauma due to the nature of our society, which is pretty fucked up when you think about it, but that’s how it is and we need to see that in the face. 

I can’t remember what triggered the sadness orginally, but I know it had something to do with Zane. I had it affirmed by a Blue Knot counsellor that as parents we are often triggered easily during the time our children are the age we were when we were traumatised. 

I know it is this because of the emotions that came up when Zane came out while I was drafting this and said good morning, asked how my sleep was. I told him not good and he apologised, knowing that the sleeplessness was partly due to our concern around catching him smoking bongs in his room last night. I was doing the same thing at his age, and the subsequent heavy pot habit left me with a lot of unprocessed emotional pain. I told him (in not quite these words) I just want him to look after his brain, and it’s upsetting to watch him go down the path of self-harm but I have to trust that he’ll learn for himself.

He looked remorseful and/but said thank you, and it’s a weird thing because maybe his unexpected gratitude made me sad because trust is all I needed at his age (instead of the weird manipulative controlly things Mum used to say), or maybe it’s because she did say things like “I trust you” and going through this now as a parent is just too close to home. 

I want him to avoid the future pain I know is on the path of self-medication he’s on. 

But I’m not so naive that I believe I can actually prevent this for him – and when I really think about it, I wouldn’t want to deny him the opportunity to learn from his own karma. 

But that’s not even the guts of it. 

The guts of it is, I think, I’m sad because I don’t know which of the above I’m sad about, if any – I’m sad because I don’t remember those years of my life at all and that means I’ve lost something, a big part of myself and my history and that continuity of self we depend on for having a safe sense of being. 

Something like that. 

There’s a break in the narrative I use to understand and connect with my self.

Seems I repressed a lot of my adolescence – or I went somewhere else during that time because the pain was too much. 

I still do this, living in my head because being present in the body is too … unsatisfactory? Too much dukkha, not enough skill for coping with the suffering of samsara, much less the readily accessible capacity to transmute that suffering into joy.

That sort of alchemy is still a possibility though, which is nice to remember.

Yes, that’s why I’ve taken this Mental Health Day: to remember and spend some time with the “base metals” we transmute into “gold” through doing the work of accepting reality as it is.

That might not make a lot of sense off the bat – or it might … it might make perfect sense to you. Either way, here’s a button if you’re curious about it and would like to connect around this idea: 

Meanwhile yes, back to what the Blue Knot counsellor was saying: there is trauma in there and a shadow of course and the sadness is a healthy indication that this trauma is presenting itself to be seen, acknowledged, recognised, embraced, loved. 

One of the few things I am confident about is that by not resisting these things that come up from our wounds, the wounds express themselves (in the sense a wound expresses puss) and in doing so, the wound self-heals. 

Humans are self-correcting, like everything on Gaia. We just need to allow the process without interrupting it, without distracting ourselves, without self-medicating or working ourselves into the ground or whatever we do to avoid the pain.

If we resist what’s coming up, then we just push it back down into the unconscious where it continues to fester and it will inevitably come up again, only worse and more vague and difficult to understand because each time we push it down it becomes more and more muddled with that big amorphous painbody inside us, like a huge blob of secondhand bluetac we’ve accumulated from every house where we ever hung a poster. 

We can learn to be non-resistant by embracing what I am choosing to refer to as ahimsa, which is the classic Sanskrit word for “non-violence”.

Our resistance to reality (including … especially … the reality of the pain that wells up from our unconscious on the daily) is a form of violence. 

Metaphysical violence if you will. Psychological self-violence. Through the force of habituated will, we push away what we don’t like about reality. 

We can train ourselves to not do this, and if you’d like to learn this with me, get in touch for a 

Because that’s a huge part of what I’m doing at Heartwards as a trainer and coach in psychological fitness and integrative wellness: I am training myself in ahimsa, so that I suffer less and can help others to suffer less.

Thereby unleashing happy, healthy and empowered individuals who are resourced enough to do their good service in the world. Because resistance drains a lot of energy, and literally gets us nowhere. 

