Being one person

Many years ago a friend visited my class to see what one of my university classroom experiences was like. When it was over, I heard some surprising feedback:

“You are the same person as a professor as you are outside the classroom!”

I was startled by this. And for years afterwards I mulled over this statement as I learned about the different personas and affectations people choose to take on and are forced into.

As children we start by learning that our mother expects us to behave in a certain way and our father in a different manner. And then we learn our siblings want us to behave in another way. And then we learn our teacher at school has another expectation again.

With each expectation that is projected onto us we make a choice as to who we are.

And for most people something unconscious happens: In order to “survive” certain contexts and expectations we split ourselves into more than one persona.  A very typical one is becoming one persona for our parents and one for our friends. And another is the persona who appears every day in public school when we walk into the school. Another persona is constructed in order to become “liked” as a teenager by a peer group. And in order to be desired by someone in a romantic manner another persona is created.

And I learned how the taking on of various personas and affectations can be a real challenge to undo if they become so deeply ingrained and so habitual that the “real” person is now buried under that collection of personas and no longer knows who “it” is.

And this can be a significant barrier to finding peace inside oneself and to walking a more gentle spiritual path.

Ask yourself these questions:

“How many personas have I consciously and unconsciously created and taken on?”

“How does having all these different ways of being in the world making me feel?”

“Who is the ‘real me’ persona? Does it feel like there is one at all? Or am I now a fragmented collection of different personas that perhaps one might be the real one?”

Then go and sit quietly alone and in a peaceful place. Identify that one “real you” persona. You will likely find it in your very earliest childhood memories and in the quiet safety of being alone where you are sitting.

Gently hold that persona in your mind, heart, and body. 

You may cry. This is natural. It has likely been a very long time since you felt the real you.

You have just taken the first step on an important journey:  The journey of becoming one person again.

Ask yourself one final question:

“Would you like the ‘real you’ to be the single strong, clear, loving, joyful person in all aspects of your life from now on?

If the answer is “yes” then set a strong intention right now, with all your strength, love, and spirit:

“I love you, my real self. You are my one and only way of being in the world from now on. 

It may take some time for me to undo and let go of the many personas I have created over my lifetime.

And I may slip back into one or more of them for a few minutes. But I will quickly remember that you are my true self and come back home to you faster and faster each time.

I am only my one true self at all times, for everyone, and everywhere I find myself.

I am home.”

 

Anger is a special emotion

Anger is a special emotion. It can create a wall in your life or it can create a bridge. The choice is yours.

By letting anger create a wall that blocks out questions and new perspectives you imprison yourself. The darkness you are experiencing gets deeper and you sink into lower and lower emotions resulting in the wall getting higher, thicker, and more impenetrable.

By letting anger create a bridge you let go of the tight hold you have on strong beliefs and open yourself to new perspectives and new truths. As you cross the bridge you leave anger behind, taking steps deeply into courage. As you bravely let new truths enter your life your emotions acknowledge and reinforce your choice and you begin to feel stronger, clearer, and more free.

What do you let anger create in your life? A wall or a bridge?

What do you allow into your mind?

The information you allow into your mind, what you allow your mind to believe, and what you judge as a result of your mind’s beliefs becomes your view of the world. Eventually it becomes your reality because your mind has been trained to only see and hear what matches those beliefs.

And then you live an ever changing roller coaster of a life, being dragged up and down and sideways emotionally at the whim of the next bit of information you allow into your mind.

What information are you allowing into your mind?
What beliefs are you allowing to be created in your mind?
What judgements are being made in your mind because of those beliefs?

Is this the reality you wish to create for yourself?


Are you ready to get off the never-ending emotional roller coaster and create a different reality?

Question everything

Question everything. It is one sure path to the truth about the world and about yourself.

How?

Try this: Assume what you read, see, and hear “out there” is the opposite of what is true. Watch how your mind rebels as its cherished beliefs about what is true, good, and right are challenged. You may experience strong feelings arising in you as well. This is your indication you are on a very useful path of inquiry. Don’t stop because your mind and emotions don’t like what you are asking of them!

Keep going.

You are heading towards your freedom, because the truth really does set you free.

We choose our reality in every moment

In every day and in every hour and in every moment we choose our reality. Again and again and again we choose.

At this very point in human history we have a powerful opportunity to choose anew in every moment.

And at the same time there are powerful influences calling us in two very different directions: to darkness and to light.

What reality are you choosing right now?

Will you let your fear die?

April 10, 2020: “Good Friday”

Today is a symbolic day of death.

Would you consider letting something die today?

Might you let your fear die?

If you take even just one minute to be really still and look inside yourself you could find something amazing: A part of yourself that is completely and absolutely OK. A spark. A light. A well of OK-ness. A knowingness that “of course I am OK!!”

And in that moment you will learn that your fear has lost. It will die.

“It is already dead!” you might even hear from a voice inside you.

The fear you have been holding is a wonderful gift. It is the stark and clear contrast to the truth inside you of who you are and that you are actually OK. Really, truly, OK.

Warning: The sudden discovery that you are actually OK often comes with a very loud shout of joy. Just letting you know you might wake up the neighbours with that shout. But don’t hold back:

Your shout of joy is exactly what your soul and the whole world needs to hear.

Letting go of the lies you believed

You swam in the river of lies and believed them.

We all have at one time.

Look inside yourself and discover the truth.

By doing so you realize your freedom and heal the world at the same time.

Or you can choose not to. This is simply a choice. You have free will.

To hold on and suffer or to let go and be free.

Practical Spirituality

What is the point of doing spiritual work?

Why make an effort to seek truth and free yourself from beliefs, habits, and ways of seeing the world?

Why break out of the mainstream of humanity to take the proverbial “road less traveled”?

For what gain?

