Frogmind, the Buddha and my Worries

anxieties worries

What I learned about my anxieties from the annual frog-orgy in our estate

Lady D and my good self have recently become Lord and Mistress of an ancient estate in Europe.

Said estate encompasses a pond, with a little waterfall, some 30 small goldfish and since last week a knot of frogs (Wikipedia informs such to be the appropriate collective noun).

The frogs suddenly arrived in our estate from foreign climes – the same Wikipedia article informs me that frogs are a bit like salmon, in that they return to spawn in their ancestral grounds.

And spawn they have. Since the frog’s arrival an enormous lump of frog jelly has formed in a corner of the pond (I marvel at the size of the lump versus the size of the little frog’s bodies). When the little black embryos become tadpoles it will get crowded in our estate’s pond. Next year’s “return to ancestral grounds” will be a spectacle.

Threesomes and moresomes

For a week, the pond was a hive of activity. There were couplings, threesomes and moresomes at any time of the day or night; lots of water spitting at stuff; pushing, shoving and clambering over the ever growing mound of jelly, and constant low rumbling croacking.

They’ve calmed down a lot by now. The knot of frogs is down to 5 from a peak of 12. The egglaying phase is clearly over, and they’ve started moving on, to the foreign climes they came from (more Wikipedia research required to find out where frogs hang the rest of the year).

What is it like to be a frog?

I’m fascinated by the frogs. I love watching them and listening to their croaking. And I wonder what it’s like to be a frog. Obviously, life is simple, being a frog in our pond, boring even – frog sex life is pretty intense when it’s on, but it’s limited to just a few days of lust in spring. Granted, life, even in our little pond, gets pretty brutal at times – there’s an enormous hungry heron who has the pond on his radar as a good spot for lunch – but it’s definitely simpler than my life.

My life is anything but simple. My life is full of worries and anxieties: anxieties about work, money, relationships and growing old. I worry about our living situations, my kids, my health and The Meaning of Life, and that’s just the tip of my anxiety ice berg.

I imagine frogs don’t have any of those worries.

The ultimate aim of many of the religions and philosophies of life, as I understand them, is to attain a state of mind akin to that of the frogs: Nothing matters, except being entirely present in the here and now. Being here and nowhere else.

Frogs are like that. I can’t look inside their minds, but I’m reasonably sure they have few worries in life, until the moment they see that long sharp beak of the Heron coming down for them.  But even then, it’s all “here and now”.

Frogmind

I’ve read about the Buddha, the Stoics and the Dao and I wonder if I should aspire to the simplicity of Frogmind. Cultivating Frogmind, is that the Ultimate? Is that the essence of the “7-fold path”, the path to happiness and fulfilment, the end of life’s suffering?

I’m not so sure, in fact I’m increasingly less convinced that getting rid of all my anxieties is going to make me happier, more fulfilled, or a better, more useful human being.

I think I am my anxieties. I think my anxieties are what make me human. They’re what make me unique, interesting, useful to the world around me. My worries are what make me strive to get better at life, at work, at love and at caring. My worries drive my creativity and resourcefulness. If I didn’t have my anxieties, I wouldn’t be so concerned about the wellbeing of other people. Without my anxieties I’d be an egoist, maybe a narcissist or even a psychopath.

Frogs are narcissists

I think frogs are probably narcissists, in that they simply don’t care about the wellbeing of others. The only thing that matters to a frog is: feeding, sleeping and fucking, and if any of those activities come at the expense of others, it’s of little concern to them, it causes them no anxiety.

None of this: “I better call Aunty Jane, or she’ll wonder if I’ve forgotten her”, or “Better not have another drink, or I won’t be fresh for my clients tomorrow”, or “I must remember to tell my wife I love her more often, or she might leave me”, or “Better not have that piece of cake, or people will snigger at me”. These anxieties don’t figure, when you practice Frogmind.