Suffering = Reality x resistance

Happiness = Reality x acceptance

And I envision a culture where we are all able to do this. Where it is respected to take Mental Health Days so we can check in with where our resistance is at because, for example, Gross National Happiness is more valued than Gross Domestic Product in this new culture.

Because what’s the point of being productive all the time if we’re hating ourselves while we’re at it!?

the difference between pain and suffering

With Heartwards I am developing courses and training programs in psychological fitness,

because it has come to my attention (in the last 15 years or so) that there are root causes for both happiness and suffering, and I believe those causes are psychological.

I can stop mincing about and worrying that people are going to think that what I’m doing here is quote/unquote woo-woo, because everyone brings their thing to the table, and this is the thing I bring.

We all would like to see a happier and healthier world, and my contribution to bring this about is the offering of psychological-fitness training.

I like the motto “a healthy world arises out of healthy minds”.

And I believe in the idea that a happy and healthy world arises when we learn to see the world (and ourselves) as happy and healthy.

The trick is we have to learn how to choose our conceptions, our cognitions, our thoughts and feelings about what happens in the world: how we perceive and interpret the world makes all the difference.

And the difference is between happiness and suffering.

I just saw on Instagram, an idea I aspire to embody: pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.

For example, it might be painful to feel we have failed at something that was important to us, but we transmute this and avoid suffering by choosing to see it as an opportunity to learn.

🤯 That’s called a growth mindset.

Now. It’s no great secret that the dichotomy of terms “happiness and suffering” comes from Buddhism, at least in my experience. And the idea that these result from “root causes” is also something I picked up from Buddhism (where the root causes of suffering are called the Three Poisons: desire, aversion and ignorance).

Turn this around and it means the root causes of happiness are things like gratitude, acceptance and wisdom – these are heart qualities we can use psychological-fitness training to cultivate internally, so that happiness is a more-spontaneous and more-frequent response to the world, no matter what state or events are happening around us.

We don’t need to suffer if we have the appropriate psychological skills at our disposal.

The Buddhist conception of suffering has rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way, I think.

Another translation of the term dukkha is ‘dissatisfaction’, and dukkha or suffering in this context refers to the dissatisfaction and the vague sense of unease we feel in life when we pursue happiness primarily in the domain of pleasure, motivated by desire and perpetuated by ignorance of the reality that sense gratification can only ever be fleeting, temporary, bound to keep us very much preoccupied with our trip on the hamster wheel of material success.

And it is a trip, in the sense that our preoccupation with the material world is based on delusion or hallucination.

Another way to discuss this without triggering aversion to the terminology of Buddhist psychology is through the dichotomy of hedonia (the pursuit of happiness through primarily external sense gratification) and eudaemonia (the experience of happiness from within).

Whichever way we want to peel the onion, in the end we come to the same conclusion:

  • happiness comes from within;
  • pursuing happiness in external sources of pleasure leads inexorably to suffering.

We all were told this at some point, that happiness comes from within. But how many of us were told how to find or experience this alleged internal wellspring of happiness?

That’s where psychological fitness comes in: we can train ourselves to embrace reality as it is, and this embrace results naturally in happiness,

which is not always pleasant.

Happiness is another word that’s heavily loaded, and we’d do well to use terms like contentment and equanimity instead, which I’d love to unpack another time.

The point for now is that Heartwards is a spiritual service

in the sense that ‘psychology’ was originally the study of the soul, not just of the mind or of the neuroses of human behaviour.

And all of the great so-called spiritual traditions are, at their heart, modalities of psychotherapy.

So that’s the update for today.

My desire for a sleep-in was frustrated by the cats this morning, and I felt sure my Sunday was ruined: anxiety started, rumination kicked in, and before I knew it I was kicking myself inside the head with all sorts of cognitive distortions.

Then I turned it around because I remembered that happiness is a choice we can make if we are in possession of the right psychological skills.

