Arriving in the Room Guided Meditation
A five-minute guided meditation to help you come into the present moment.
You can find instructions for starting a mindfulness meditation practice here.
Tools of the Trade
Field Notes from A Change and Transition Strategist
Ron Ames: Filmmaker/Change and Transition Strategist
Auckland, New Zealand 10/15/2020
I have always been fascinated by tools, their gleaming physical quality, the beauty of a purpose-built design. My love of tools, technology, and the nature of how things interconnect is my life’s work. In the film business, I build workflows and pipelines to manifest creative storytelling. In my role as a Certified Change and Transition Strategist, I use The Moffitt Method to help individuals and groups discover perspectives and means to skillfully and intentionally manage change and transition in the unfolding of their lives.
Like my well-worn physical tools that I use to build things, and my digital tools that I use to create fantastical film images, the tools that I employ as a Change and Transition Strategist are dependable, elegant and powerful. Some are simple and easily utilized and some are more complex. Like all works of craft, the use of the tools for change must be engaged in a wise way with skill and a sensitive touch. That is the art of Change and Transition Strategy.
Cartologists use compasses, angles and fine pens to describe the world they see. Navigators use chronographs and sextants to find their place in time and space. The navigation tools used by Change and Transition Strategists help us find where we are in our current change and on our life path.
We start right where we are, right here, right now. We look for the question. We learn to love the question and not concern ourselves with an answer. The question rebounds and echoes around the room. It takes patience and courage to stay with the question.
Armed with a question, we use a series of clear analytics to discover where we are in our adult development. What are our goals and values? Are we fulfilled? What are our unmet needs and longings? The Moffitt Method’s analytic tools have been built with wisdom and have been tested and proven for clarity and efficacy. The process helps lead us to clear direction.
We delve into the shadow side of our lives, leaving no part out. We leave behind “shoulds” and “coulds” and instead we look for real possibility, finding the path to get from here to there. All costs are weighed so decisions and actions can be taken.
Two unique developments of The Moffitt Method are the map of The Journey through Change and The Path to Well Being. These maps allow us to know exactly where we are on the great adventure of our lives. Knowing where we are and what to expect provides great comfort and helps us to move forward with surety, even in difficult circumstances.
Some of the other tools we enlist are knowing the difference between ambivalence and ambiguity. Both of these factors can lead to inaction and missing opportunity. Change and Transition Strategists guide individuals and companies in coming to terms with ambivalence and ambiguity and to boldly make decisive, creative decisions.
In the chaos of both personal and creative endeavors, a simple but powerful tool is the pause. In moments of emotion, conflict, confusion, great excitement, joy or a creative breakthrough, we pause, breathe and reflect. We allow insight to arise to inform a skillful response. This tool, well-practiced has personally helped me on numerous occasions and kept me from adverse consequences.
As so many of the people who have availed themselves of sessions with a Change and Transition Strategist will tell you, these methods and tools really work. The collaboration between client and Strategist creates possibilities for great intentional change and helps us face change that arises from unexpected causes and conditions.
I bear witness to the importance of living life intentionally. My own life changes and transitions are rich and exciting. When anxiety and insecurity arise, I have strategies and tools to effect positive change. I encourage you to attend a Change and Transition Workshop or work with a Strategist. Learn that change can be met with strength and resilience. Find your own power to change. If you are in the midst of change and need guidance, work with a Change and Transition Strategist. You don’t need to face change alone and unprepared.
Happiness Here and Now: A Personal Reflection Exercise
1. Notice what your mind does when something good is happening to you. Is it able to stay fully present and really receive the joy of it? Or do you start thinking about how the experience could be even better or how you could have more of the source of your happiness? Or do you start thinking about something else that’s unpleasant? When you catch your mind acting in this manner, go back to experiencing the happiness with gratitude.
2. Begin to familiarize yourself with each of the three kinds of happiness that are discussed in the article “Three Kinds of Happiness.” Can you find examples both past and present of each kind of happiness in your own life? Be particularly interested in distinguishing between happiness based on conditions and happiness that comes from being in a good mood.
3. Observe those moments in your life when happiness is replaced by suffering. They may be small moments of happiness, such as finding a parking space or enjoying a good meal, or something greater. But notice that when your happiness is based on conditions it always disappears or changes. Next observe that at times your happiness is so buoyant it is not affected by unpleasant conditions that arise. Begin to observe that these states of mind also don’t last. Be interested in what causes them to disappear.