Well, spiritual teachings would have us believe that the answer to these questions is the opposite of “gain”. It is the peace that comes from letting go of all that you have accumulated mentally, physically, and in your spirit and soul. And it is not just what you have learned and taken on in this lifetime, but the weight of your past lives, of what has been gifted to you transgenerationally, and even the share of the collective burden of humanity that is yours to shoulder.

Yup. True.

But between where you are now and the end result of true peace is a long, long journey for most. And if you are awake and conscious that you are meant to do spiritual work in this lifetime, the journey usually feels like climbing a mountain that has no top, with little respite along the climb up.

Also true. (mostly)

As I have taken a different spiritual journey than most, what I call “a gentle spiritual path”, my climb has been a different experience.

For sure the climb has been a challenge. There are steep bits that feel like they will never end. And there are bits where the clouds swirl around the mountain and you can’t even see the next step to take. And sometimes the path seems to disappear completely, where you come to a cliff face you can’t seem to be able to get around.

So my path certainly has some of the key elements most spiritual aspirants experience.

But my choice of a gentle spiritual path has also given me some wonderful tools to work with and, per the title of this article, some practical results along the way that truly delight me in this human experience.

First,  a few tools that I use as part of my journey. Think of them as tools a mountain climber might use to climb up the sheer face of a mountain. Sure, some climbers “free solo” their climbs but most are completely laden with gear. Both make it up the mountain, but with lots of effort. Instead, I take the winding walking path up the less steep backside of the mountain where I walk steadily and unwavering up. My climbing tools are like a walking stick and a good set of walking shoes, in comparison. And I  enjoy the view in the sunshine on the less steep side of the mountain when the clouds clear, too.

Tool 1:  The Third Option

Most people, when faced with big challenges see two options:  Left or right. Up or down. This or that. Duality. Most times in life these two options are trade-offs. You gain something and lose something with both.

I have learned a different way to face life’s challenges:  Look for the third option.  Invariably there is one. But you have to look for it. And 100% of the time this third option is “better” than the options of duality. When I find it, I am delighted, grateful, and deeply awed by the power that illuminates my path.

But it is not just looking for a third option, but also having….

Tool 2:  Patience

One thing in the little playbook of life you were not taught is that patience is a really powerful tool. Patience allows a third option to appear in what otherwise looks like a hopeless trade-off of dualistic options.

Patience allows a third option but it also allows for…

Tool 3:  Right Timing

“Right timing” is one of the most powerful tools I have ever learned. In our haste to get what we want in life, including progress up the proverbial mountain of spiritual growth, we push, push, push our way with impatience and forced timing: “I want it right now!!!”

Right timing has saved me from unnecessary pain and suffering so many times that I have learned not to make decisions at all unless it is the right time to do so. This sometimes frustrates some people close to me as I don’t synch with their more rush-based approach to life, but it works for me and the results are so delightful and peaceful that I will never go back to a push-based way of doing things.

Tool 4: Principles

There are certain principles in life that simply work. And on my gentle spiritual path they have meant I not only have a more peaceful experience but also a more joyful one.

To most people principles are a painful set of rules that they dislike and ignore as best they can because they seem hard to adhere to.

To me, principles are the unwavering guides that keep me grounded and safe through the ever-changing weather of life. I never treat them as rules or dogma. Or as prescriptions or scripture. I honour them as companions that never lead me astray…if I have the patience to allow a third option to appear and right timing to take that option.

The actual principles that I honour are the subject of a future article,  but suffice it to say that when I combine these four tools (and some others), I experience a more gentle and joyful spiritual path, far less pain and suffering than I witness in the journey of others, and per the topic of this article, some practical results, too.

Practical = things that make life easier and more joyful = a gentle spiritual path.

Practical results from spiritual work

I chose the above four tools to help explain the practical example I am going to share here that illustrates how spiritual work is very practical along life’s journey and not just useful for achieving the end goal.

The Example:

Every week I drive over 100km (62 miles) between two cities. Along the way are multiple towns, some 20 stop lights, a mountain pass, multiple micro-climates, and lots of highway traffic that changes all the time in density and flow patterns.  The drive takes between 90 and 120 minutes, depending on traffic.

My experience of the drive can be either stressful and tiring or it can be peaceful and enjoyable.

This is where my tools and spiritual practice generate practical results.

As I am driving, I practice patience and right timing. I typically find my own speed that feels just right for the flow of the highway. It is often just above the speed limit, in the traveling lane (right lane), and is never close to the vehicle in front of me.  Vehicles come up behind me, change lanes, and pass me in the passing lane (left lane) all the time. Often they speed by, clearly in a rush to get to where they are going. And they push others to get out of their way. And they themselves are pushed by others behind them.

All this pushing and speeding and changing lanes before they race up to a red light makes them frustrated, stressed, and even angry.

My experience is that I see these patterns because I am not locked into their mind frame. And by seeing these patterns I intuitively slow down or speed up to stay in my own peaceful zone away from their chaos.

I also let people merge into my lane and never cut off anyone by darting in front of them (a principle of respect).

I stay in a peaceful “observer” mode while driving, with calming music playing, alert presence to allow me to see patterns emerging on the highway, and a feeling of flow.

And from my patience and choice of principles come right timing and the third option.

I giggle because I get mostly green lights (right timing) by flowing up to lights rather than racing and then slamming on the brakes between them.

And when a traffic jam occurs because of an accident or construction? I can see the pattern building long before I get there and a third option appears: I can exit the highway and take a parallel service road around the stoppage, for example. This has happened so notably that I now know that it is not a random occurrence.

This is just one example of how spiritual work has very practical results.  As I climb the  proverbial mountain in my own steady but gentle way, more and more results appear.

Spiritual work does not have to only be about about reaching an end goal. It can also be about practical results that make you feel awe, joy, and deep gratitude all along the path.

Simplicity within complexity

Life is complex. It is complicated. It is messy.

This is truth. 

