At age 34 life was ok. I'd worked hard, completed a Cambridge degree and was advancing my career in social policy research. I kept fit, had lots of friends and was getting into online dating in a new city. But still I felt unsure of myself and what I wanted. Over-analysis on jobs and relationships was my forte. Deciding against a third date caused me a level of anxiety I imagine most people would feel signing divorce papers. Life felt like a combination of sliding and revolving doors, both of which I found myself regularly stuck in. I longed to break free from the discomfort of doubt and to progress with purpose.
I was aware that meditation, practised enough, could bring wisdom and ease decision-making. A more enlightened work colleague had lent me her copy of Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now, a wonderful book which introduced me to the concept of mindfulness. However, my attempts at traditional breath-based meditation left me frustrated at my chattering 'monkey mind'.
Then a (usually ignored) pop-up on Facebook informed me of a free weekend workshop promising lessons in wielding my intuition and creating the life I love. Curiosity piqued but ever-wary I emailed the organiser Darren Eden politely requesting to know the catch. The response, it would include some information about a longer fee-paying course, but there was no hidden agenda, no religious bent, and all he asked was that I attend both days.
So I did. And, once I stepped over the threshold of what I call my 'overactive cringe-gland' (which kicks in at words like wield and indeed threshold), I absorbed the wonderfully simple lesson that to live with certainty is to live by your imagination.
You may think that you don't have an imagination? I was sure mine had died off once I left high school and replaced story-writing with data analysis. But after just a couple of short imagination games at the workshop I realised that it was still there and as lively as a grasshopper. Far from feeling silly, as we made up stories and interpreted symbols, I understood that I was giving it the priority it deserves, relieving it of its burden of layer upon layer of rational thinking and societal influence. As it came out to play I had the sense that I was doing the same, and the result was a curious mixture of empowerment and awareness that life is just a game, to make up as you go along!
One trick I took home from that workshop was to replace any question that came to mind throughout my day with the question What would I love? or What do I love? This is especially important when the other question has emotional pain or stress attached to it: Why me? How on earth? etc. The question What would I love? has a totally different feel to it from What do I want? or What do I need? It felt bizarre allowing it to hang around in my head. But as I got used to conjuring it up I realised that not only did it make the noisier thoughts and feelings fade into the background, it often answered the other questions I was asking myself too, stopping them from being pointless and rhetorical.
Another exercise that I recommend for anyone who struggles with traditional, mind-clearing meditation, or to add to that practice, is to spend five minutes with your eyes closed just connecting with yourself as an innocent young child. The 'inner child' is much talked about in psychology and the term can act as another cringe-gland activator, or at least it did for me. But just let that go and sum up a sense of yourself as a small child, perhaps by mentally rifling through images of yourself as toddler in family photos. When one resonates, allow it to settle in your heart until you get a sense of that child alive and well there. Stay there just feeling that connection and imagining your heart opening up. When you open your eyes something of that truest self stays with you. For me, colours immediately become brighter, my senses grow stronger, and I gain a joie de vivre that allows me see life as the wonderful playground that it is.
In the two years since then I have learnt many more practices to give the mind a break from noisy thinking, using imagination to access my intuition. This lets me make decisions that are true to myself and not about getting things right or wrong.
As we get older the rational mind so often cuts into our dreams before we even know they are there; our internal devil's advocate starts conversing with us, or memories of fingers burnt arise to stop us in our tracks. Sometimes we take advice from others despite knowing deep down that the truth, and the responsibility, only lies with us. Alternatively we get trapped with hows and whys and wherefores, focusing on the process of what we think will get us to our goals and forgetting what it actually is that we love and want in our lives. What I'm learning is that it's only by regularly stepping into a headspace of 'not knowing' that I allow myself to really imagine what I would love - big or small. I then look objectively at where I stand in relation to that vision and allow the obvious next step to become clear to me.
For me, breaking old mind patterns has led me to cut my office days, giving me the time to witness the seasons as they pass, to cook from scratch, to practice my Spanish, begin writing, and meet my boyfriend with whom I'm now buying a home.
So, perhaps paradoxically, I have discovered that achieving inner certainty comes about by embracing the unknown in life, as we do in childhood, and stepping back from trying to control our circumstances. I would encourage anyone to have a go at connecting to that state of pure innocence inside and practising with the question What do I love? to see what clarity emerges for you - you may be surprised.
To contact Ceri for more information on anything in this blog don't hesitate to get in touch by email.