If that sounds like woo-woo, then carry on, nothing to see here.

If it sounds like something you’d like to learn more about and start applying in your life, get in touch.

the wisdom of insanity

During my first experience of what I now understand was mystical psychosis, a friend at the time would like to say something like, “It’s called ‘insanity’ because you go in-to-sanity,” and I appreciated that because it was a kind of anchor, an affirmation that the experience I was having might be positive.

Since then I have had two similar experiences, each of increasing intensity and both tipping from what Stan Grof calls “spiritual emergence” into “spiritual emergency”. I wrote about the second episode in a post called “Psychosis or Spiritual Awakening”, and I have since learnt that I am far from the only one who believes in the potentially positive transformation that can occur if a person is appropriately supported through the expansion of consciousness that psychosis can sometimes be.

Enter the documentary Crazy Wise, whose short blurb (trailer below) reads: 

Crazy … or wise? The traditional wisdom of indigenous cultures often contradicts modern views about a mental health crisis. Is it a ‘calling’ to grow or just a ‘broken brain’? The documentary Crazy Wise explores what can be learned from people around the world who have turned their psychological crisis into a positive transformative experience.

As a survivor of our lagging mental-health system who has experienced profound insight through episodic psychosis, I very much value the message of this documentary. One distinction I like to make is that if, in modern Western psychology, psychosis is ‘a break from reality’ and, in ancient Eastern psychology, reality is an illusion, then psychosis is a break from illusion. Apart from that, I will let the filmmakers do the rest of the talking:

During a quarter-century documenting indigenous cultures, human-rights photographer and filmmaker Phil Borges often saw these cultures identify “psychotic” symptoms as an indicator of shamanic potential. He was intrigued by how differently psychosis is defined and treated in the West.

Through interviews with renowned mental health professionals including Gabor Mate, MD, Robert Whitaker, and Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD, Phil explores the growing severity of the mental health crisis in America dominated by biomedical psychiatry. He discovers a growing movement of professionals and psychiatric survivors who demand alternative treatments that focus on recovery, nurturing social connections, and finding meaning.

Crazy Wise follows two young Americans diagnosed with “mental illness.” Adam, 27, suffers devastating side effects from medications before embracing meditation in hopes of recovery. Ekhaya, 32, survives childhood molestation and several suicide attempts before spiritual training to become a traditional South African healer gives her suffering meaning and brings a deeper purpose to her life.

Crazy Wise doesn’t aim to over-romanticize indigenous wisdom, or completely condemn Western treatment. Not every indigenous person who has a crisis becomes a shaman. And many individuals benefit from Western medications.

However, indigenous peoples’ acceptance of non-ordinary states of consciousness, along with rituals and metaphors that form deep connections to nature, to each other, and to ancestors, is something we can learn from.

Crazy Wise adds a voice to the growing conversation that believes a psychological crisis can be an opportunity for growth and potentially transformational, not a disease with no cure.

It really is a fantastic film, very moving and inspirational. There is a new paradigm of integrative psychological awareness emerging, and these documentaries are helping to spread the word.

If you experience or have experienced acute psychological distress, have a look at this documentary and please know there is an alternative to what the medical-system narrative might believe is the only truth about your “symptoms”.

Reach out to me if you need support, or check out the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN) of Australia, who have peer-support workers operating in Brisbane at least, and other parts of Australia. There is also a US-based SEN, and hopefully these links will get you started if you’re investigating this for yourself or someone you know from other parts of the globe.

toward Heartwards

I’m starting a venture called Heartwards, a small business offering personal training for integrative health and wellness.

This is the first time I’ve mentioned it here. I’ve mentioned it to a few friends and others in my networks, but otherwise it’s a very nascent thing.

Now I can mention it elsewhere on the socials and Kokoro 心 Heart and feel like it’s been mentioned before. It won’t be weird if you hear me refer to ‘Heartwards’.

