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 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.

On Craziness

I’ve been so blessed to spend these last few days doing practitioner training with the gorgeous George and Linda Pransky.

While there have been so many insights and takeaways, George kept emphasizing a key point that I’m seeing deeper.

When you’re crazy, do you know you’re crazy?

If you know, it makes all the difference. It protects you, stabilizes you and points you towards what’s really going on: your state of mind has taken a temporary dip.

If you don’t know when you’re crazy, you mistake its cause, make it a bigger deal than it is, run in circles and get nowhere, feeling defeated, hopeless and bad about it.

We all have a personal crazy: it’s our Mr. Hyde, our evil twin, our favourite ride at the Bonkers Amusement Park of Distress and Suffering.

Jokes aside, It’s often what people consider their primary label or diagnosis. The thing about them that needs fixing and changing because it so does not look like the simple, harmless result of a temporary low state of mind.

Anxiety, depression, stress, fear of failure, loneliness… it can look like a solid, stable problem we have but in truth it’s just our temporary crazy. Just where our mind habitually goes when it goes south.

You are a human being, and as part of the human condition you will sometimes think, feel and act like a crazy person. I say that with love because I too am a crazy person at times. We all are.

It’s not a personal failing, it’s not a problem, it’s not a mental illness, it’s nothing to worry about.

Truly, because it’s universal in nature and harmless once you see it for what it is, it’s nothing to concern yourself with.

You’ll instantly be protected by the negative effects of crazy if you know it’s just your crazy, instead of thinking it’s something you need to deal with, work on or fix about yourself or your life.

Our personal crazy is just riding the anxiety train or taking a plunge on the depression rollercoaster or spinning on the teacups of insecurity, so it makes all the difference to know that’s all that’s happening.

Your mind has temporarily taken a dip to stormy, untrue, distorted thinking. It’s unclear, totally biased, and not at all trustworthy.

No need to try to fix it, change it, control it, manage it, adjust it or correct it.

Our inbuilt well-being and health will do all of those things naturally (and far more effectively) if you can simply leave it alone.

At some point the ride ends and you hop off, completely fine.

You may have gotten a bit wet, or a tad dizzy, or felt a surge of adrenaline, but you are completely 100% fine the whole time and the ride always, always, comes to an end.

So next time you’re feeling crazy, welcome to the club! 

No judgement, no problem, no issue. Just a gentle, simple noticing of the ride you’re on and the inevitable realization that it’s all temporary, it’s all taken care of and it’s always simpler than we make it.

With love and gratitude,

Shannon

On Wisdom and Personal Thinking

Lately I’ve been getting asked the question: how can one tell the difference between wisdom and personal thinking?

If everything from our most anxious, depressed experiences to our most helpful natural guidance comes from the power of thought, how does one distinguish them and know which one to trust?

And for a long time I really thought this question could only be answered by looking at the content of what we think.

I thought I needed to compare my current experience to similar experiences in the past and assess from there.

Or even that I needed to compare it to other people, if it was “aligned” with what I noticed from the behaviour of others, I could guage how likely it was that it was wisdom.

Not only is that exhausting, it’s not even effective.

Fortunately, it’s so much more simple than that.

Human beings are beautifully designed and part of the kindness of the design is that we have a perfectly reliable feedback system as to what thinking we should take seriously.

It lets us know what thinking we should be listening to, acting on or following and what thinking we should be ignoring and allowing to change into something new.

The super helpful reliable feedback system is the feeling that accompanies the thinking.

And it’s a hard to describe a feeling because words have so many meanings but I’ll do my best.

When our experience feels expansive, light, free, airy, curious, playful, fun, inspiring, fresh, new, loving, interesting, open, helpful, fascinating or just downright obvious: a good feeling accompanies it.

When our experience feels heavy, tight, constricted, restricted, boring, monotonous, repetitive, habitual, closed, stuck, frustrating, stale or just downright unpleasant: no good feeling accompanies it.

Acting on the thinking that comes with a good feeling is how we know we’re operating in line with this greater intelligence that we’re all connected to: the very energy behind life that’s beating our hearts and breathing our lungs.

It’s how we know we’re coming from the space of our true nature, instead of coming from the space of biased personal thinking.

The feeling is designed to be our guide.

Red means stop. Wait. Take a pause. Breathe. Let something else come. Thought by nature is fluid and transient and it will bring us something new if we allow it to.

Good feelings are green. They tell us to proceed, to go forward with whatever it is, whether it’s creativity, inspiration, a helpful solution, a new perspective, a fresh thought… it’s all safe to trust and act from.

