Odds are that once you’re open to a new perspective there’s a pull to test it out.
As a small budget holder with a ‘tread lightly’ philosophy I played a game which eventually dictated all my consumer activities. I used applied focussing to my purchases, big time. This is how I did it:
I would set myself a random purchase goal (bizarrely, even if it was something I didn’t need, purely to test the principle). A red light bulb, for example. Or a fluted salmon pink lampshade. To begin with I would peruse the shops in my locality, noticing where lightbulbs were stocked, checking the retailers, prices, quality and variants. Familiarising myself with the subject. It sounds alarmingly obsessive and materialistic, but was actually a profound exercise in focussing. Because of my budget restrictions I couldn’t just purchase the first one I found. It had to be THE one. At the best price. The one I had envisioned, no cheating.
I became finely tuned until I developed a kind of intuition. Instead of a list of ‘things I need to get’ there was just the one. And it had my full attention. I learned to work on the assumption that it was there, waiting for me; a game of cat-and-mouse. I had to find where my prize had hidden itself. And I always found it (purchase wasn’t essential, only the discovery).
As an artist I’m trained to notice. I’d use this training to try poundstores, independent retailers, high street stores, charity shops and flea markets. My awareness of my environment grew. You could ask me where to buy a random article and I could respond with several likely candidates and a price range, just through peripheral consumer vision. It was an odd talent with a curious merit, taking me into realms of perceived value, consumer snobbery, navigation and expansive thinking. It was no minor activity.
As the game progressed I limited myself to charity shops. It became a game of ‘which one is it in?’. A pretty silver teapot, a Hornsea sugarbowl, or single electric blanket. I’d focus, visualise, go through the charity shops I knew in my head (there are a lot in my town) and make a selection; nominations of 3 or 4. And I’d visit them in turn for a week or fortnight.
You’ll think I’m bonkers (and I thought so too, at times), but it never failed. Random items in random stores at random times, but it never failed. The prize was always there, and at a knock-down price.
A dental receptionist once looked me in the eye and said ‘there’s always help’ when I balked at the price of treatment, handing me a form for subsidy. This stayed with me. The charity shop game was a protracted exercise in finding help. And it worked every time, even with my ridiculous budget.
Focussing on my desires made the unlikely possible, noticing expanded my knowledge and resources, and application made it happen. Every time. If you haven’t already, try it.
The way you look is just one part of your identity, but increasingly we are being scrutinised and judged on our appearance. Young people are constantly bombarded with social media and are effectively learning to ‘like’ or discredit on the basis of superficial analysis, even to strangers. The result is that we learn to think of ourselves as ugly, no matter what the reality. This is massively harmful to self esteem, our health and well-being.
How do we stop a culture that is damaging self esteem so insidiously?
Here are some ways you can help free the inner critic that distorts our body perceptions.
1) Compliment people based on their effort and actions, not their appearance
2) Put the people who are making a real difference, a real contribution to society, on a pedestal – not just the ones who we consider attractive.
3) Create a world where our kids are free to become the best versions of themselves; where the way they look never holds the back from being who they are or achieving what they want.
4) Be a living example. Love the skin you’re in, and show it. Let your children see you kissing a mirror.
Love being yourself. Love the skin you’re in. Love your life. Show others how to love theirs.
If just occasionally you were to gaze in a different place, suspend what you were thinking/daydreaming about, and just look, you will find treasures all around you. If you notice just one treasure each day, your mind, body, and interactions will benefit. Take this practice and incorporate it more frequently. Each found treasure is a blessing. Each blessing has a transformative effect on your life.
It’s very, very simple.
When I was young and arrogant, I challenged my Grandmother why she believed in God. What evidence did she have? Her reply was this;
‘Every time I look at a flower, I know’.
I was skeptical of her response, but now she is gone. And every time I look at a flower I remember her and that comment. That was her gift to me. Now I see what she saw, and my arrogance melts each time. It connects me to her, and brings me joy. That is a blessing.
Here’s a magic exercise in transformation.
When you’re somewhere familiar (let’s face it, that’s most of the time) look in a different place. If you take that on board as a way of being, it can transform your life. In the short term, it will provide a blessing. Guaranteed.
An example: Walking past the shops.
As a lecturer in art and design, I can confidently say that every person you meet sees different things. They experience the world in a myriad of differing ways.
One person might be focussing on purchasing clothes; that person will see textures, colours, shapes (and maybe price tags). The person next to them might be into games and electronics. Due to the power of advertising, they see primarily hard colour – blues, red, black, white – a lot of contrast. They see words too. And fast moving images will grab them. A child will see legs. A lot of them. And bags. They will see shoes and pavements, puddles and cracks. Dogs and pushchairs. Near misses. An architect or designer will see shapes, lines, flow, pattern. They notice details in materials, and proportion. Others will see only people – faces, exchanges, character, mood. Some see sky. Some see pavements. Some food. Or birds. It goes on and on.
