On The Benefit of the Doubt

How easy it is to assume we know why people do what they do.

We see an action or hear some words, our minds tell a story, and instantly we assume we know what’s what.

But this trips us up more than we know. Because what we’re actually seeing when we’re looking at someone isn’t coming from their intent, motive or backstory.

It’s coming from our thinking in the moment, always.

So really what we’re seeing is our own projection, our own reality, our own ideas… we’re not seeing people as they are, we’re seeing them as we are.

Which is why giving people the benefit of the doubt is so crucial. We’re never perceiving them as these solid, stable objects with clear cut motives… that’s just the story our mind is telling.

I saw this so clearly at a holiday party last night.

So many people, some I loved, some I didn’t understand, some I was annoyed by, some I was grateful to reconnect with.

But none of that was coming from them, all of it was coming from my mind and how I’m relating to it in the moment.

The person who annoyed me is someone my mind is playing a story of annoyance and injustice about and I’m buying into it hook line and sinker.

The people I loved were people I was seeing with innocence and purity. I naturally gave them the benefit of the doubt, I didn’t indulge my mind if and when it tried to assign meaning behind their actions.

The people I didn’t understand were people I tried to see with interest and curiosity. I was less interested in what my mind said about them and more interested in what I can see if I show up fresh: what’s there when I’m in this moment, not in my thinking about this moment?

The people I was grateful to reconnect were simply people who I saw beauty and goodness in. I relaxed into the moment with them and was grateful for the natural connection between us when we’re not indulging our personal thinking.

I definitely don’t always give people the benefit of the doubt. I get caught up in my stories, convinced by the grand illusion of consciousness and bought into my ideas at times.

It’s totally human, normal and nothing to beat ourselves up about!

But the beauty of life is found in being in life, not in our minds.

Giving people the benefit of the doubt, going back to the freshness of the unknown and being willing to be wrong about our assumptions, ideas and beliefs about someone is where freedom is found.

Freedom to discover something new.

Freedom to experience life fresh.

Freedom to be in the moment instead of thinking about it.

That’s something we can all benefit from.

On Ingrained Beliefs

Someone in my community emailed me last week and asked me to share my views on ingrained beliefs and conditioning. She wanted to know if they serve us (if so, which ones?) and should we work at changing them.

I love getting questions (seriously if there’s something you’re curious about, just ask!) so here’s how it looks to me.

Ingrained beliefs and conditioning are something every human being has. While the content of the beliefs and the specifics of the conditioning vary between cultures, religions, languages, upbringings and more, there’s no one that escapes meaning-making about the world they grew up in.

The beautiful, really hopeful thing about this understanding is that it points us away from the content of our thinking. Away from our beliefs, away from our opinions, away from our ideas and judgements and conditioning and towards one thing: what is universal.

Universally, we all have ingrained beliefs and we all have the in-built capacity for those beliefs to shift, change and disappear all on their own.

We see this all the time. People you knew from school that are totally different as adults are just one example.

Human beings are always changing. Sometimes in small, subtle ways. Sometimes in huge, holy-moly-who-is-this-person ways.

Change is built-in to the human system.

Fresh thinking is built-in to the human system.

Beliefs falling away is built-in to the human system.

So no, I would never, ever recommend to someone that they should work on changing them.

Mostly because it’s completely exhausting (and we all have better things to do with our time) but also because we don’t need to take on a job that’s already being done for us.

Your beliefs will change, if you let them. Your conditioning will have less importance on your life, if you allow it to.

Your ideas, preferences, opinions, judgements, affiliations, and concepts that seem so solid and real only look that way because we don’t see them for what they are…

Energy.

In a million different forms, looking a million different ways, telling a million different stories.

Don’t some of our ingrained beliefs serve us?

I suppose it’s possible that some may… but overall no. Any concrete belief can’t hold a candle to the beautiful responsive intelligence we’re all made of.

It’s a bit like asking ‘do the files on my computer serve me and guide me to live my best life?’

While I suppose it’s technically possible that you got gifted some exceptionally brilliant files, it’s just never going to be as good as having access to the internet.

Wisdom is designed to live us, it’s the very thing breathing our lungs and beating our hearts as we read this.

It’s so much more helpful to look away from beliefs, away from the content of anything that goes on in our heads, and towards the fact that we are constantly connected to the psychological equivalent of the internet.