I’m definitely not yet at the stage where I’m doing anything like formal marketing, but it definitely won’t fly if I don’t tell anyone about it. So here’s a banner, which is already out-dated as I develop and re-develop content trying to explain exactly the service I want to provide:

It feels weird, to be honest – starting something like this. I’m doubting myself, wondering why I think I should or could be someone to offer these kinds of services to others. I’m not the healthiest Jimbo on the block. I mean, I’m pretty healthy – much healthier than I was 20 years ago. I’m healthier than many, and less healthy than many others.

The answer(s) I always come back to are:

  • by supporting others to step into ownership of their wellness, I will strengthen the sense of accountability for my own wellness;
  • by teaching others, we deepen our own learning;
  • to be of service doing something I feel passionate about
  • by developing holistic-lifestyle training plans for others, I will be able to develop one for myself

Another reason for doing this is that I’m developing the sort of service I wish I could find and afford. Kind of like an author writing the book they want to read. I haven’t been able to find or afford a service like this, so I’m developing it myself – it’s easier to justify developing it for others than it is to justify developing it solely for myself.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but this is just my first public mention of the idea. I won’t go into much more detail here-now, because a) I’m giving up nicotine today and therefore am feeling super vague and fuzzy and weirdly noncommittal and b) I don’t intend to publish a lot about this until it’s more developed. I will publish here if doing so motivates me or helps to justify developing the content, structure, ideas – because publishing here will mean I feel less like I’m operating in a vacuum.

Otherwise, I’m really just mentioning it here so it doesn’t feel weird for me when I reference it in future posts.

I can share a bit of the content I’ve been developing for the business plan.

Vision

Our vision at Heartwards is a healthy and sustainable world, where every individual, group and institution is able to cultivate and promote genuine happiness and wellbeing, no matter the challenges we face. We believe a healthy world arises out of healthy minds, and that everyone can reduce suffering and increase happiness.

Mission

Our mission at Heartwards is to help facilitate this healthy and sustainable world by equipping individuals, groups and institutions with the resources, knowledge, means and support to cultivate the holistic/integrative health and wellness we need to cope in a world that seems increasingly difficult to navigate. Based on the Pillars of Wellness, we do this by providing one-on-one coaching and accountability support, workshops for groups, in-person and online courses, and resource packages for groups and individuals wanting to develop and maintain lifestyle practices that support their holistic/integrative health and wellness. We help our clients consistently and sustainably prioritise eudaimonic wellness (flourishing) rather than continuing to pursue hedonic pleasure even though we know it leads to suffering rather than happiness.

Our “unique selling proposition” is that Heartwards takes the cliche, happiness comes from within, and turns it into applied eudaimonics. That means we provide clients with the tools and skills they need to actually connect with this elusive treasure that is already within us. By meeting clients where they are at in their busy lifestyles, we help them to become sustainably accountable for their most-important priorities.

Our work is underpinned by the belief that spiritual awareness and health is the foundation of all other experiences of health and wellbeing. Bodhi’s background is Buddhist, but there doesn’t need to be a label from Eastern theological philosophy for us to understand that every individual shares the same deepest aspiration:

to be free from suffering and meet with the causes of genuine (inner) happiness

It is our goal at Heartwards to support others in the spiritual journey that facilitates the sort of wellbeing upon which all other wellbeing is founded – and this is our USP: we don’t mince around and try to leverage the wish for riches or professional success or to live your full potential to entice clients to our products and services; we go straight to the source and help individuals to activate a yearning they already know is there but cannot quite yet identify … the wish the be happy and free from suffering.

updated emotional first-aid worksheet [PDF]

Photo by Roger Brown on Pexels.com

I have updated the PDF worksheet for emotional first-aid that I first posted about here, which I have designed mostly for my own use but am sharing here because it might be helpful for others. You can download the worksheet directly here, and see the Resources page for other tools that can be used for emotional self-care and balance. I have added there some resources for cultivating emotional balance:

we can start developing our emotional vocabulary with reference to the Ekmans’ Atlas of Emotions, which is associated with the Cultivating Emotional Balance training that was commissioned by the Dalai Lama. Using the Atlas can help us to “map” an emotional episode so that when it happens again we are better able to navigate it.

