Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Humour

humour haiku

I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person. Audrey Hepburn

When was the last time you laughed – I mean really laughed, until your ribcage and cheeks hurt?

To paraphrase the stickers/plaques found in many a workplace; it’s not essential to have a sense of humour to enjoy life… actually, it is. I agree with Roger Moore: If you don’t have humour, then you may as well nail the coffin lid down now.

I’ve always enjoyed a good chortle – who doesn’t? The day my son first smiled (properly) at me, I resolved to make him laugh every day, a custom I’ve more or less kept going for twenty-one years. It has made our relationship all the more special (even if he thinks I’m ever so slightly eccentric).

Laughter is the best medicine – I know that it helped me to recover from trauma. Looking for humour wherever I could find it, be that in books, on television, being daft with family and friends, I was able to bear the fallout that followed the most hideous ordeal of my life.

Even during the six weeks that I was a missing person, unsure whether or not I would ever see my family, or another day, again, there were the occasional lighter moments (relatively speaking), proving Jorge Garcia’s claim that: Mixing humour and harsh reality is a very human behaviour, it’s the way people stay sane in their daily lives. Or does it exemplify a line from Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch: We who think we’re about to die will laugh at anything?

It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that a number of health benefits are associated with having a good laugh:

  • Physical: boosting your immune system; decreasing stress hormones; reducing pain; relaxing muscles; staving off heart disease.
  • Mental: relieving anxiety and fear; reducing stress; improving resilience; lightening mood; cultivating vitality.
  • Social: making us more attractive; helping to dissolve conflict; improving relationships; supporting teamwork and group bonding.

Looking back over my life, the people I recall with the most fondness are the ones who always brought a smile to my face.

The physical act of smiling, even when you haven’t got anything in particular to smile about, has the psychological effect of lifting your spirits – try it and see.

There was a verse in the window of the reception area of my son’s primary school which I’ve never forgotten:


I always smile back if someone smiles at me. Although I have to say that smiling isn’t as infectious as the verse insists; on a number of occasions I’ve smiled at strangers in the street and received a blank stare in response. Some people have no sense of humour! Or should that be some people have an ego problem? If you can’t laugh at yourself then your ego is more than likely a little over-sensitive, if not downright neurotic. The remedy for this is to undertake the work necessary to heal your psyche.

I don’t find the kind of humour that makes fun of people particularly amusing. To me that’s a sign of the comedian’s own ego problem; needing to get a laugh at someone’s expense. It can be cruel and it’s certainly unnecessary. A comic like Peter Kay is an example of an entertainer who is essentially, inherently, funny. His brilliant observations playfully highlight people’s idiosyncrasies, as well as the absurdities of life itself; there’s no attempt to humiliate anyone.

Being able to find the humour in situations helps you to keep a balanced perspective. I’m not sure I’d be where I am now if it weren’t for my sense of humour. Rufus Wainwright has said: There’s no life without humour. It can make the wonderful moments of life truly glorious, and it can make tragic moments bearable.

Can you see the funny side?

Essential Principles, Practices and panaceas, A – Z: Honesty

honesty haiku

You know, there’s nothing you can do about your public image. It is what it is. I just try to do things honestly. I guess honesty is what you would call subjective: if you feel good about what you’re doing, yourself, you figure you’re doing the right thing. Christopher Walken

Are you unapologetically, unashamedly yourself 100% of the time? Is it even necessary?

We all play different roles, wearing individual masks to suit each one – parent, sibling, colleague, friend etc. These masks collectively add up to the persona we present to the world.

If appropriately developed, our persona protects us and helps us to be effective in the various situations we find ourselves in. Problems arise, however, when we become over-identified with an aspect of our persona, for example feeling a need to be the perfect child and conform to unrealistic expectations in order to win the approval of our parents.