Notice the way you experience seeing. What draws you? By identifying your own habits you can begin to recognise the smallness of the possibilities they occupy. Spend a little time observing others, and what draws them. For an instant, you might experience a little connection with a stranger that might otherwise have passed you by. That will be a blessing in itself.
Change your view. If you are someone who looks in the windows, look at the street and see the life around you. If you normally dodge puddles, put on your boots and look skyward. See chimneys and skyline, clouds and light, birds and movement, smoke and leaves. Doing this will bring new riches. It is a blessing.
Changing your view can be all you need to remember the enormity and wonder of life. And you can do it in any place, in any instant. Knowing this is a blessing.
And if you want to absorb this magic into your life, learn to draw. Because drawing is the by-product of the art of looking. It’s a tool for life, but they never taught you that at school. I have taught OAPs how to draw and they have been astonished. They have learned to see the world in a completely different way, and it has changed their lives. Being conscious of this transforming power is an extraordinary blessing to observe, and a delightful one to know.
Look in a new way, and enjoy.
General wisdom on happiness suggests the following (my summary)
- An atmosphere of growth is crucial to well-being. Without it you wither and die (I can vouch for this)
- Gratitude. Know how precious your life is. Feel it.
- Exercise is important. It gets stuff moving. ie life and living. At the very least, go for a walk in nature. It will show you beauty. And get you breathing, which is a REALLY GOOD THING.
- Experience beauty. In everything. And where you don’t find it, move on.
- You need to do what you need to do. No pretending. Without it you’re not leading your life. Ergo you are not living. This is what Sir Ken calls finding your passion. Absence of it is simply wasting your life. Learn to listen hard to the truth behind what you think your needs are.
- You need to get on with it. Now not tomorrow.
- Meditate. Learn how to be still and aware. But don’t use that as an excuse for not getting on with your life.
- Good diet really helps. (Don’t worry that will come if you do all the others).
- Incorporate kindness into your life. Doing things for and with others makes you feel good.
- If you are happy other people will feel happy (yes really).
- Less is more.
- Remember what you do keeps the wheel turning. We all learn from each other. It starts with you.
As an acronym I think I could do better 🙂 It’s a work in progress.
The happiness list is formulated from a gorgeous pile of books I’ve assimilated. Amongst which I’d heartily recommend the following, if you’re looking for an engaging and entertaining read. I’d really welcome any that have inspired you, so please pass on any ideas for winter evenings..
Happiness, Richard Layard (penguin)
The Art of Happiness (also The Wisdom of Compassion), His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Reclaiming Happiness, Nicola Phoenix (Findhorn Press)
The Element, Ken Robinson (penguin)
Is it possible to be happy if you’re not truly being yourself? I don’t think so. But it can take a lot to really own yourself and appreciate who you are.
The thing is, people are all different. Like a tin of assorted biscuits. It would (I would have thought) be so simple to make us all the same. If we didn’t think and feel we would be an awful lot more similar. But we do, and in vastly different ways. It’s hard getting to know someone. It takes a lot of effort – we really have to work at it. When it comes down to it, it’s the feeling/thinking part of us that’s the special bit. The human being bit. And getting to know ourselves when we’re not used to enjoying who we are can be just as hard as getting to know someone else.
In his books ‘The Element’ and ‘Finding your element’ Sir Ken Robinson talks of the need to find your own ‘thing’ in life to bring meaning, whether it’s modelmaking or paleantology. His particular cause is that this should be the baseline of education. We find purpose through growth. And a path of development that has meaning to us as an individual is the ideal. As a teacher of all ages I know that this ideal permeates primary education, but gets lost further up the line. Where we should be developing our own essential qualities for the creative benefit of ourselves and our community, somehow this gets absorbed into what others feel we ‘should’ be doing to fit economic need. That’s a disaster. Not only do we not fill our potential, but we’re falling into mediocre ground, and burying our sense of well-being. It can be really hard to recover.
Chances are, if you’re questioning what happiness is, that it’s because you recognise a lack of well-being in yourself. I’d hazard a guess that authenticity should be your first port of call. Here are some pointers for your fridge door;
- learn your own inner signs of ‘niggling doubt’ (your instinct alerts). They’re worth paying attention to.
- appreciate who you really are
- practice just being you
Being yourself doesn’t mean you have to be pushy, selfish or arrogant. Just more attentive to yourself, softer, more direct and honest. In fact honesty is the biggest bit. Learn how to voice your inner thoughts and desires. They don’t need to be shouted, just to be paid attention. Many years ago the late Akong Rimpoche advised me to ‘look after yourself as much as you look after others’. They were wise words. There are lots of levels to this, but the thing is to make a start, and to keep at it.
Here’s a sweet link that might encourage you to revisit your authentic creative self!