New thinking, solutions, possibilities, potential, perspective, insight, epiphanies… they’re all much better at serving us than our ingrained beliefs are.

The internet is inherently more helpful than a database, no matter how good a database might seem.

Perhaps most importantly, trying to sort, analyze, compare or ‘get to the bottom’ of our beliefs is a huge waste of time and energy. Ironically it often has the opposite effect of getting us more entrenched and confused.

I wasted too many years of my life trying to wrestle with thoughts and it’s always a lose-lose outcome.

Rather than trying to be aware of what you believe and try to judge if it’s helpful or not (please don’t attempt this) it’s far more helpful to see that everyone has beliefs, everyone has conditioning, it can all be there floating through our minds in various forms but we don’t need to take any of it seriously, agree with it or use it to guide our lives.

Like I said, it’s all simply energy. It’s in the process of changing by the time you notice it.

You don’t have to take anything you think seriously. Said another way, you don’t have to believe anything you think.

Let it all be there, let it all come and go, and know that the wisdom that’s living you will guide you effortlessly to what you need when you need it. It’s already taken care of, we can just relax and enjoy the ride!

With love and gratitude,

S

On Pink Fluffy Lives

Somehow, somewhere, we’ve all picked up the idea that life should always be great and we should always feel amazing.

Always happy, always loving, always peaceful, we all get along, never get sick, are loved by everyone, have lots of money, no one dies, taxes don’t exist… etc.

We all have our own personal ideas under the category of “this is how life should look”, but on some level we’ve all bought into a misunderstanding that it’s a problem when life sucks.

That it’s a problem when we feel uncomfortable physical symptoms because we shouldn’t feel that.

That it’s a problem when we’re heartbroken, sad and lonely because surely it means something is wrong with us or our lives.

That it’s a problem when we’re struggling financially, it’s a problem when people we love leave our lives, it’s a problem when we could have done better than we did, it’s a problem when we don’t perform as well as we could or should…

The only “problem” that I see is that we believe that things – normal, everyday, human, safe, temporary, totally fine things – are problems.

Life was never meant to be all sunshines, rainbows and fluffy kittens.

Now I love fluffy kittens as much as the next person and I would love if every day could be Play With Fluffy Kittens Day, but that’s not the nature of life.

The nature of life is that there’s ups and downs. Dark and light. Misery and bliss. Sickness and health. Richer and poorer. 

(I just realized this is starting to sound like wedding vows but perhaps the inherent predictability of these things is why those sayings became cliché)

My point is this: if we expect life to be something other than what it is, we’ll be disappointed, confused, and bothered by the totally normal, totally predictable, totally safe parts of life when they inevitably arise.

The human body gets ill sometimes. That’s what bodies do.

I’ll suffer tremendously (and I know this from years of personal experience) if I add a whole lot of resistance and fighting against the already unpleasant sensations of fever, sore throat, stuffy nose and sleeplessness.

If I believe “I shouldn’t be feeling this” or if I’m under the impression that it’s somehow wrong or dangerous or not okay to feel under the weather, I’m going to add a ton of suffering on the pain of a body fighting infection.

But if I know that it’s totally normal, totally safe, common and universal for people to catch colds, I can have a level of understanding, acceptance and grace while my body resets.

Our minds work the same way.

The human mind gets bogged down with insecurity, anxiety, low mood, dissatisfaction and upset from time to time. That’s what minds do.

I’ll suffer tremendously (and I know this from years of personal experience) if I add a whole lot of resistance and fighting against the already unpleasant sensations of feeling like life is hard and unfair, that I’m less than, that I have all these problems, that things or people are causing my anxiety, etc.

If I believe “I shouldn’t be feeling this” or if I’m under the impression that it’s somehow wrong or dangerous or not okay to feel that life sucks or I suck, I’m going to add a ton of suffering on the pain of a mind bogged down with distorted thinking.

But if I know that it’s totally normal, totally safe, common and universal for people to feel like everything sucks, I can have a level of understanding, acceptance and grace while my mind resets.

And allowing what is to just be, with no resistance or fighting, is what allows it to change quicker than we ever thought possible.

On The Warmth of Love

What do tenderness, compassion, intimacy, warmth, affinity, connection and bliss all have in common?

They’re simply descriptions of our true nature. That deeper place that exists universally in all of us is made of love.

As a space of love it comes through as a beautiful feeling because it is a beautiful feeling.

It’s a deeper essence underneath all the temporary dancing of our personal thinking.