So we needn’t concern ourselves with the content of our thinking. It’s unnecessary and unhelpful to analyze, compare or contrast our thinking with other thinking.

If the thoughts bring a good feeling with them, go. That’s our wisdom shining through. Whether it’s subtle and ordinary or bold and inspiring, it’s simply a higher quality of thought that is wise and responsive to life.

If the thoughts bring a bad feeling with them, stop taking them seriously. Stop listening to them. Stop buying into their reality.

That’s a surefire sign you’re in distorted, subjective and untrue personal thought, and if you continue thinking about that thinking you’re bound to suffer, get in a tangle and innocently feed that experience.

Knowing that feelings are our built-in guide is incredibly helpful. Wisdom comes with a good feeling, personal thinking doesn’t.

On The Illusion of Numbers

It’s so easy to fall for the illusion that outside world circumstances can cause us to feel a certain way. We get tricked so many times; the illusion is designed to look real.

The other day while driving I caught myself groaning in frustration when I saw the gas price at 151.9 c/L. Just as soon as I heard the exasperation leave my mouth, the thought came into my awareness “where do you think your frustration is coming from?”

It’s an excellent question. Where did I think my experience was coming from in that moment?

As much as I initially fell for the trick of the mind, I was reminded immediately of what I know to be true: my experience can only come from thought brought to life through consciousness. That’s always true, across the board, no exceptions.

That little realisation, that tiny insight, woke me up once again to the fact that something in the outside world isn’t the kind of the thing that can cause me to feel anything. Only my thinking has that capability.

In that moment I was reminded of what’s really going on.

I had glanced up and my eyes took in light that was bouncing off of an object in the form of wavelengths. From that my mind created colours, shapes, numbers, conceptualised that the numbers 151.9 in sequence signified a gas price of 151.9c/L, matched that with my opinions and preferences for the gas price, saw that what I was observing didn’t match my expectation of how life should be and I felt the corresponding feeling of frustration.

The entire process was an internally generated experience. It happened only in my mind, even though it looked like it was caused by something in the external world.

It’s just what my thinking did, in that moment, before it went on to do something else.

I can have a completely different psychological experience of those waves of energy in the form of light and colour because they aren’t the cause of my experience.

In fact, I have had a completely different experience of reading the same sign.

When the gas prices hovered around 160 c/L for an entire summer, seeing 151.9 on the sign brought me a huge sigh of relief. Why?

Because that’s what my thinking was bringing me in that moment.

Everytime I see 151.9 on a gas sign I will have a different psychological experience based exclusively on thought in the moment. Will it seem high? Low? Will I be pleased? Stressed? Relieved?

Will I care? Will I notice? Will I see my experience as thought? Will I fall for the trick that numbers can make me feel something?

I don’t know. And to be honest, most of the time I don’t really care.

Our feelings, regardless of how different they feel to each other and our personal preferences, are all made of the same “stuff”: formless energy.

Energy that is always changing, flowing, ebbing, shifting, arising and dissipating. Whatever I’m feeling is just there in the moment until the next feeling replaces it, on and on and on ad infinitum.

It just doesn’t feel that simple because we’re used to believing that our feelings mean things about our lives.

We believe surely we need to do something with how we feel, we need to figure it out, change it, fight it, accept it, become aware of it, label it, categorize it, express it, solve it… right?

Wrong. What frees me is seeing the simple truth: what I’m experiencing is simply transient energy.

Everytime I catch a glimpse behind the curtain, see the truth of our human experience a little deeper, and understand how life works a little better, I realize things are not as they appear, and what a relief that is.

On Labelling Experience

We humans love to label and diagnose things. I think it’s because we feel a sense of relief, normalcy, predictability, and safety in having a nice neat little box in which to file our experiences under.

The depression box, the anger box, the anxiety box, the insecurity box, the obsessive compulsive box, the addiction box, the stress box, there’s no end to how many we can come up with.

Then once we have an experience of anything we don’t like, we just put it in the box accordingly and chalk it up to  “it’s just how I am” or  “given that I have depression, of course I’m going to feel depressed”

What it doesn’t take into account is that this is an illusion. The illusion is that there’s something we have or something we are that determines what experiences we’ll have.

And that’s simply not true.

Labels and diagnoses are after-the-fact. They are not causal, nor could they be. Depression is not the cause of depressed thinking. Anxiety is not the cause of anxious thinking. An anger problem is not the cause of angry thinking.