Parents who don’t validate their children for who they are stifle their child’s capacity for spontaneous expression. At worst, the defensive wall built by the child to feel safe can result in a personality disorder. At the very least, the child hides their real self within a protective shield of denial. If you swathe yourself too much in denial you run the risk of losing all sense of your real self.

How many ‘adults’ today, I wonder, are rejected children in grown-up’s bodies, afraid to own their feelings and intuitions, inhabiting illusory existences that leave them feeling empty and purposeless? I’ve been that person, and I know of others still imprisoned in this way. Can you honestly say that this state of being doesn’t ring remotely true for you?

We shroud ourselves in denial to make our reality more bearable, using it as a coping strategy. But denial only masks the truth: if I say X is true, then I don’t have to face up to Y. Y, however, still exists, no matter how much I pretend it doesn’t.

Being in denial doesn’t only shackle you; it affects the way you are with people. A friend of mine recently ended a relationship with a man who was blind to the reality of their situation. For months they had been sniping at each other, each trying to get one over on the other. When she finally decided to confront the problem, he point blank refused to acknowledge that there was anything wrong. My friend tried hard to communicate honestly with her ex but he insisted that their relationship was fine, when the actions of both of them so clearly said otherwise.

What are people so afraid of when it comes to acknowledging truth/reality? That they won’t be able to cope with it? For me, remaining in ignorance is a far worse fate. If you can’t be honest, you’re living as a false self; this makes your life an ego-trip to hell. Dishonesty and denial are ultimately life-denying.

Deciding to undertake a fearlessly honest evaluation of your past helps you to make peace with it and clear any unfinished business that is holding you back. Depending on what is lurking back there, this is best approached with professional help.

Then discover and act on your passions – even if they don’t conform to what your family and friends are used to seeing from you. Why smother your essence to fit in, especially if toeing the line doesn’t bring you contentment? Prove to yourself Danielle Pierre’s assertion that: The need to prove who you are will vanish once you know who you are.

Cultivating honesty within yourself, knowing who you are and what you want, develops your character and improves your life.

Honesty and integrity are absolutely essential for success in life – all areas of life. The really good news is that anyone can develop both honesty and integrity. Zig Ziglar

Honestly? You owe it to yourself.

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Forgiveness

forgiveness haiku

To err is human, to forgive, divine. Alexander Pope

People who hold bitterness towards those who have wronged them are hurting no-one but themselves. Someone clinging to self-righteous anger, for example, isn’t harming the person towards whom that anger is directed. The rage is contained within the person who won’t forgive (it isn’t can’t – forgiveness can be incredibly difficult but it’s always an option); those toxic emotions are circulating in the body and psyche of the injured party.

It’s the wounded/fragile ego that won’t forgive; it distorts your perceptions, making you think that holding on to a grudge is somehow beneficial for you. It isn’t – it victimises you. Forgiveness frees you from victimisation and reconnects you with your essence. It’s as simple as changing your mind – which isn’t to say that it’s easy.

Some people’s behaviour is inexcusable – but you are in charge of your response to that person’s actions, no matter how appalling they are. I’d hazard a guess that anyone who sets out to deliberately harm someone else has to be suffering inside, either through unhappiness or even mental illness. If you’re at peace within yourself then you feel no need to lash out at another person.

Can you forgive someone for being despairing, or ill? Or does holding a grudge make you feel better?

Forgiveness fosters resilience. It’s easier to bounce back if you haven’t been punctured by wounds that you received from what amount to scared, sad, unhappy or poorly people.

Are you empowered enough to rise above another’s failings? Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest role models for forgiveness I can think of; through forgiveness, he was able to develop compassion towards his oppressors. This made it possible for him to rid his country of the evil of apartheid and bring democracy to all South Africans.

In the words of the distinguished gentleman himself:

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison… Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.

It is vital, too, to forgive yourself for the mistakes you make. Are we hard on others, because we deem ourselves unforgivable? Condemning others is more often than not a projection of the judgement we feel we deserve. It stands to reason, then, that if we can forgive a wrongdoer it will be easier to forgive ourselves; tolerating shortcomings in others makes it easier to tolerate them in ourselves.

