I titled this piece, If this then that, after an automation service that businesses and individuals can use to reduce the manual processing of ‘data’ and other actions. You decide what you want to automate, for example I might decide that I need to update a database when someone fills in a form on my website. Normally, I’d get the information by email and then copy and paste it into my database, but ITTT automates the task, leaving me with precious time to do something more interesting instead.
And it’s the perfect analogy of what’s been happening to me over the last few months.
Imagine for a minute that you’re pedalling hard uphill, you can see the top in front of you and experience tells you that, even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, you will get there … eventually. And then imagine how it might feel if suddenly, without knowing how it happened, you were facing in the exact opposite direction and going back down the same hill, very fast indeed.
That’s a bit like what life has been like for me over the last few months. The direction I thought I was heading in turned out to be an illusion when I realised there is no direction to head in at all. I’ve found myself regularly doing the internal equivalent of the confused actor face, you know the one that looks manically from side to side, looking at the other actors, saying ‘whoa, did that really just happen, did you see what I saw, did I really just do that?’ And whilst it’s a bit scary to write that down, the feeling I have in my stomach is one of relaxation and peace.
It started with a conversation, as things often do; my partner, Steve, was on a retreat about something called the three principles. Now, I’ve been around the mind, body, spirit block quite a few times over the last 30 odd years trying out everything from meditation, positive psychology, mindfulness, holistic therapies and yoga to training as a psycho-spiritual counsellor and a life and executive coach; and I’ve read hundreds of books. And each practice or book has given me a glimpse of something bigger than I am, but it was never the whole picture, nor was it even a jigsaw shaped piece I could fit into a gap.
I’ve read about and debated The Secret, quantum physics, the nature of reality and how we all create our own world through the power of our mind, but nothing prepared me for the outcome of the conversations I had with Steve when he was doing this retreat.
Before I carry on though, you need to know a bit about Steve. He’s a master NLP practitioner who trained with Richard Bandler, Michael Breen and Paul McKenna. He is incredibly bright and intelligent and can think through an idea faster than you can articulate it. He’s also a very confident public speaker so can speak the words easily in a way that anyone can understand. But he’s also a sceptic of the highest order; nothing, and I mean nothing, gets past him. If he can’t see what you’re getting at or you aren’t explaining so it makes sense, then he will challenge you, every single step of the way. And he certainly wasn’t convinced by the retreat.
We just talked about the conversations he’d had, he explained the principles of thought, consciousness and mind as far as he understood them, and how we are all just one thought away from a better experience of life.
It was rather so far, so what … this was stuff I already knew (I thought!). Remember, I’d been down this rabbit hole many times before with little success, in other words I hadn’t learnt the meaning of life and I was still living a life I desperately wanted to change.
And yet, something must have touched me at a much deeper level because without realising what happened the way I drove to work changed, not the direction, but the manner in which I drove. Now that might not seem so significant, but I drive a Micra so, as someone who likes to be fast, I have a lot to prove to other drivers on the road. A work colleague regularly ribs me about my car (he drives a BMW, naturally). But I love it, and it my usual driving style was to steam past all the bigger, faster, newer cars with an ‘eat my dust’ kind of attitude on my way to work. I loved the power I felt and always imagined the look on their faces when they realised the car that had left them in its wake was my little Micra.
And then one day it changed.
I mean, just changed.
I didn’t do anything, I didn’t intend to do anything, in fact I didn’t really realise it until a few days later when I noticed (finally), that I wasn’t bothered about the cars in front, I didn’t feel a huge desire to be in front of them and it didn’t matter that I was pootling along at 50mph. I noticed I was just enjoying the journey, that my shoulders weren’t around my ears and I wasn’t shouting at the car in front to ‘get out of my way’.
It occurred to me that the only reason for the change must have been the conversations I’d been having with Steve, so I booked myself on the same retreat. After all, if I can have such a dramatic change in behaviour from just a conversation about someone else’s experience, imagine what could happen if I participated myself!
What I leant was ‘if this, then that’.
Let me explain it a bit better.
‘If you are this way, then that is what you’ll get’.
To me this is standard mind, body, spirit – remember I said that I already ‘knew’ my thoughts affected my behaviour. What I hadn’t appreciated though was that it was my thoughts that created the feelings I had, which then generated the behaviour I used.
In NLP terms, state dictates behaviour; what I now realised was I’d been missing the bit before ‘state’, which was ‘thought’.
Ergo – thought dictates state dictates behaviour!
It sounds too simple to be profound, but that single bit of knowledge was like opening the flood gates to an experience I can only describe as magical. And, I haven’t had to ‘do’ anything to experience it, simply knowing the fact I have thoughts to flow through me has been enough. There’s no positive thinking, no meditation, no yoga, no chanting or bell ringing – nothing, just me and my awareness that a thought is just a thought. It doesn’t mean anything in and of itself, but what it does do is point me towards understanding the reality I’m creating in each and every moment.
What I’ve gained an insight into is that nothing and no-one has the power to make us feel a particular way. In some ways, it is the way we think about the experience that makes us feel good or bad; but even this doesn’t come close to the knowledge I know have. Understanding what living in a world of thought really means allows me to spend more time in a calm, more centred space, than I’ve ever done before. Although I can still react with the best of them, its less frequent and I return to a state of peace much more quickly.
You may be wondering why my driving changed. I was curious too and it wasn’t until a couple of months later that a series of insights showed me that how I thought about myself and the way I drove, were connected.
There I was in the swimming pool – I swim most mornings before work – when I noticed I was counting, I was counting the number of strokes it took me to complete a length of the pool and counting the number of lengths I was swimming. It occurred to me that when I was counting I wasn’t simply enjoying being in the water and decided that maybe I wouldn’t count the strokes. It’s not as easy as you think though, to actively stop doing something you then realise has been a significant part of your life.
After doing a couple of lengths of not counting (and reminding myself not to count when I fell back into it) I realised that I was counting as a way of measuring my achievements, and it was something I did a lot of in all areas of my life.
A little while later I was in the shower, when I had powerful image in my head of a yardstick lined up against me and I realised that I was always disappointed in myself if I didn’t meet or match my expectations for a single length of the pool. When I looked at the thoughts that generated the feeling of disappointment they were about not being good enough.
My driving was affected because I didn’t think I was good enough – there’s a whole lot more in there that I’m still exploring – but at it’s most simple, I drove the way I did because I had a point to prove; that even though my car was smaller and not as new as yours, I was still a better driver than you. I was trying to make myself feel better because in some way I thought I’d failed at the game of life where the aim is to always be improving – the house, the car, the salary, the lifestyle, the family …
As my thinking calmed down, the thoughts about not being good enough stopped cropping up so frequently and because they were no longer there to goad me on, I naturally slowed down and enjoyed the journey.
My understanding about mind, consciousness and thought deepens daily. My experience of life changes hourly, and the thoughts I once had no longer drive me as much as they used to; and when something unexpected happens I do what I need to do and am less likely to ascribe a set of feelings and emotions to it. Happiness and contentment are more frequently my default.