However, there is a common belief among spiritual aspirants that one must create a simple lifestyle in order to progress in one’s spiritual work in a pointed and determined manner. A simple lifestyle is one dedicated to disciplined religious practice in a monastery, for example, or a simple pastoral life, “far from the madding crowd” to quote Thomas Hardy.

If life itself is complex, complicated, and messy, does removing oneself to a lifestyle of simplicity then resolve the very nature of life – that it is not actually simple?

No!

Creating a lifestyle of simplicity may be pleasing and more understandable, but it does not necessarily mean that it helps you make any more progress in your spiritual journey than having a lifestyle embedded in complexity!

“What?!?! You mean that simply donning the traditional cloak and practices of a spiritual aspirant won’t actually get me to where I want to go?!”

(sigh) 

No.

Some notable quotes on this:

“Be in the world, but not of it” (the bible)

“Why did we meditate in a monastery for 30 years and get nowhere when a farmer working his field became enlightened?” (paraphrased from something I read somewhere)

Larry Darrell to Monk: “It is one thing to be a monk on the top of a mountain and another to live spiritually in a city”.

Monk, in response:  “You are closer to enlightenment than you think.”
(From The Razor’s Edge, by W. Somerset Maugham: )

“Life is difficult” (The Road Less Travelled, by Scott M. Peck)

“Life in complex” (The follow-up book, called The Road Less Travelled and Beyond, written because people didn’t understand that life is not simple)

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)

Oh, dear.  A conundrum seems to appear:

“How can I even pretend to be spiritual, much less actually be it, when life is complex, complicated, and messy?! And on top of this, now it seems that creating a lifestyle of simplicity is not the recipe for making spiritual progress?!”

And on the theme of “a gentle spiritual path”, which is the underlying them of my journey and my writing:

“How can one have a gentle spiritual path while living in a life that by nature is not simple?!”

Peace within the chaos of life

The way out of this conundrum is actually pretty straightforward, but as with many things in life, not always easy to achieve:

Learn to be peaceful inside yourself while life swirls its dance outside of yourself. 

Peace is by nature peaceful. It is the opposite of complexity, complication, and messiness. It is the opposite of chaos. And it is simple.

Simplicity, then, is the result of spiritual progress, not a prescription for making spiritual progress.

“How do I find inner peacefulness while living in the chaos?”

Ahhh…now this is great question!

And the answer is an easy one:

You create inner peacefulness!

Hurray! And this is the end of this article.

Ok, so it is not the end of this article.

Why not? Because like I mentioned in an earlier article, simple cryptic sayings may be truth, but they are of little value in helping one actually do anything.

So, what can you actually do to create inner peacefulness?

Some practical first steps:

  • Every single day take some time out from distractions. Even just 20 minutes, 30 minutes, but preferably 60 minutes or more.  Set down your smartphone. Turn off the computer screen, shut off the television, pull out the earbuds. turn off the music.  Put the book down. Remove yourself from other people. Be by yourself.

  • Be uncomfortable in your time out from distractions. Yes, you read this correctly: Be uncomfortable. Do you think that suddenly removing yourself from distractions would be instantly peaceful and relaxing? Heck no! It will most likely be sometimes frustrating, irritating, and even scary. You are spending time only with yourself. You are not used to doing so. Your mind will go crazy trying to fill in the silence gap that external stimuli constantly feeds it. You are literally removing a drug from your mind.

    You will be uncomfortable for awhile. Likely for days and on and off for weeks and months.

    But that’s ok, because on the other side of the discomfort you will find some very real evidence of what you are seeking. “How long will it take?” you might ask. Not to worry: You will get glimpses of the other side pretty quickly. Just glimpses at first, but tantalizing ones that will encourage  you to continue making the effort and keep going.

  • Find the separate observer inside yourself: The consciousness that is watching your mind chatter away and your body doing all kinds of things throughout every moment of every day.

    You are not your mind. You are not your body. You are consciousness observing and living out a mind and body experience.

    You need do little to find the conscious observer inside yourself and spend some time feeling it.  Being free of distractions helps you get started. And telling yourself you would like to be present and feel being an observer can be the trigger to actually experiencing it.

    Spend some time every day in conscious observer mode only. A few seconds at first is all most people can maintain. Then they get lost in thought again. After a few days you will be able to spend 10 or 20 seconds in this mode. In a few weeks you will find you switch in and out of being present as a conscious observer while at the same time going about living your normal life.

    And then…

…You will notice that time spent being a conscious observer feels different.  It often feels a lot more peaceful.

But emotions, tiredness, discombobulation, and distraction will continually knock you out of peacefulness. Just because you have discovered that you are a conscious observer, and being in that mode sometimes comes with a new feeling of peacefulness, does not mean you are “done” and have achieved what gurus, saints, and enlightened being have become.

But you have definitely taken a really powerful first step.

You are for some parts of your complex, complicated, and messy daily life an awake conscious participant. You are now a participant with the power to observe and intervene in response to what their mind and body are doing, rather than reacting unconsciously and instinctively.

You are taking responsibility for your life in the most powerful way possible.

You are becoming active rather than passive. Not active in running around out there in the world doing things, but active inside yourself.

This is real power.

Power that is yours to take back from those influences you have unknowingly given it to:  Distractions, emotions, non-stop thinking, instinctual reactions, beliefs, mental constructs, the story of your past, and your desires for the future.

And now the real work begins. The work of deciding what distractions you will end permanently in your life. Learning where your emotions are being triggered from and deciding if you want to experience the triggered emotions any longer. Consciously quieting your mind. Letting go of beliefs and mental constructs that no longer serve you well. Seeing where the story of your past is coloring your present in ways you not longer wish it to. And letting go of the myriad desires for the future in exchange for only a few important ones that you know will actually be worth having.

But that is what lies ahead.

Right now?

Right now it is worth acknowledging that you have already tasted the inner peace that is yours to have forever if you are willing to take on the real challenge of making it permanent.