4. You are most likely able to get a foretaste of absolute happiness during meditation practice or immediately afterward. Your mind will be characterized by stillness and spaciousness in which painful body sensations or thoughts concerning difficult situations in your life may arise, yet they don’t disturb your mind. Although this foretaste may be brief, notice that your mind doesn’t object to how life is in such moments.
5. Begin to place more attention on those times when you’re happy, and deliberately pay less attention to those times when you’re discontent. Notice if you’re more compassionate toward others when you’re happy and if your heart is more open such that you see more clearly what is suffering and what is not.
Three Kinds of Happiness
To practice being mindful of happiness and courageously work with it, you need to develop clarity about the various kinds of happiness that you feel. In my experience, there are three kinds of happiness: the happiness that arises when conditions in your life are what you desire them to be; the well-being that comes when your mind is joyful and at ease, regardless of the conditions of your life in that moment; and the unbounded joy you feel when your mind has reached final liberation or cessation of all clinging.
It is easy to recognize the first kind of happiness; you know full well how much you like it when conditions in your life are just as you wish them to be. What you may not do so well, however, is know how to use your happiness based on conditions to find genuine freedom. The second kind of happiness is experienced on those occasions when you are temporarily in such a good mood, or so centered, or so quiet, or so appreciative that when you encounter an unpleasant person at work or a frustrating situation at home, you aren’t overwhelmed. Life isn’t the way you would prefer it to be, but you feel just fine right now and you are not being defined by unpleasant conditions. You have had many such moments in your life, although you may not have noticed them and therefore never had the chance to cultivate them. I characterize this second kind of happiness as being centered in a state of mind that is happy in order to distinguish it from happiness that is dependent on conditions being just as you want them to be. It is obvious that your mind is clearer, your heart is more open, and you have more freedom in the second kind of happiness than in the first kind, which is condition based. Yet, even the second kind is nowhere near the level of attainment of the third kind of happiness, the well-being of full realization.
Notice that when you are happy because the conditions of your life are pleasant (the first kind of happiness), your well-being is dependent on conditions, and therefore ultimately is not reliable or lasting. As the Buddha taught, you cannot control conditions or prevent happiness from being replaced by suffering. Still, who isn’t happy to be healthy, or safe, or loved, and so forth? By contrast, when you are temporarily centered in well-being that is not dependent on conditions being right (the second kind of happiness), your happiness is dependent on your state of mind. But this second kind of happiness is also unreliable, just as the Buddha said. Yet it too can be received and enjoyed and teach you the dharma. The well-being that arises when you begin going through the various stages of nibbana (the third kind of happiness) is not subject to conditions or to the state of your mind. You can be having a lousy time and your mind not be in an exalted state, yet the mind is unruffled. This is a mind that is liberated. There is nothing temporary about it. This third kind of well-being is independent of any external or internal factors.
Do you see the difference between the first two kinds of happiness, which are temporary and dependent, and the third kind, which is lasting and non-dependent? By cultivating awareness of the limitations of condition-dependent happiness, you can break your attachment to getting conditions just right, and mind-state-dependent happiness will start to arise spontaneously.
I have seen many students make a significant shift in their sense of well-being in just a year or two of practicing awareness of the kinds of happiness; you can too. You may have heard of behavioral studies that show people are born with a certain predisposition to happiness and that they tend to consistently report experiencing their innate level of happiness regardless of their circumstances. Mindfulness and compassion practice allow you to affect this kind of core programming and, in my experience, this is particularly true in working with happiness.
How Suffering Got a Bad Name
In my role as a Buddhist meditation teacher, I’ve observed a phenomenon that I call the “stigma of suffering syndrome” among many beginning students. They are uneasy with the fact that their lives contain suffering; therefore, they are ineffective in coping with whatever difficulties and disappointments arise. For such individuals to admit to suffering would mean defeat, humiliation, or shame because they did not measure up to our culture’s view that winners don’t suffer. Their ineffectiveness manifests as passivity, helplessness, guilt, or self-hatred. I’ve repeatedly witnessed people respond unskillfully to stressful situations at work, in their home life, and even in the political arena all because of a fundamental misperception of what suffering really means, which is understandable.
Our culture’s debasement of suffering represents a major loss to us. It denies the validity of many of the significant emotional events in our lives. It narrows life such that we are constantly reacting to a set of questions: How do I get and keep what’s pleasant and avoid or get rid of that which is unpleasant? Am I winning or losing? Am I being praised or blamed?