I use the emotional first-aid worksheet to process emotional episodes in a healthy, supported and self-guided way, as a practice of self-soothing and -regulation. Here are the .odt and .docx files if you want to modify the worksheet for your personal use. It is an ever-evolving worksheet – I have never used it the same way twice, and as I learn more about emotional balance I am adding new ideas to the document.

In this version I have added a section for reflecting on whether the emotional experience was balanced or imbalanced, using a model I have learnt through the Cultivating Emotional Balance training program, according to which, emotional balance is:

  • the appropriate emotion,
  • felt with appropriate intensity
  • and appropriate expression,
  • at the appropriate moment.

To make an obvious example, it would not be emotionally balanced to laugh manically and start peeling potatoes at the scene of a horrendous car accident.

I have also elaborated on the RAIN meditation in the Self-care section of the worksheet. This meditation helps us to:

Recognise
the emotions we have experienced

Accept or Allow
that we have experienced them, rather than suppressing them

Investigate
the experience of these emotions, to see for example whether they have triggered cognitive distortions or whether they were balanced

Nurture
ourselves, because probably we are coming to RAIN because we have experienced some affliction and if so it’s time for some compassion and forgiveness

Tara Brach has a very good guided RAIN meditation that you can find on Insight Timer here. If you don’t have Insight Timer, here is a link to where you can download an mp3.

The worksheet guides you through asking, What sort of things did you think, feel and do before, during and after the emotional episode?

Then there are some prompts for self-care and emotional first-aid you can try, and some reflection questions about things like, What are you grateful to have learnt from this experience?

I’m proud of this resource because it has helped me a number of times already when I needed to change the narrative around some event that was emotionally distressing. The worksheet is inspired by the work of Guy Winch, which was my introduction to this practice.

.

dear Bodhi 心, we can’t pour from an empty cup

I wrote myself a love letter to practise an emotional first-aid exercise I learnt from Elizabeth Gilbert on Insight Timer.

Dear Bodhi,

I love you and I’m here for you. You’re going through a hard time right now and finding it difficult to cope. That’s okay – you’re doing a better job than you think. You’re always learning, and you try to be honest with yourself. That’s a great quality. You are aware of your feelings and are able to recognise when you have reacted because you feel triggered. This awareness is the first step to being able to regulate yourself during episodes of difficult emotions.

The training in Cultivating Emotional Balance is coming up soon and it’s really great that you’re wanting to pursue this training and be responsible for your thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours, especially reactive behaviours.

The space between stimulus and response is accessible and you can expand the interface by practising awareness through training such as CEB. You will learn a lot during the training and it feels like it will be a fulcrum period around which your life and being will be changed forever. You want to learn this training so that maybe you can deliver it as well – I think that’s a great idea and I think you can do it.

It’s okay and good even, that you’ve taken the time you need for yourself today. It is not selfish to meet your needs, especially because it makes it easier to be present for others’ needs when your cup is full.

We can’t pour from an empty cup.

By taking this time you’ve gained the space to see that you need some emotional first-aid and that’s something to be proud of. You have the psychological skills and techniques you need to help yourself when you’re in pain. I’ve attached them along with this letter, for your convenience.

You are deeply committed to understanding suffering and its true causes so you can be well and guide others on this path. What a beautiful thing to be doing! You’re a caring soul and you’ll help many because you feel deep compassion for yourself and others. Your lived experience of suffering is a rich resource and motivation from which you can learn a lot, about the true nature of reality and how to be happy.

You’re a good fella and you’re doing your best.

Keep up the good work 🙂

Love,

Bodhi 心

PS The toolbox of psychological skills and techniques I mentioned.

more enoughness ;)

A reader liked an old post today, “on self-esteem as a precursor for achievement …” and it showed me there is a theme running through my thoughts about enoughness, which I wrote about yesterday.