Welcome to the biggest challenge of your life and ultimately the most satisfying goal you will ever achieve:

Inner peace and simplicity in the complex, complicated, and messy external experience that is your life.

 

 

Spiritual Principle: Walk your own path

I don’t like cryptic and hard-to-understand ideas.

I much prefer clearly expressed truth.

This is truth that I can instantly feel at the deepest level of myself and that illuminates my mind, so that I can embrace it right away and integrate it into my life immediately.

My draft title of this article was “You are your own path”. Though this title is essentially true, it is an often-repeated spiritual principle, one that implies looking inward because “all you need is inside yourself”.

Yes. This is factually true.

However, simply stated truths like this can feel cryptic and frustrating because they often raise the question of “OK, but what do I do to be on my own path?” And “This feels like truth, but leaves me feeling frustrated because it is so far from my day-to-day reality of life.”

Frustration = not being gentle on your path.

Instead, I changed the title of this article to its current version: “Spiritual Principle: Walk your own path”, which feels much more action-oriented, empowering, freeing, and at least to me: gentle toward oneself.

So, here is what this principle means to me and why it is a key principle of a gentle spiritual path for me:

Principle: Walk your own path

Most of us have been en-cultured by processes all our lives.  We line up at school and in stores. We do worksheets in school for letters or percentages, which then lead to steps forward called “grades”. After our years in school end, we apply for jobs through a process, we get a job and are trained in processes, we follow these process steps to accomplish things in our work and the employment process gives us money, which we use in a process to buy things that we need and want.

Is it any surprise that when we hear an inner calling from our spirit and soul that we naturally look for a process to follow to answer that inner call?

It is no surprise at all, which is why we have religions, yoga, meditation groups, new age teachings, retreat centres, and a hundred other spiritual processes we could follow. They are wrapped in soothing words like “journey”, which makes them seem to our minds to be the right thing to follow, and cost a certain amount of money for “x” number of sessions, days, weeks, or months.

All very much in alignment with the linear, step-by-step way our minds like to see the world and reassures us that this is the “right” way to go about answering an inner call.

But it is not the only way to answer the inner call. And as history can show us, a process-driven way is fraught with challenges that must be overcome at best or are succumbed to at worst.

So, now the tough part to write:  How do I express in words that the gentle path I chose does not follow a religion or process of any kind?

And how do I express that there are wonderful teachers and teachings you can learn from and useful tools, concepts, and principles that you can pick up and use? And that you can use these teachings and tools in your very own way rather than in the way a religion or process tells you to use them? And that by doing so you are inherently answering your inner call with yourself, which is the most powerful commitment you can make.

Maybe I just expressed what needed to be said.

One more piece that should finish off this principle:

Walking your own path means you are free to be gentle on yourself, which in turns results in a spiritual journey that is itself quite gentle.

“Gentle” feels just right for me!

But let’s take a bit of time to satisfy the mind, so that your mind and your inner knowingness can come into alignment. When they are in alignment, there is little or no internal resistance and discombobulation.

Alignment of mind and inner knowingness = trust and peace = gentleness.

Why no religious or spiritual process?

Without the processes that come with traditional religious and spiritual “pathways” there are no metrics to compare yourself to. No grades. No comparing yourself to someone else who is at a higher “step” in the process than you.

Let’s take a look at this one:

No grades, no steps, and no comparisons = less self-judgement = being gentle with yourself.

There is no right or wrong. Only what works for you and doesn’t work for you. Doing what works for you = less resistance = gentleness.

There is no-one outside of you to tell you what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

Notice that I wrote “to tell you…”. That was a specific wording choice. Because if someone tells you how to walk your spiritual path, then you are setting yourself up for failure and self-judgement compared to an external metric or criteria. Or, alternatively, you will believe you are “successful” and judge yourself as “good” and “better” based on what someone told you you should do. This can result in “spiritual pride”, a really problematic challenge to overcome. In either case, judgement of your “progress” using an external metric is not gentle. For every “success” and “good” you think you “achieve” based on what someone tells you to do, you will find the opposite comes to pass…in due time.

Choosing to listen to yourself for what works and doesn’t work on your spiritual path is a huge gift of gentleness to yourself.

And about the idea and practice of “worship”:

There is nothing and no-one to worship.

Oh, this is a juicy one. The tendency of even the most serious and determined spiritual seekers to worship a person or religious idol with deeply felt and expressed emotion never ceases to surprise me.  Worshiping anyone – yes, even the most trusted teachers and spiritual guides – will eventually lead to a challenging blockage you will have to transcend. And it will set you up yet again for self-judgement when you realize over and over again that your efforts have not resulted in you becoming the same as the exalted one you have been worshiping.

Freedom from worship means you are free to be peaceful and let your natural kindness flow through you and out into the world as you walk your own path in your own time in your own way.  Peacefulness and kindness are by nature gentle.

The challenge with “Walk your own path”

OK, so there is a challenge that comes with this principle and with walking your own spiritual path. It may not be an easy challenge for some. It was a only a small challenge for me to deal with, but I respect it may not be for others. Here’s why:

You must take responsibility for your own journey. And you must do your own journey by yourself.

[pause}

Are you feeling any emotion?  I suspect that reading this principle and letting yourself “feel it” may generate a sense of discomfort, uncertainty, confusion, and possibly even fear.

Why?

Because taking responsibility for your own spiritual journey and “owning it” is not easy. Processes, on the other hand, can feel trustworthy and safe to your mind and your mind runs your emotions. Taking responsibility for yourself can trigger emotions that give you evidence to your mind that walking your own path is neither trustworthy nor safe.

An analogy:  When you first learn to ride a bicycle, it may be scary, but when you get the hang of it, you realize that balancing and moving forward are connected and with care and focus, result in an experience that is fun and generally reliable.

No-one can teach you the exact a process for balancing while riding a bike. Techniques? Sure. Tips? Sure. Hold the bike in balance for you? Maybe for a few meters, but they have to let go or you won’t figure out balancing for yourself. Balancing while riding a bike is something you must learn on your own.