I sometimes meet people who have advanced a lot further along the path to Frogmind than I have. I notice their calm unflappability. Nothing touches them. Misfortune strikes, a friend gets angry, life’s challenges beset them and they just smile and carry on. Frogmind, no anxieties. I actually find such people difficult to be with, difficult to relate to. It’s like there’s something missing, something essentially human. In my world, anxiety is the essence of what it means to be human. We are meant to have sleepless nights, to cry, to get angry, to shiver with fear and also with joy.

I think Shakespeare said: “Nothing in life is bad or good, but thinking makes it so”. Undoubtedly that’s true, but without that thinking we might miss out on life’s mystery.

So I’m attached to my anxieties. I want to feel my fears and frustrations and joys and excitements and everything in between. I actually want to wrestle with my worries every day (well maybe not every day, it would be nice to have Sundays off, maybe).

But I do want to wrestle with them. I want to be equal to them, I don’t want them to conquer me, but equally, I do not want to remove them from the arena.

I’m glad I’m not a frog, and I’m glad you’re not either.


When Death Enters the Room Everything Changes

grim reaper

A quick dash to Holland

Musings on Death and big questions

I flew to Holland about 8 days ago. Family affairs… aging single mother… I needed to be there.

grim reaper I flew to Holland about 8 days ago. Family affairs… Ageing single mother… I needed to be there.

I hadn’t planned to go to Holland this time, I am actually booked to spend 5 weeks with family from Christmas but my mother who is 88 is going through a pretty tough time at the moment.

She is most likely in the last year of her life and possibly the last months. Growing old sucks… in case anyone was wondering, it’s not fun.

Death makes a change…

Personally I think I am reasonably calm about dying (at the very least it’s something new, and as they say, a change is as good as a holiday), but the process of becoming more and more decrepit, becoming dependent on the goodness of others and slowly losing all capacity for making your own decisions about your own life… that scares the bejeesus out of me.
I’ve thought that before, but it’s well and truly confirmed for me again being in Holland with my mother.

But it’s also a really interesting time for me. My mother and I have struggled with each other in some form for most of my life. We’re very close, but maybe we have always been too close. An older brother of mine, who died a couple of years ago used to say: “There’s a good reason you moved to the other side of the earth” … and it’s true, always when I go and see my mother or stay with her when I am in Holland, it’s great to see her… for about the first 2 hrs and then I start to climb the walls. I’m normally a relatively stable and fairly well adjusted human bean (remember Roald Dahl?)… But after more than 2 hrs with my mother, I turn into some weird kind of Jekyll and Hyde monster…

It’s different this time

This time is different though, surpisingly.
My mother is in such a difficult final stage of life that it seems that she is entirely focused on herself and hasn’t got the wherewithal to look at me and push some of my most exposed buttons. Well either that or I have recently reincarnated as the Dalai Lama and my buttons have all suddenly fallen off… It would be nice if they were, but I doubt it.

But It is fascinating this whole process of dying, I had a therapist some years ago who I saw regularly for a long time and I remember her saying: “Everything changes when Death is in the room”… and she’s right. Death is clearly in the room now… it might be a few months or it might be today, but my mother will die and there is nothing anyone can do about that, and everything has changed.

We all suddenly feel helpless, we lose a sense of control over our lives, my Jekyll and Hyde monster seems to keep it’s head down… It looks as if I’m ok with just being with her, people behave differently everywhere. Some people stand up and get involved, others hide, I’m interested to see how I will be changed by the process over the coming months. At this point I don’t feel sad so much, hard to know what I’m really feeling… I’m starting to stress about the funeral, and the fact that it will likely be expected of me that I do a Eulogy (I am clearly and sometimes frustratingly a son of my mother… all that worrying!)