It’s a solid place beneath the transient ideas we have of ourselves and others.

Sometimes it will come in the form of self-forgiveness: a deep sense that we knew we were doing the best we could in that moment and that’s perfectly okay.

Sometimes it’s seeing the innocence in someone’s action on tv: that they’re so clearly acting out of insecurity and are trying their best to feel better, no matter how misguided their actions.

Sometimes it looks like two lovers that can’t take their eyes off each other because they’re drinking in each other’s beauty.

Sometimes it’s that cozy feeling you fall into when laughing with your best friend.

Sometimes it’s the heart-bursting bliss you feel when you hug your furry friend.

Sometimes it’s standing at a hockey game and feeling the sense of oneness in the crowd.

Sometimes it’s a quick smile between two strangers on a snowy street.

A look, a touch, a feeling, a moment.

We drop beneath the noise of our personal thinking and we touch something more fundamental.

We move away from the fuzzy distortion of our ideas about life and fall into the signal that’s always present.

We wake up from the nightmare and find ourselves just sitting in a beautiful feeling with no effort whatsoever.

The default state we share reveals itself and we feel it instantly, deeply, profoundly.

We just find ourselves in the warmth of love. Welcome home.

On The Ease of Forgiveness

Why does it sometimes feel so hard to forgive?

We all have times when forgiveness feels difficult, sometimes even impossible. Because surely better could have been done, and it wasn’t, and that’s not okay.

But seeing the truth of how the human experience works shines a whole new light on forgiveness because it illuminates a key fact: our reality is created through thought, therefore we can only do the best we can with the thinking we have in that moment.

The ‘better’ that could or should have been done is only what we now see from a higher level of consciousness.

Hindsight 20/20, they say.

From a settled mind the big picture is obvious. When our thinking is clear our actions reflect that clarity. When our thinking is cloudy, our actions reflect that confusion.

We all share a default setting of love, peace and well-being that gets reflected in behaviour naturally and effortlessly when thought isn’t distracting us.

But when we’re caught up in insecure, distressed, agitated, anxious thinking… clarity temporarily eludes us.

We see life through the filter of unclear thinking, and act on that temporary reality.

As naturally as healthy behaviour stems from healthy thinking, unhealthy behaviour stems from unhealthy thinking.

Which brings us to the truth that we’re always doing the best we can given our thinking in that moment.

Sure, if we were seeing more clearly we would likely do differently, but we truly, honestly were doing the best we could given how life looked to us in the moment.

In a state of mind of stress, anxiety and depression, the things that occur to us will be very different than what we feel inclined to do from peace, stillness and connection with others.

Seeing the truth that what we all do is directly linked to that moment’s temporary thought-created reality allows us to understand the innocence.

Yes, in theory, better could have been done. But it couldn’t have been done in that moment, from within that temporary reality, at that level of consciousness.

This is why we apologize, express remorse, try to make amends. Because we have the ability to see differently once our mind has settled… but not before it has settled.

We didn’t see it at the time so we did the best we could with what we saw at the time.

Forgiveness, for ourselves and others, doesn’t have to be impossible or even difficult if we’re willing to see the truth of this for ourselves.

Forgiveness is simply the recognition of innocence, the seeing that we’re all up against the same thing: thought masquerading as reality.

We all get caught up, tripped up, fooled, taken for a ride… welcome to the human condition. Having a deeper understanding of what’s going on behind the scenes allows us to reconnect with the truth of our innocence, and forgiveness is the natural result of that realization.

What Do We Do About Major Problems?

I received a message today from someone asking me how this understanding can help with major problems.

She feels that perhaps seeing the truth about our human experience can maybe help us with minor problems, but major problems just are major problems.

So what do we do about them?

Well firstly, it’s really helpful to know that “major problem” is made up. Now I don’t mean the situation, circumstances or things in the world of form aren’t happening, I’m sure they are or at the very least they could be.

But for a situation to be a “major problem” we need to take seriously the thinking that says it’s a major problem.

If we don’t think something is a problem, we don’t experience it as a problem.

If we don’t experience it as a problem, it’s just simply not a problem to us.

I know, I know, this may sound too simple.

But truly: without believing the thinking that says a circumstance, situation or event is a problem, there is no problem. It just is what it is.

Most of the time I think climate change is a a major problem. When I’m thinking about it in that way I feel scared, hopeless, fearful, distressed, upset, angry and stuck.