Learning to walk your own spiritual path is like learning to balance while you ride a bicycle.

At first you need to get a few things coordinated: How you use your spirit, mind, and body to learn, grow, and live peacefully and joyfully…while at the same time moving forward in life.

Continuing the analogy – and this is when the “gentleness” comes in – you can learn to ride a bicycle by going fast, crashing, getting up and taking more risks, all while trying to keep up with your friends or trying to “get to” somewhere.

Not a gentle way.

Or you can take your time learning to ride your bike by going slower, staying on quieter pathways at first, learning what works for you, and as you gain experience, emerging into the world with confidence and abilities that you can trust to lead you to ever more clarity, strength, and peace.

A more gentle way to learn.

An invitation:

Walk your own spiritual path.

Learn to walk it carefully, patiently, and gently. Be kind to yourself as you learn to take responsibility for your own journey and what works to help you grow and how to balance yourself inside and out.

Writing this posting has resulted in a deep sense of peaceful relaxation, gratitude, and joy in myself.  I watch as the tea pours into my mug.  I watch the bushes outside move in the breeze. I watch as my spirit rests gently and joyfully while the world around me swirls.

I let it swirl. My path is my own. It is a gentle one. I choose to walk  peacefully through the world and through my spiritual journey.  I don’t always succeed, but peace and gentleness are now the norm in my experience, not the exception.

May yours be a gentle path, too, if that is what you choose.

A Gentle Spiritual Path

Walk the walk

Ever heard the saying:

“She doesn’t just talk the talk, she walks the walk”?

It is a compliment. And deservedly so, because people who actually do what they think, believe, and say they are going to do are not the norm.

Thinking or knowing something is not the same as understanding, doing, and becoming what you think and know.

I was a college and university professor for some 25 years. Over the years I found my students becoming less and less interested in “walking the walk” than in “talking the talk”.  It was not their fault: The higher education system puts thinking and knowing on a much higher pedestal than doing and becoming. And thinking and knowing something are much easier than doing it and actually becoming.

For example, which is easier: Learning to ride a bicycle by thinking about how it is ridden in theory or by getting on one and learning to be become a comfortable and natural rider of bicycles?

Of course it is vastly easier to think about the concept of pedaling so that you move forward and moving your handle bars to balance yourself, than it is to actually get on a bicycle and learn to balance while pedaling and moving forward and become natural and comfortable at staying balanced while riding.

Another example:  Is it easier to learn what a spiritual teacher did, and suggested we do, or to do it yourself? In other words, is it easier to think and know spiritual ideas, concepts, and principles or to practice them and “become” them?

Is it easier to think “Love thy neighbour as thyself” or to actually “love your neighbour as yourself”?

Well, duh! Of course it is harder to actually do it!

But which choice will result in your being unconditionally loving?

Thinking the words or practicing the idea?

My favourite bumper sticker of all time:

“What would Jesus do?”

It is quite humorous and profound for me at the same time because it prompts a simple and powerful question:  In everyday life, in all you do and with everyone you meet, are you doing what Jesus would do?

Or are you just thinking about what the “right” thing to do might be?

Not worshiping Jesus. Not knowing his words. But actually embracing his teachings, or those of any other teacher of the highest level of truth, and integrating them into how you live your life and into your thoughts and actions that you do all the time, every day, and in every moment?

Walking a gentle spiritual path is simply the choice to proverbially stand up and walk. To actually take one step after another. Every day, right now, in this instant. To take timeless truths and make them real in your life.

A wise teacher shared that it is just the choice of love in every moment.

Another wise person said it is the choice to always be kind to yourself and to everyone and everything.  All the time. Right now. This instant.

Same same.

Are you fed up with “thinking” and “knowing” because doing so for months, years, or lifetimes hasn’t gotten you very far along the path to the inner peace you seek? And that actually runs you around in circles where you find yourself right back at the beginning again and again, no further ahead for all your thinkingness?

Choose to do and become. Right now. Commit to yourself the simplest commitment:  To do and become that which your soul is pointing you towards.

Walk the walk.

Which is one of the foundation stones of a gentle spiritual path.

Self-empowerment 101: I will make fewer decisions

Undoing mental patterns and habitual behaviors can be devilishly hard to do.  This is in direct contrast to how easily we create mental patterns and habitual behaviors.

I recently began undoing my belief that I have to make decisions all the time.  I guess I made a decision to stop making so many decisions!  A most fascinating and empowering journey has followed.

I gained the belief early in life that we are in control of our lives and destinies.  This control is called free will, and I was taught in school and by the world that it is a precious thing that should be exercised daily.  This belief in my free will has been at the foundation of my philosophy of life.  In fact, I still have the belief that I have free will.

What has changed, however, is in how I choose to use my free will.  One choice I made was to undo the belief that I have to make decisions all the time.  I used to believe that if I am not making decisions all the time I am not actually exercising my free will.

I now have a different belief.  Free will is not about making decisions all the time.  It is about “freely using my will”.

If this is getting too theoretical, here is an example:

ballotElection day.  You are to elect a new government leader.  You are presented with a list of 4 candidates.  You must decide on one and choose him/her.

Full stop.

First, who said you have to choose one from a set of options you didn’t create?

Second, who said you must participate in this decision process called an election?

Why did you buy into these two beliefs?

“If you don’t vote, you are not fulfilling your legal, moral, and ethical responsibilities to this country. ”

Ahhh…there we go:  I was forced, encouraged, or guilted into participating in a decision making process called an election.  And I am a bad person if I do not participate.  Someone decided that participating in elections makes you a good person and not participating in elections makes you a bad person.

Wait a minute!

How many other beliefs and decision making processes have I been invited to ascribe to and participate in?  How many have I chosen to believe and participate in, quite willingly, because I thought it was the fulfillment of the reason I have free will?