The cliches of dying

The other thing I find fascinating and also frustrating is that we have no language to really express our feelings around the process of dying. We don’t seem to be able to get past the well-worn clichés and platitudes: “Well we all have to die one day”… “She’s had a good innings”… “All you can do is accept”… All the statements we make around dying are so meaningless. Saying them doesn’t make anyone happier or feel better. But what do you say to someone who’s definitely dying? Or to someone whose nearest and dearest are dying? Few people are even able to use the word dying. We talk about people passing on, as if there is something nice and gentle about dying.
Let me assure you… there isn’t… more often than not it causes intense pain, intense fear, intense discomfort and intense sadness. Nothing nice and gentle about it. I love the line from Dylan Thomas (and I’m hopeless about quoting poetry): ‘Rage, Rage against the dying of the light.’

Years of preparation

My mother has worked at preparing herself death for a long time, many years, and she had thought (naively) that she was as well prepared for it as anyone could be. Years of studying eastern and western philosophies and religions, and she had even created her own way of talking about the process, she referred to it as “removing that last coat”. Now that Death is pulling at the sleeves, she struggles against it, she panics, she is extremely scared and anxious. She’s also feeling quite disappointed that all those years of preparation seems to count for so little right now, but more than anything she hates that she’s not in control anymore.

I am really happy I made the snap decision to come over now and not let it wait until Christmas.
I had a realisation 2 weeks ago while on a Skype call to my younger brother… I was actually trying to give him some advice about this whole situation… He was struggling to decide how much support he could afford and wanted to give my mother at this at this time, and how to balance his own, his family’s and his business needs against those of being a dutiful and loving son.

A once in a lifetime experience

I said: ”Well you know I think that the only thing that matters is that how you yourself will feel, looking back on this time a few years later. We only get given one opportunity in our lives to be part of the death of our mother… it’s a once in a lifetime experience… All that matters is that you do what you need to do so that you give yourself the best chance to look back on this time in a few years and feel comfortable, proud, calm, ‘right’ about how you balanced those different needs.”
And as I was saying this to my brother, I suddenly thought…”wow, actually that means I ought to jump on a plane myself next week”.

And so, right now, I feel good about myself. I’ve been able to give her some attention and a sense that I care about her, I’ve been able to lighten a bit of the load on the people round her for a few days at least, I’ve been able to make a few arrangements that will hopefully make things a little easier. I am forever grateful that my brother suggested I rent my own apartment while I was here instead of staying with her… The Jekyll and Hyde monster might not have been so quite otherwise.

Business class

Tomorrow I’m flying back to Australia again. I’ve just played celebrity son for a week and then the weight will be back on the shoulders of my younger brother and my mother’s bossom friend.
I do think I’ve deserved a business class upgrade on my flights home, don’t you?…
Anyone at Singapore Airlines listening?… Yoohoo!

Image credit Monty Python, The Meaning of Life

Happiness, Positive Thinking and Acceptance

enough

Let’s all go out and find some Happiness

Happiness: Positive thinking and other nonsense

How would it be if I told you that a lot of what you believe will make you happy in life, actually does the opposite?

keep calmHave a look at the following statements:

  • Do what you love and the money will follow.
  • The only things that hold you back are your beliefs
  • Positive thinking is easy.
  • Focus on the negative and that’s what you’ll get.
  • Your self-talk creates your success.
  • Your thoughts determine your outcomes
  • Happiness is a choice (so is unhappiness)
  • What goes round comes round
  • We only use 10% of our brains. (Trust your intuition to know what to do for success)
  • Success (wealth, happiness, love) isn’t a finite resource; everyone can have it.

If you focus on those statements every day, you will live a happy, fulfilled, rewarding life, right?

WRONG!

They’re all nonsense and harmful to your happiness.

The statements are myths and they set us up for feeling like failures.

The Happiness Myths

I will refer to them as the Happiness Myths from here.

The Happiness Myths have been popularised in books and seminars on ‘Positive Thinking’ and by movies such as ‘The Secret’.

I’m sad to say that I have done my share of perpetuating the Happiness Myths as well.