It comes back to David Richo’s five ‘givens’ of existence – this is how life is so it’s in your interest to let go of resentment and anger when things don’t go your way, or when people don’t behave how you would like them to. The choice is yours.

One way to practice forgiveness is to write a list of the names of people who you feel have wronged you. (If it’s a long list then it might be an idea to select a few people at a time, starting with the least destructive transgressors) Beside each name, write in as much detail as you can what they did, describing how it made you feel. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of your expression – if someone really hurt you, fully sense that vulnerability.

Once you have vented all of your feelings, take your list outside and set light to it, saying as you do so, ‘I release all of the pain you have ever caused me; I am no longer willing to be held captive by your heartless behaviour’ (or feel free to devise your own statement, using whatever language helps you to let that s*&% go!).

Then it’s time to absolve yourself, this time listing the names of those you feel you have mistreated, apologising and asking for their forgiveness. When you burn this list, say words to the effect of, ‘I forgive myself for any sorrow/trouble I caused’.

You can repeat the exercise as many times as it takes for you to be able to wholeheartedly forgive.

Is it possible that embodying forgiveness can transform our world? Gordon B. Hinckley seems to think so:

The willingness to forgive is a sign of spiritual and emotional maturity. It is one of the great virtues to which we all should aspire. Imagine a world filled with individuals willing both to apologise and to accept an apology. Is there any problem that could not be solved among people who possessed the humility and largeness of spirit and soul to do either – or both – when needed?

Gandhi said that the weak struggle to forgive, that forgiveness is a trait of the strong. What’s your preference?

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Evolution

evolution haiku

Without Psychological Evolution there cannot be any form of revolution. The self is constantly changing. Be involved, be evolved, be revolutionised as lucent and fresh as the new wave hitting at the shore. Become the Sea of Changes. It starts from within. Grigoris Deoudis

Evolution is a processthe origin of the word  process being: fact of being carried on, a journey, continuation, development…, a going forward, advance, progress, continuous series of actions meant to accomplish some result. What evolution is not is an end result.

Bill Hicks got it right when he said:

Folks, it’s time to evolve. That’s why we’re troubled. You know why our institutions are failing us, the church, the state, everything’s failing? It’s because, um – they’re no longer relevant. We’re supposed to keep evolving. Evolution did not end with us growing opposable thumbs. You do know that, right

To evolve is to develop gradually by natural process (Oxford English Dictionary); psychological evolution is, for me, about ascending Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and moving towards self-actualisation.

Psychological evolution is the principle underpinning Essential Coaching Inc. I’m passionate about personal transformation and fulfilment of potential. What are we here for if not to grow, blossom and be all that we can be?

A fundamental psychological transformation concerns healing and integrating the neurotic/unhealthy/wounded ego and befriending our shadow – which contains untapped potential, not just those aspects of ourselves that we do not care to admit to, much less accept.

Think about a behaviour or character trait in someone that irritates you; then consider how you might also possess that same characteristic. If the thought makes you bristle, there’s a good chance that trait is lurking in your shadow, clamouring to be recognised.

Perfectionism is a sure sign that the dark side of your shadow has the upper hand. I know people who become angry at the slightest criticism; nobody likes to think that they have any faults, but if you find yourself constantly on the defensive then perhaps it’s time to look inside to see what needs to be reconciled.

I don’t see how anyone can ever be truly happy unless they are prepared to undertake this work. If there are aspects of yourself that you disown, then you are denying your own humanity. Think about that.

What stands in the way for many of us is shame – that it’s not okay to be human, that is, to be fallible. I believe that until sufficient numbers of people address this problem, we will keep failing, to the detriment of some more than others.

Idris Shah claimed that we all have limitless potential for both self-development and self-destruction – our rejected shadows hold us back, drag us down, whether or not we realise it. In this way we fit Idris Shah’s description of a human being who is clinically alive and yet, despite all appearances, spiritually dead.