Lots, and lots, and lots.

Let’s take a step further back to uncover more goodies:

In university I chose a business education, where I gained the belief that leaders and managers are decisive, taking initiative as a part of their minute-by-minute workday.  One must “drive the agenda”.  And another saying goes:  “Decide, or someone else will decide for you.”

This is where it gets even more interesting:  “Decide, or someone else will decide for you”, is actually a fear-based belief!

I chose long ago not to live or act from a state of fear.

But I am still playing out the habits of my university training and even more traditional acculturation as a man, which says that a strong man is a decisive man!

Decide. decide. decide.

“People who don’t decide are weak, spineless individuals. They are soft.  They don’t take initiative, but let life walk all over them. The meek may inherit the earth, as the saying goes, but I would never want to be meek! Why be a victim when you can be a victor!”

Again, full stop.

This is getting silly.

One last look at this:

How many times have I encouraged my children to make decisions, when they did not understand the need for the decision to be made, the choices available, or the consequences?  And how traumatic was it for me to have to make “blind” decisions as a child or teenager, when I learned that decision making often resulted in outcomes that I didn’t understand and that hurt?  Ouch.

What I believe free will is not

Free will is not about becoming a “decision junkie”, thinking we have to make decisions all the time when we really don’t. It is not about habitually making decisions out of fear, usually without understanding the real reasons for the decision needing to be made in the first place. It is not about accepting the choices we are being presented and assuming without thought that they are the only options and the most valid ones. Free will is also not about making decisions when you don’t understand the importance of the consequences of the decisions.

And it is not about forcing others to make decisions when they don’t need to.

What I believe free will is

Free will is about exercising our ability to choose how we live our lives: What we believe, and how we act from those beliefs.

This year, I will use my free will to undo lots of beliefs and to make fewer decisions. And in doing so, I choose to empower myself to stay focused on the quality of my life itself and how I wish to live it.

I can hear the critics gleefully challenging this logic with “you just made a decision!”

Intellectualize all you want. I won’t play that game (another decision).

I am backing out of my addiction to the distracting activity called decision making.

And in doing so I am taking my power back to use my free will to focus on what will make me stronger and happier in my life.

Gigs or a job after graduation?

Why you should seriously consider getting “gigs” before seeking a job after graduating university or college.

New graduates, and their parents, typically consider the end of university and college the ideal time to seek a job as the launch point of a successful career. Reading and hearing that many graduates end up doing “gigs” – short to medium-term projects that they get paid for as contractors – causes many grads and their parents distress. Why? Because a “job” is secure and “gigs” are not, despite what the pay might be. Gigs come with no employee benefit plans, and unlike a job, have a defined end date.

Let’s decode this:

A full-time job = “safety”. Why do you want safety? So you can invest in a house, buy a car, and start a family. This is the life path your parents wanted and expected.

And for the tens of millions of immigrants to the U.S. and Canada over the last century, life here was also the escape from war and persecution. What did they want? Safety. So again, having a full-time and preferably unchanging job was an intense relief, or at least very, very desirable.

Gigs = “opportunity”. Why might you want opportunity? Because you are probably not trying to emulate your parents desires and life expectations – at least not immediately after you graduate university or college. And you most likely are not a refugee from a war or serious persecution. And if you have significant student loan debt which is causing you a sense of urgency to earn money, you hopefully know that there are many ways to make ends meet right now – not just through a traditional “job”.

And most importantly, you need opportunities because the world of “jobs” has changed so dramatically that even if you did try to jump directly into a stable, full-time job after graduation, you would likely find it a long and challenging journey getting there. Worse, you might find that after the euphoria of getting the job, your heart sinks when you realize what you have actually gotten yourself into. Change, stress, little structure, and scarce guidance and support are the norms of today’s busy corporate, government, and even small business workplaces.

Gigs are an “Opportunity”… to do what?

If you choose to do gigs after university or college – at least for a while – you gain some tremendous advantages over those who choose to seek jobs first:

  1. Gigs = experience that you can put on your resume. Even short-term gigs add significant value to your experience by showing potential employers what you can do.
  2. Gigs = the opportunity to define your preferences. You have been in school almost all your life. How do you know what kind of work you like to do? And what kind of a setting would suit you best? And what kind of people you would enjoy working with? Try a variety of short and medium-length gigs and you will quickly define your preferences. Really quickly. Remember: Your parents’ preferences when they were your age were usually quite different than yours will be today. Why? Because they grew up in a completely different world than you have.
  3. Gigs = building confidence. You get to succeed at real world work, which makes you feel good. And you can make mistakes, too, without long-term implications: You gain resilience.
  4. Gigs = an opportunity to learn. Yes, learn. Not the kind of learning you did in university and college, but for gaining the mindset, confidence, and professional skills you will need to be successful in the dynamic, fast-paced, technology-enabled, team-oriented, and intense world of work today.

What your parents don’t realize and media and governments are not telling you:

Those easy-to-find entry-level jobs of the past where you could learn the “professionalism skills” you needed in order to step into a high-skill role don’t exist anymore.

Where did the entry-level jobs go? Well, every time you use your phone or laptop to do online banking, visit a government web site, book a concert ticket or flight, check the weather, or send a message, you are using the replacement to entry-level jobs. Automation, in the name of cost savings, efficiency, and improved customer service has removed most of the traditional opportunities you had to gain the mind frame, confidence, and skills you need. Entry-level jobs that still exist today are being eliminated as quickly as organizations can automate them.

Now, you must leap a big gap between university and what employers need from you. There are few stepping-stone entry-level professional jobs where you can learn how to meet employers needs.

And no, a job in a fast food restaurant is not an entry-level job that will give you the professional skills you will need.

Choosing to do professional gigs after you graduate university or college, a real example of which is the image for this article, can be a smart part of the rapid development of a successful career.

For many new graduates, “gigs” may not be an option: They may be necessary. A good necessary!