Goals at Harvard

harvard A classic example of one of the Happiness Myths is one that has been quoted as Gospel-truth for 40 years by anybody with a pulse in the personal development world. The myth is that people who set goals and write them down are much more likely to be successful in life than those who don’t, and that there was an important study done at Harvard University in the late fifties that unequivocally proved the Goal Myth.

The problem is: the study never took place.

Scarcity v Abundance

Another Happiness Myth that I adhered to enthusiastically as well for some time, is that what gets in the way of our success, wealth and happiness is our belief that there isn’t enough to go round for everyone. It’s called ‘The Scarcity Mindset’ and the myth is that we have to learn to embrace ‘The Abundance Mindset’ instead, if we want to live happy lives.

It is a nice myth, but sadly, no amount of Abundance Mindset thinking is going to change the circumstances of a starving farming family in The Horn of Africa.

In our turbulent lives, it is tempting to believe the various Happiness Myths. It would be so comforting to believe that if we simply set a goal, and change our self-talk, we will allow happiness and success into our lives. Who wouldn’t want to believe such dreams?

But they are dreams, and I believe it’s time for us to wake up. Belief in the ‘Happiness Myths’ actually sets us up for feeling deeply unhappy.

Making sense of our lives

Being happy in life has a lot to do with how we make sense of our lives. People who are generally happy tend to explain bad outcomes in life as results of their actions (I have done something bad); as opposed to people who tend to explain the same outcomes as a personal failure (I am bad).

This is how it works: If you decide that you have done something wrong, (‘I have to admit that I didn’t handle that argument with my wife very well’) then you are generally able to manage your diappointment, because you can decide to do better next time (‘Next time I am simply going to remind myself to take a deep breath and count to ten before…’). failure But if you believe that you personally are bad at something, it means you will always struggle to get a better outcome (‘Here we go again, I am just so bad at relationships’).

If you subscribe to the Happiness Myths, you will want to explain life as a result of your thinking, your attitude and your self-talk; If you are not successful in your business, the little voice on your shoulder will say: ‘See you don’t think right’.

  • If you are single, it’s because you are so negative.
  • If you are not as wealthy as you would like to be, it’s because you don’t want it badly enough.
  • If you didn’t win the running race, it’s because you don’t believe in yourself enough.
  • If your children struggle with drugs it means you haven’t been a good enough parent.

In other words: When things don’t go the way you’d wish them to go, it is your failure as a person that is the cause of it. And that is the perfect breeding ground for unhappiness in life.

The Secret to Happiness

So if positive thinking in all its many guises doesn’t lead to happiness… what does?

The answer is this:

Being happy means “accepting what happens”… The search for happiness is a ‘Contradiction in terms’. There is no activity you can undertake that will lead to greater happiness. Happiness can only come from accepting what is.

Acceptance is the key.

I mentioned the ‘Scarcity Mindset’ and how we are told that embracing the ‘Abundance Mindset’ will turn our lives around. It won’t… what will turn your life around (and mine too) is to learn to accept ‘Sufficiency’.

enough When we learn to accept ‘Enough’ in all aspects of our lives; when we accept that we are good enough, clever enough, thin enough, beautiful enough, good enough parents, rich enough and we let go of all the striving to make us happier… That’s when happiness comes-a-calling.

So… What I’m going to do is sit under a tree this afternoon and accept that a bird might drop something on my head.

What are you ready to accept?

Oh and by the way… Please don’t accept everything I wrote 

About Roland Hanekroot and the Small Business Masterminds Webinars

Roland Hanekroot is the founder of New Perspectives Business Coaching and the author of “The Ten Truths books for business owners”

To support small business owners take the first steps to building a business that sustains them for years, Roland runs a series of regular webinars called The Small Business Masterminds Foundation webinars. There are three different Foundation webinars, on Time Management, The Purpose of Business and How to have more Fun in Business.

The foundation webinars are totally free and you can find out more and register for the next one here: http://smallbusinessmasterminds.com.au

 

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