Societal expectations drive a lot of us to be always achieving, never satisfied to just exist and accept ourselves for our inherent worth. Our self-esteem is dependent upon achievement.

I think it’s essential we question the narratives telling us we need to achieve more — always more, never enough.

What is your enough? Do we need more enoughness 😉

What would your life look like if achievement was just something you did for fun? Because you didn’t need to achieve to just feel good about yourself.

psychological first-aid

I have added a video to the Resources page on Kokoro 心 Heart, about psychological first-aid.

The practice of psychological first-aid falls somewhere between acute and long-term self-care. It baffles me that I was nearly 40 before I had it pointed out to me that we need to treat psychological wounds as they happen, the same as we treat physical wounds.

Here is the video by Guy Winch, which was my introduction to this practice.

may we become conscious of the unconscious

Ironbark Gully
getting back on the horse

Down at the Gully today, doing some writing work and thinking about getting back on the pogram … I’ll explain that word in a minute.

It’s been too long that we’ve allowed the situation with our tenant to derail us. I’ve been in damage-control mode and now it’s time to get back into live grow and build mode.

We bumped into Irish Ryan yesterday and he reminded us that we can choose how we feel about the situation. Remember Frankl (paraphrased):

man’s final freedom is the freedom to choose how he feels.

I choose to feel like I can resume my daily life and go back to cultivating contentment and wellbeing and happiness. I choose to use my time in the house as though This Person being is not a problem. (Such is the extent that I have been overwhelmed by their ongoing presence, that I hand-wrote their whole being as the problem. It’s time to take my mind and heart back from the person I have been allowing to occupy it for too long.) The advice columnist Ann Landers said,

Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.

I choose to reclaim the right to my mental and emotional space. This space is priceless, and my experience of it is a choice.

I’ve been meaning to start a document, something I can fold into a pocket somewhere, with the values and reminders I’d like to keep in the fore of my mind. This exercise helps me feel anchored to something, less dependent on retaining all my intentions in the brain. I’m getting on to this today and will share it here as some kind of practical resource when I’m able to get to that.

When I’m getting back on the horse like this, I talk about getting back on my pogram, which is a combination of program and pogrom, a program of personal re-education, of expelling that which holds me back and re-learning what makes me soar.

This idea of keeping a document on hand as a reminder has … reminded me that a key project of my pogram and the work at Kokoro 心 Heart is making the subconscious more conscious. By bringing my values and beliefs and positive “talk” to the fore of my conscious, I reclaim the ability and freedom to choose how I feel.

If 95% of our behaviour is motivated by the subconscious, then we need to become aware of the subconscious so we can be more intentional, less reactive, less likely to crumble when struck by unchartered adversity.

So that’s the theme set for the day and days to come. My battery is about to die, so I’m going to hit send on this missive.

the motes fleet again

Photo by Iva Rajović on Unsplash

I wrote recently about a problem we’re having with a housemate, and it’s become clear now that we are living with an abuser. It sounds drastic when I put it on paper like that, but it’s true. We have been repeatedly abused by a person who is deeply unwell. I’m writing here to get my head around it, and to see what insight I can glean for Kokoro about psychospiritual wellbeing. I wrote in the other post about how situations like these are symptoms of culture that is psychospiritually unwell, and in this post I’d like to reflect on what I’ve learned about the dubious role of justice and control.

I may never understand This Person’s behaviour. This case is like a photographic negative, starting with someone who is profoundly unwell to see what we can learn about wellness. I’ve done lots of journalling and talking around this, and I’m still confused, so my apologies if the following is not always coherent.

We were going to have our first full day at home since the Incident, but we chose that day to ask if she had found a new place, whereupon she finally admitted that she had decided to not move out. We had been waiting patiently, not wanting to poke the hornet nest, but the idea of her staying three months until the end of the lease was not acceptable. I asserted a boundary: we cannot continue to live with her unless she apologises and starts being accountable for the way she treated us.

Continue reading the motes fleet again