The one and only cause of these experiences are thought in the moment, that’s it.

A depressing thought comes into our mind, gets brought to life in our sensory system by consciousness (which make it look and feel as though it’s reality) and then we have the ensuing experience until it passes.

If we don’t know that’s what’s happening, and especially if we think our experience is caused by something outside of us, we’ll tend to take that thinking really seriously.

And because we take it really seriously, we shower that kind of thinking with attention, energy,  judgment and resistance.

So the next time a depressing thought happens to come into our heads it gets our attention in a bigger way than it did before, which makes it feel even more real, which makes us take it more seriously.

And then when we have a habit of taking depressed thinking seriously we noticed that we’re in a depressed feeling a lot of the time!

Which of course leads us (and other well-meaning medical professionals) to conclude that we have depression as a condition, an illness, a solid thing… as if depression is anything other than depressed thinking taken seriously over time.

It really is that simple. I know it sounds like it’s too simple to be true but what’s truly at the heart of all labels and diagnoses is that certain types of thinking are taken seriously and believed to be reality in an attention, meaning, misunderstanding spiral until it becomes a mental habit.

And yes, of course brain chemistry changes. But our biochemistry changes as a result of thought, it’s a domino that falls when our thinking knocks it over.

Biochemistry is not the cause of thought changing, thought is the cause of biochemistry changing.

What freed me from years of suffering from anxiety was when I insightfully saw that my anxious thinking was just normal thought that I was taking seriously and making meaning of because I mistakenly thought the outside world of circumstances was the cause of how I was feeling.

Once I got clued into the inside-out nature of life I realized that I was in hours of anxious thinking each day because I was taking that thinking to be true, misunderstanding its source and becoming extremely hypervigilant about it.

It stemmed from a misunderstanding, but after so much energy, attention and resistance was placed on my anxious thinking, it showed up more and more.

And then the icing on the cake was adding the label ” I have anxiety” or “I’m an anxious person” which keeps us more locked in to the same experience, seeing more of what we expect to see, and completely discounting all the times that our experience is contrary to the label.

The irony is that the label and diagnosis that was supposed to make us feel better in the first place ends up causing way more suffering, habitual thought and downward spiralling than if we had just let our experience be whatever it happens to be in the moment, nothing more, nothing less.

On Bouncing Back

Anyone who knows me knows that I love and honour sleep. Lately I have been sleeping on an incredibly comfy memory foam topper and it dawned on me how helpful the metaphor of memory foam is when attempting to describe the lasting effect of our day to day experiences.

We are innately resilient. All humans have a core of well-being that can’t go anywhere and can only be temporarily obsured by thought.

Thought comes through us, gets brought to life within us, results in an experience and then moves on to make way for the next experience. Our experiences don’t stick around any longer than the amount of time they’re on our minds.

They come, they go, they come, they go; constantly in movement.

It sometimes seems like experiences we’ve had in the past are still affecting us today, but past experiences can only ever be felt in the present moment.

Whether conscious or subconscious, whether we’re aware of it or not, any experience we’re having has a present moment thought behind it.

It is an unbreakable link; it only works one way.

How this relates to memory foam is that I can press any shape into the foam and for the duration that the shape is there, the memory foam holds that form. But the second I move my arm, adjust my neck or change sides, the shape that the memory foam was holding disappears.

A new shape, a new form, takes its place instead and there’s no lasting trace of the previous form.

I press my hand into it and it reflects the shape of my hand for as long as my hand is there. As soon as I take my hand off, it bounces back to default.

Our experience works the same way, for as long as we have sad thoughts we’ll have sad feelings. The instant those sad thoughts change, the sad experience disappears.

Unlike the memory foam which has about a one second delay, our human operating system works instantly.  We’re constantly being bounced back, so quickly in fact that we often don’t notice it.

We are all naturally wise, well and clear. And the minute a particular thought isn’t being pressed into the metaphorical foam of consciousness, we bounce back to default. 

Experience only lingers to the extent that we think, believe, and act as though it does. What happens in our past has no inherent power over us. The only thing that has inherent power over us is thought in the moment.

So any moment it seems like past experiences have power over us, we’re just feeling thought in the moment, brought to life by consciousness. The minute that thought leaves, the perceived power it has leaves as well.

We don’t have to do anything to make experience keep moving, it happens naturally. And as soon as that happens, the form leaves the foam and the foam is once again neutral with no lasting imprint, ready for the next shape to take form.