It wasn’t always like this in Western culture. The Greek philosophers and playwrights understood that suffering is ennobling. In fact, they placed it in high esteem, giving it context in their art and mythology. Just think of Homer’s Odyssey and Odysseus’s epic struggle to return home, in which his suffering is portrayed as noble, even glorious. For hundreds of years, the Western mind took comfort in this noble view of suffering, which gave it meaning and did not equate it with failure.
Since all of us experience suffering, how has it become stigmatized? First of all, our culture evolved into one that is pleasure-based and ego-identified, and that emphasizes immediate gratification. It also began to define success as your ability to control outcomes. Today, we teach our children that if you are an effective person, you can control your life. You can get and do what you want. If you do, you win in life. This modern image portrays “winners” as people who have it all together. You are not supposed to have internal conflicts, stress, or anxiety—that means you are incompetent. You’re a loser.
Furthermore, our culture teaches you to constantly judge yourself based on superficial measures: How much money you make, the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the level of recognition and reward you attain at school and at work, how beautiful you are. But this perspective flattens life. It denies the possibility of finding a deeper meaning to your experience. If you measure your self-worth and effectiveness according to these superficial cultural standards, then each time you suffer you are forced to interpret suffering as humiliation. Why would you choose to acknowledge suffering if it only stands for failure?
Suffering is derived from the Latin word ferre, which means “to bear” or “to carry.” Helen Luke, the late Jungian analyst and classics scholar, likens the true meaning of conscious human suffering to a wagon bearing a load. She contrasts this definition of suffering with grief, from the Latin word gravare, which refers to “the sense of being pressed down,” and affliction, from the Latin word fligere, which means, “to be struck down, as by a blow.” When you deny or resist the experience of your own suffering, you are unwilling to consciously bear it. It is this resistance to accepting your life just as it is that makes suffering ignoble, despicable, and shameful.
The Buddha understood the ennobling power of being able to bear your suffering over 2,500 years ago. In his very first (and most well-known) instruction—the Four Noble Truths—the Buddha taught that it is not your suffering but rather your reaction to it that is crippling. But if you can learn to separate your resistance to suffering from the actual pain and loss in your life, an incredible transformation takes place. You are able to meet your suffering as though you were a wagon receiving the load being placed on it. Paradoxically, the effect is that your load is lightened. You are no longer expending energy denying your suffering, therefore you have the willpower to respond skillfully to your life’s circumstances. Moreover, in surrendering to the ups and downs of your life, you discover the truth of your inner dignity.
Don’t Blame the Messenger!
In most difficult situations in life, there is almost always a message to be discovered about something you need to learn or a habit you need to abandon. A difficult situation may signal unskillful behavior, weak judgment, poor boundaries, sloppy thinking, inadequate planning, or inferior communication or listening skills on your part. Understanding the message redeems the situation from simply being a bad experience. However, we sometimes receive our most important messages from hurtful messengers and the messages are hidden in upsetting forms of communication. Then it becomes emotionally difficult to separate the message from the messenger, and the message from the form it takes.
For example, imagine you’ve been fired from your job due to what management calls a “bad attitude.” Maybe you believe you are the only person in the organization that fights for what is right. While that might be true, you may have created a lot of unnecessary suffering by being divisive and undermining morale. In this situation, the form of the message is getting fired, the messenger is your boss, and the real message is that you have not learned to stay mindful of your inner experience when you are triggered by external factors at work. However, it is possible to train yourself through mindfulness to “remember” that you are more interested in receiving the message than giving into the emotional resistance that arises.
How to Separate the Message from the Messenger and the Form of the Message:
1. Stay with the experience without getting lost in judgments or comparisons, or getting caught up in endless “what if” mind games. Practicing compassion and loving-kindness toward yourself is extremely useful in helping you stay with the unpleasant experience.
2. Identify the form of the message. So often we are simply overwhelmed by the form the message takes—such as being left by a spouse, being overlooked for a promotion, being severely criticized, or being taken advantage of in some fashion—and we fail to identify the message.
3. Re-frame the messenger. Usually, it is clear who the messenger is—an unhappy spouse, a friend who won’t return your calls, or a sibling who always takes advantage of you. However, it is critical that you re-frame that person as the messenger rather than getting lost in their shortcomings or your history with them.
4. Listen to the messenger, but never give away your authority. You’re being given a message from life—only you can receive the message and know what it means. Sometimes you have to wait for your emotions to settle before you can receive the message. Also, it’s not unusual for there to be more than one message. The message may reflect a pattern of behavior or a series of shortcomings in you that causes similar problems to occur repeatedly.