The author: Paul Kurucz is a former university faculty who now coaches graduates to more quickly and confidently leap the gap between their studies and successful careers.

Freelancing after University: Hourly pricing or “packages”?

Being familiar with jobs that pay an hourly wage, most university graduates thinking about doing freelancing “gigs” after graduation (short term contract assignments) first think about how much they should charge per hour for their work. For example:

  • Ghost write blog articles – “I will charge $15 per hour.”
  • Do social media postings for small businesses – “$18 per hour.”
  • Landscaping and lawn care – “$14 per hour.”
  • Photography for a friend’s engagement party – “$20 per hour.”

Offering hourly pricing is the biggest mistake I see most new freelancers make

Charging by-the-hour for your work, or accepting a by-the-hour contract that a client offers you, is seriously problematic. Here’s why:

1. You have no idea if the per-hour rate is an accurate match to the value you will provide. So what do you do? You default to what you would have been paid as a wage earner. Worse, you price based on what you think you are worth per hour.

What happens? You grossly undervalue your worth and the value you will offer. You under-price…often by 2x, 3x, 5x, or 10x too little. “I earned $14 working at a restaurant, including tips. I will charge $16 an hour to my clients because now I have a degree. Phewwww!! That was easy!”

2. You are thinking like an employee. A freelancer is not an employee. A client wants help with something, a problem solved, or something built for them. They do not want an employee. That is why they are hiring a freelancer!

What happens? If you price on a hourly rate, your client will be confused and uncertain because they don’t know how many hours the help, solution, or building of something will take. They aren’t thinking about hours and hourly rates. They are thinking about getting something done. Your job is to help them get this done, not confuse them! See the problem? A confused and uncertain client is not a happy client who trusts you and your work.

3. You think you don’t have enough experience. As per point 2., most clients really only want to know if you can get something done for them and how much it will cost to do so. That’s it. “YES / NO” and “$_____” – one single number. Your lack of perceived experience lowers your confidence and results into defaulting back into “employee” thinking.

What happens? “I will price at $12 per hour to compensate for my feelings of lack of confidence. That way, my client will not expect much from me and if I fail, it won’t cost them much.”

Result? A good client will automatically think: “$12 per hour !?!?! Ummm…no thanks. This person is like a fast-food worker. I will find someone else to solve my problem – someone who can clearly get it done!”

And the result for you? “Clients won’t even pay me $12 per hour!! Nobody wants me. I must be really worth very little to clients and employers. Back I go to the minimum wage job I did last summer!”. Pricing on an hourly basis can quickly degrade confidence in both yourself and in the freelancing path itself!

Successful Freelancing: Offer “solution packages” to clients

Instead of thinking about “hours” and “price per hour”, think “solutions” to clients in the form of “packages” that:

  • help them do something better, faster, or in a new way.
  • solve a problem for them.
  • build something for them.

A re-framing of the examples at the beginning, from a “package” approach:

  • Ghost write 12 blog articles that will engage your social media audience – $1,100
  • Build your business’ social media “followers” by 100% of current levels. – $2,500
  • Keep your lawn cut & edged and flower gardens weeded until September 30th – $1,400
  • Photography for your engagement party – $400

Can you immediately see that two things have changed?

1. You have offered clear solutions to clients needs. The wording is definitive of a resolution of something. The client will feel relief just when reading the proposal. “This person will be able to solve this for me. Good!”. They may not yet approve your package price, but better they are a relieved potential client than a confused and uncertain one, no?

2. Your prices are now closer to, and more indicative of, the “value” your client will experience as an outcome of your work on their behalf. They are happy because the price clearly indicates that you will take this work seriously and you can do a good job with it.

Can you see how much more money you will make by offering packages instead of charging per hour for your work?

In the first example – ghost writing – you might have taken 24 hours to write 12 blog posts. By charging $15 per hour you are “earning” $360. By offering a package of 12 articles for a fixed price of $1,100, you are now “earning” nearly $46 per hour for the same 24 hours of work. A 300% increase in your earnings! And if it takes a bit more than 2 hours to do each blog article because you don’t have much experience? Who cares! You can take longer because you are getting paid so much more on an hourly basis. By focusing on the solution and not the “hours” and “price per hour”, you will not only free yourself from pricing stress but also do a better job for your client, resulting in an increase in experience, confidence, and income for yourself!

Action: Do this right now

For whatever service/solution you are thinking of offering:

  1. Can you think of a “package” solution that you could offer?
  2. Are there other freelancers you can google who offer packages similar to what you could offer?
  3. Are there businesses offering packages similar to what you might offer?

Freelancing after University: Overcoming Pricing “But, but, but…!!!” objections

 

Freelancing means learning new stuff: Up front as you begin, and continually as you build professional skills at everything from communicating by email to pricing your services. “What should I charge clients?!” is one of the biggest challenges I have seen freelancers struggle with. It causes many to feel really uncertain, distressed, anxious, and in many cases, really unsure about themselves and their abilities!

Pricing services causes this much emotional trouble? Really??

Yes, really. And it is because there is a ton of stuff going on in our minds about what different prices mean. During 15+ years of being in school and in our part-time and full-time jobs, we learned to be great employees. However most of us never learned to be great at employing ourselves. So we don’t actually have a mental model for what our work is worth and this causes us uncertainty when faced with the challenge of pricing our services as a freelancer..

Pricing challenges are in our heads

I have heard the following many times, including in my own head when I started out freelancing my training, consulting, and coaching services:

  • “But I couldn’t charge clients that much money. I would feel guilty!”
  • “But I don’t know how much work it will be, so I must charge per hour!”
  • “But I don’t want to lose a customer by charging too much!”
  • “But I am not very experienced, so I should charge a low price!”
  • “But what if I can’t deliver on the promises I make for that package price?”
  • “But every customer is different. I can’t charge a package price!”
  • My favourite: “But I wouldn’t pay that much, so I couldn’t charge that high for a package!”