When I don’t see it as a major problem I tend not to feel those things.

Climate change is still happening in the world of form, regardless of what I think, believe and experience about it.

Yet when I allow my thinking to shift and change (as it naturally is designed to do, thank goodness that’s not our job) I see climate change differently.

I see it as the by-product of a low level of global consciousness. I see it as an effect of self-consciousness, greed, insecurity and fear on a massive scale.

When my mind isn’t taking seriously all the fear, hopelessness and distress that comes along with the “major problem of climate change”, I have room to see it differently.

In that space something new occurs to me. It makes sense for me to do certain things and cease certain things. It might occur to turn my attention inwards and see where I’m innocently part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

I get answers and solutions that were previously unknown to me. I see the same events in a deeper, broader, more interconnected way. I have ideas that I didn’t have when I was staring down at the “major problem of climate change”.

And in that space, I have access to the unknown. Since my mind isn’t totally bogged down with all my “major problem” thinking, I get fresh thinking. This may take the form of ideas about anything: innovation, technology, education, personal change, societal change, global change, etc.

The important thing is not nailing down what the solution might be, it’s seeing where solutions come from.

Solutions come from where all new thinking comes from: the unknown. The not yet created. The not yet formed. The nothing (no thing) out of which everything (every thing) arises.

If something is looking like a “major problem” right now, the good news is a) you don’t have to take that thinking seriously, and b) you can go back to the drawing board and allow yourself to have fresh thinking about it.

We’re designed to see things differently when we don’t take seriously the current thinking we have about it.

So what do we do about major problems? We realize that “major problem” is an unhelpful label that we don’t have to buy into, and we rest in the space of pure potential that is the birthplace for answers and solutions.

On The Paradox of Feeling Bad

No one likes feeling bad. It’s called feeling bad for a reason, it’s not particularly pleasant and can often bring with it uncomfortable sensations, emotions, and perceptions.

Yet feeling bad is an unavoidable part of life. If you’re a human being, you will feel bad from time to time, I promise you that.

No amount of money, no cultivated “perfect” circumstances, no finding the best humans alive can or will ever guard you against the fact that you will sometimes feel bad.

So given it’s inevitable, what can we do to make it less awful?

If feeling bad is painful, how can we avoid suffering?

Simple. We understand what it is so we can allow the system to work as designed.

Bad feelings, uncomfortable sensations, negative thoughts, and dark emotions are designed to move through us.

They’re designed to come up, give us an experience, and leave. That’s their nature.

Just like actual storms, thoughtstorms clear out eventually. We don’t know when (and we love to guess about the how and why) but every thought storm, and every real storm, runs its course and dies down; you won’t find any exceptions to this.

Often we don’t see what’s happening when we feel bad.

Because being in a bad mood is like wearing dark sunglasses, colouring everything we see, it will look and feel like there’s a problem with our lives and/or with ourselves.

If we don’t see this trick of the mind for what it is, we tend to keep spinning our wheels thinking about what needs to be fixed so that we can feel better.

Or we resist it. Or fight it. Or challenge it. Or tackle it. Or ruminate over it. Or make meaning about it. Or try to control it, manage it or eliminate it.

And not only does that not succeed in bringing relief or making us feel better, it’s actually the very thing keeping us feeling bad and causing us to suffer.

The paradox is that the more we try to get out of feeling bad, the more we get stuck in it.

The more we try to eliminate it, the more it hangs around.

Why is that? Simply because bad feelings are just temporary energy moving through your sensory system. And you can’t get energy to move through faster by energizing it with resistance, fight, control, meaning or management.

It just doesn’t work that way. Once we understand that we naturally do better.

As paradoxical as it seems, we can’t get out of feeling bad faster than the natural flow of thought/feeling moves.

So next time you’re feeling bad, do nothing with those feelings.

Don’t worry about them. Don’t make them mean anything about you or your life (it’s only a trick of the mind at play), don’t try to keep it at bay or man up against it or try to get rid of it.

Everything self-help, positive psychology and popular culture tells you to do about your feelings, ignore it all.

Relax. Seriously, just relax.

Humans quite naturally relax into our feelings (even the really uncomfortable ones) when we see them for what they truly are: temporary, meaningless, transient energy that flows through each and every one of us from time to time, bringing us an experience in a moment.

When you see that’s true, relaxing into your bad feelings will come naturally and you’ll start to notice just how quickly you bounce back to feeling good again.