5. Cultivate a true desire to know and grow in wisdom. Receive the message with humility, knowing that you do not know everything about yourself, and accept your own imperfection.
6. Ask a friend, a psychotherapist, or coach to help you identify the message. Before you take any feedback, tell that person what you think the message is after telling them the story. Often just saying it out loud to someone else helps clarify the message.
7. And be patient. In my own life, I can recall situations where I was quick to get the message and how empowering that was, even though I was feeling bad. I also recall other situations where it was months—even years—before I could comprehend the message.
For Your Reflection:
1. Think of a current of past difficult situation in your life. Try to separate the message from the messenger, and the message from the form the message takes.
2. What do you think you need to learn or abandon or understand?
3. Do you find yourself in similar difficult situations time and again? Is there a message you are not receiving from these experiences?
For Further Study:
Separating the Message from the Messenger and the Form of the Message
A talk by Phillip Moffitt.
For further study, read Phillip Moffitt’s article on this topic “Don’t Blame the Messenger.”
Self-Soothing Reflection for Difficult Times
Go someplace quiet, where you won’t be interrupted, and sit comfortably.
Begin by acknowledging what’s true. Notice the unpleasant sensations and feelings that are present in your body and mind.
State to yourself, out loud if you can, “This difficulty feels like this.” For instance, “Having a broken heart feels like this.” Or, “Disappointment feels like this.”
Recognize that in this moment you are suffering and, as best as you are able, have compassion for your suffering.
Notice if you are adding to your suffering by criticizing or judging yourself or making up a story about what’s happening.
To calm yourself, take a few moments to focus your attention on your breath or one of your senses, such as hearing or seeing, or a part of your body that feels comfortable.
Observe that you are not just this difficulty and that you have other thoughts and bodily sensations. If it helps to calm you, name these thoughts and bodily sensations.
Now notice that these thoughts and bodily sensations are always changing. Seeing that this is true, this feeling of difficulty must also be subject to change and not permanent.
Ask yourself, “Is there something I need to do and can do right now about this difficulty?” If there is, focus on your breath for a few moments and then get up and do it. If there’s nothing to be done or you don’t know what to do, then just sit there being kind to yourself.
Remind yourself that you can’t control all the conditions of your life, but you can choose how you respond to those conditions. Ask yourself, “How do I want to respond to this difficult situation?” Sometimes this question is best asked while taking a meditative walk.
You’ve now moved from your reactive, chaotic mind to being present and clear.
Self-Soothing during Difficult Times
As anyone who has ever studied with me will tell you, I emphasize how to apply mindfulness in daily life. Recently I have been focusing on how to use mindfulness to self-soothe during times of difficulty. We’ve all experienced how unsettling and uncertain life can be and how easily we can be knocked off center at any moment. When we’re not in balance, we can become defined by whatever’s happening and get caught in what I call “reactive mind.” But through the skillful application of mindfulness we can learn to self-soothe whenever life delivers us a blow and soon regain our balance. When we lack the ability to self-soothe, we resort to using less skillful strategies to deal with difficulty such as escaping into fantasy, or overindulging in drugs, alcohol, or food, which usually prolongs our suffering.
Self-soothing begins with softening into your experience and then applying mindfulness to recognize that “this moment is like this.” From within the spaciousness that this softening creates, you can start to investigate the experience and gain access to insight. Specifically, there are three phases to the self-soothing process:
Phase I: Re-establish your Equilibrium
Calm yourself using whatever strategy works best for you. Examples of how you might do this include focusing on your breath or your feet touching earth. One person I know holds one hand with the other and imagines that the universe is embracing her; another calms herself by looking up at the sky. Next, name what’s going on and acknowledge that you’re upset. Can you identify the aspect of yourself that is upset? Allow the part of you that knows you’re upset to comfort the part that’s upset with compassion and loving-kindness.
Phase II: Remember your Intentions
Once you’ve returned to equilibrium, reconnect with your intentions. As you begin to remember your intentions, you become less and less defined by the difficult experience. You have more clarity of mind; although it may not be clear to you what to do, you remember what you’re about. I call this “self-remembering.”
Phase III: Redirect your Attention
Lastly, as your clarity returns and you re-engage with life from your intentions, begin to redirect your attention. What dharma insights can you apply to this difficult situation? For instance, you might reflect on the impersonal nature of life. Although you are having a personal experience, it is just causes and conditions that are creating this experience. This too is going to change because everything changes. Life is hard; therefore, it’s not a mistake that your life is hard in this moment. This insight alone can be a source of great comfort.
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