It takes courage to look unflinchingly into your psyche, to concede that within you is a range of human attributes, from the worst to the best. That is what living from your essence entails – fully immersing yourself in the human experience and condition.

Acknowledging that you’re imperfect doesn’t mean that you have to act in accordance with what you perceive as your undesirable traits.

A wise teacher of mine once said that nobody is all good, and nobody is all bad; there’s always room for improvement, which is why I’ll leave you to ponder Jonas Salk’s words:

When things get bad enough, then something happens to correct the course. And it’s for that reason that I speak about evolution as an error-making and an error-correcting process. And if we can be ever so much better – ever so much slightly better – at error correcting than at error making, then we’ll make it.

Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, A – Z: Compassion

compassion haiku

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These… are your greatest treasures. Lao Tzu

Compassion is, indeed, a treasure and a great number of people practice it; but too few, as far as I’m concerned. What would happen, I wonder, if the majority of the seven billion human beings who inhabit this planet were truly compassionate? Is it possible that much of the unnecessary suffering that exists could be eradicated? So much of the horror our fellow human beings endure is as a result of the actions of other humans, so yes, there is plenty that could be done to make the world a better place for many.

Compassion, as with many Essential Principles, Practices and Panaceas, starts with the self – if you haven’t got self-compassion then how can you have genuine compassion for others? As Gautama Buddha said, If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.

To practice essential compassion, you have to embody the behaviour, not simply hold it as an ideal in your head.

Related to self-acceptance, compassion for yourself can only be found in acknowledgement of and self-forgiveness for the mistakes you have made. It is easier to do this if you are prepared to learn the lessons those mistakes would teach you, in the process aiding the transformation of your neurotic/wounded/inflated ego.

There’s a big difference between self-acceptance or self-compassion, say, and self-absorption. Sometimes it may be necessary to become a little self-absorbed in order to clear out the psychological junk that’s blocking you from living your essential life, and that’s okay; have compassion for yourself while you do this!

To heal from PTSD I had to cultivate compassion for myself; trust me, it was tough. Self-compassion requires vulnerability, and when you’re traumatised, constantly on edge and fearful, allowing yourself to become even the tiniest bit vulnerable takes enormous strength and courage. I was fortunate to have an amazing therapist who showed immense compassion towards me and helped me to open my heart to release the pain I’d resisted admitting to.

Telling Sarah about my experience visibly upset her; her response to my story showed me that it was okay to be angry, to grieve the abuse and torment I’d endured, and to reframe my perception of my experience. Without the process Sarah led me, oh so gently, through, I’d still be in a very sorry state, caught up in a vicious, ceaseless cycle of self-recrimination and guilt.

Conditioning has a lot to do with whether or not you can be compassionate with yourself; my early role models, the females in my family, were, of course, products of their upbringing. I know that both my paternal and maternal grandmothers endured tough times – they lived through a World War, after all – and this undoubtedly hardened their edges. That, coupled with Great British Stoicism, otherwise known as Bottling Everything Up, meant that my own mum was brought up with a need to protect her as-fine-as-bone-china ego in a vault made of carbon steel alloy.

My grandmothers and mum love(d) me; that is unquestionable. Their love, however, was shot through with fear; this manifested, in part, in a desperate need to keep up appearances. Anything that threatened the illusion of the perfect family they wanted the world to see also threatened their sense of identity. This way of being is not compatible with heartfelt compassion and their interactions with their family always lacked any deep nurturing.

I know my family isn’t the only one that operates in this way; I’ve met many women who have experienced domestic abuse and I’ve yet to encounter one who doesn’t have a controlling (fearful) mum. When you consider the impact all of this collective fear has in the wider world, doesn’t it make sense to set an intention to bring more compassion into your life?

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. Dalai Lama

That’s an arresting statement by the Dalai Lama; I think he has a point.