Can you think of one or two more that are not on this list? Our mind spawns “But…!!!” objections to seeing things in a new way and changing how we think because we are human beings. It is just the nature of our minds to find reasons to reject things that are too new or big, particularly when we don’t have experience at something (ie freelancing!) and a solid mental model to work within.

Let’s break these “blocks” down analytically, then look at the deeper stuff in our heads that may be driving these beliefs and blocks. This will give you the understanding you need to either blast through them or dissolve them with courage and the decision to see yourself and your freelancing work in a new way.

Analytical Tear-Down

As a freelancer you are really running your own business. You must charge prices that reflect not only the value of the work you do (Part 3 of this series will address this), but also the fact that you need to make a living doing this work.

Four things to internalize to help you overcome pricing beliefs:

1. Your package prices must include all the time you use for:

  • Finding clients.
  • Proposing a package to them.
  • Waiting for them to decide if they want your services.
  • Doing the work.
  • Communicating with your client before, during, and after the project. Yes, the time, focus, and effort it takes to think about the work and communicate with clients about it.
  • Invoicing your client.
  • And your package price must include time for you to do your accounting, banking, learning new tools and skills, networking, etc.

You are not just charging a client for the actual hours of work you do for them, but also for all the effort and time before, during, and after the client work is done that contributes in some way to the overall value you offer.

Can you see why you can’t just charge by-the-hour for the “work” you do?

2. Employees do a narrow set of sub-divided tasks in a physical workplace that has all its costs paid for by the employer. As a freelancer you do a wide range of tasks for a project and for your freelancing business. And you must include a cost for your “overhead” – everything that goes into your business life: Your “office” space, transportation, accounting, billing, technology, internet, and more.

Again, can you again see why you can’t just charge by-the-hour? Employees have to pay nothing to do their jobs and are usually trained for a narrow set of tasks. You, on the other hand, must pay for everything and do a wide range of tasks! So you must charge more for the services you offer.

3. Your freelancing client needs a solution, as discussed in Part 1 of this series. You must deliver that solution. If you do not charge a high enough price your client will not believe that you are “professional enough” to do it. To them, their work is “high value” and is usually something they can’t do, which is why they need an external freelancer. You must charge them for this “high value”.

4. The MOST important fact to internalize: You are NOT the client. What you would pay or what it would be worth to you is irrelevant to your pricing. What your client will pay for a package of services that provides a solution to them has nothing to do with what you would pay.

This is so important that I will give you an example:

Let’s say you know how to build web sites. You could whip up a WordPress template-based web site, including putting in some stock photos, pre-written content, and doing some CSS tweaks in…oh, about 4 hours. If you were to charge a client $1,250 dollars for a “web site package”, you might say to yourself “I can’t charge that because I wouldn’t pay that huge price for the work myself! That’s over $300 per hour!!”.

Do you see the problem? Your client can’t build web sites easily and quickly. In fact, they don’t know WordPress at all! And they don’t have the time to learn how, nor do they want to learn how. The simply want a nice looking web site. To them, $1,250 is GREAT value for the relief of not being able to do it themselves, for having it done quickly by you, and for a professional looking site that you could do better than they could do it!

Give yourself the biggest pricing gift of all as a freelancer: Remove yourself from the pricing equation. The prices you charge clients have nothing to do with what you would pay. The prices you charge are only, and always, about what your client perceives as value to them.

A real example:

Summary: Use this “analytical tear-down” to push as many pricing objections out of your mind as you can! This is war – a war against your own mind, which wants to keep you focused on a preprogrammed “employee” mental model. Win this war and you are well on the way to being a successful and well-paid freelancer!

The Deeper Stuff in Your Head

This part is actually shorter but likely harder to deal with than the analytical tear-down. You see, deep in our minds are fears, traumas, and uncertainties that affect our confidence, willingness to learn and grow, and ability to make decisions and make stuff happen. Yes, we all have them, but few people talk about them. Thinking about that “buried stuff” makes us squirm. Talking about it makes us feel even worse.

So how might we resolve a conflicting message we perhaps heard all through our growing up years from a parent who said:

“The only way to success is by getting a good job! You MUST get a good job or you will be a failure”.

This is an example, only, but our subconscious is littered with learned “truths” that are both not “true” and linked tightly to our emotional states.

This is where courage comes in: Freelancing takes courage. Offering to help a client is about you stepping out strongly in the world as a independent professional. It takes courage.

Whenever one of the deeper beliefs, traumas, and uncertainties arise to your conscious mind and begin to sap your confidence, enthusiasm, and energy, are you willing to find the courage to challenge it?

For example:

“I choose to believe that I can be successful as a freelancer, for however long I choose to. Other people’s beliefs about a job being the only way to success is their truth and their reality. My truth and reality are different. I can and will be successful at freelance work.”

I make it sound easy, and for many of the things in our head it is actually very doable to “blast through” and re-write your ingrained beliefs. However, there can be stickier and more challenging beliefs, traumas, and blocks to transcend, and there are techniques for dealing with these. If you are stuck with one or more sticky challenges, hire a good coach to help you get free of it.

Every freelancer faces a number of barriers in their own mind that must be overcome in order to be successful. Are you willing to overcome what is “in there” in your own head?

A mind free of “But, but, but…!!!” is a key part of freelancing success!

Action: Do this right now

Stop what you are doing. After reading each of the following questions, focus on something in the distance with your eyes for a few minutes. What comes into your mind? Can you analytically blast through any objections or courageously declare to yourself that you won’t be held back by deeper stuff?

1. What beliefs make you feel strong and confident? (feel free to write these down if it feels good to do so)

2. What beliefs and “truths” other people told you make you feel weak and scared?

3. Can you find the courage in yourself to face the negative stuff in your mind and decide not to have your emotions, thoughts, confidence, and motivation be impacted by it?

Be strong!