Shedding the past to take on the future

Your past experiences are blinding you

How to take a step back and view the world without bias or judgement

Want more articles like this as soon as they’re published? Sign up for the Crew newsletter here.

There’s a lot of articles out there telling you how to be the best person you can be: the most productive, the most creative, the best listener, the smartest self-marketer.

It’s natural.

We all want to be the best we can and will do anything to be that 1 or 2% better than the competition.

We read and experiment and try to learn from the past.

There’s so much time spent worrying about those few extra percent that it blinds us from seeing the potential for bigger change.

So here’s a different idea.

Why not instead of trying to push that extra bit we tear it all down and start from scratch?

Why you should lose it all

I’m a firm believer that most of life’s great lessons can be learned from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

You may feel like you’re pretty free in your current situation but I think it’s fair to say we’re all a little bit trapped. Trapped not only by the financial and social burdens we put on ourselves, but by the mental walls and biases we unconsciously build up.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig describes ‘the old South Indian Monkey Trap‘  — a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake with some rice inside that can only be reached through a very small hole. When the monkey grabs the rice his clenched fist won’t fit back through the hole and he’s trapped — not by anything physical, but because he just won’t let go.

In our lives, we’re all guilty of holding onto the rice — whether it’s ideas, emotions or beliefs — even if we know it won’t benefit us. We feel trapped by our experiences when all we have to do is let go.

A more scientific name for this is the Einstellung effect  — the idea that preconceptions and past experiences can blind us, literally, to the point of not being able to see better options.

To prove the extent of the effect Austrian psychologist Merim Bilalic ran a series of experiments where she presented chess masters with boards arranged to offer them two paths to victory: a well-known five-move option, and a more obscure one, requiring only three moves.

Almost every single master went for the more well-known, but ultimately slower route to victory. As Bilalic puts it:

“Even these masters couldn’t see the best way to win because the one they knew so well colonised their mind.”

Experience can blind just as much as illuminate.

The hardest thing about all of this is that it’s almost nearly impossible to see. We create our worldview through our past experiences and hardwire our brains to assume that future events will mirror the past.

In this way our experiences can easily become blinders, blocking us from seeing the endless (and often better) options just out of sight.

So how can we train ourselves to see again?

Forget about your ego

It may be an unlikely place, but Buddhism offers some key insights into how to let go of the ‘self’ or the ego you’ve built up through years of experience.

A core principle of Buddhism is to let go of our desires and attachments to material things and unhealthy relationships (both work and personal). The problem is that we become addicted to these relationships out of fear of the emptiness that will replace them if we push them from our minds.

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar” Thich Nhat Hanh

But, like so many great authors have told us, that emptiness isn’t something to be afraid of, but rather an opportunity to face the world with fresh eyes and without the limitations of your past experiences.

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere. So just keep on rolling under the stars.” Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Leo Babuta’s Zen Habits blog offers some great advice on facing the emptiness and how to use it to your advantage. Check out this article on the Empty Container and this one on Letting Go to get you started.

Get rid of your judgments

When we create our unique worldview we fill it full of our likes, dislikes, opinions, morals and ethics and while these are important, they also are a huge part of what blinds us.

The way we unconsciously judge people before meeting them is the easiest way for us to reaffirm who we are instead of opening us up to new ideas. We draw from our past experiences and judge rather than allowing for the randomness and chaos of life.

It’s in this chaos where we become the most creative. As Maria Popova, the founder of BrainPickings.org, says, creativity is the ability to connect the unconnected.

Get rid of your judgements and let yourself be open to random ideas and connections.

Be a beginner again

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” Shunryu Suzuki

The zen principle of ‘Beginner’s mind’ talks about the advantages of experiencing life as a beginner again.

Think about if you’ve ever seen a toddler learn to walk: They stand, wobble and then fall time and time again but continue to get up with determination.

When you’re first learning a new skill you become absorbed in the basics. You experience each moment fully and live in a state of concentration and determination.

Once we become an expert in anything, we lose that ability to see so clearly what we are doing and go into a sort of mental autopilot.

Acting like a beginner means not throwing your experiences away and being naive, but rather looking at them as tools you can use when it’s to your advantage.

“Beginner’s Mind doesn’t mean negating experience; it means keeping an open mind on how to apply our experience to each new circumstance.” Mary Jaksch

Wander

Let your mind wander. Not just for an afternoon or a weekend, but for a week, or a month.

Mind wandering has been shown to not only help us plan for our own future, but also to boost creative problem solving by allowing ideas space to float freely and associate. It’s why so many solutions seem to ‘appear’ out of thin air (think Isaac Newton and the apple tree).

What you might ‘miss out on’ in the meantime will be more than made up for when you experiment and go down a different path.

Reflect on the hard stuff

Reflection is one of the most important tools we have for learning from our past, but it becomes even more powerful when we do it objectively.

Think of yourself as an outsider watching the actions and choices you made in the past. Why did you do that? What made you make the choices you did?

This can also have a powerful impact on our ability to learn new things. A Harvard study recently showed that those who take part in a dual-process of learning and ‘deliberately focusing on thinking about what one has been doing’ improved their score in both lab and real-world experiments by nearly 23% over those who don’t.

Reflect on your biases. Reflect on the things that hurt you and ask why. Don’t just reflect to say you did the right thing. Use reflection as a means to really dig deep and discover what unconsciously causes you to act the way you do.


If there’s one major lesson to take away from this it’s that our past experiences can color how we see the future and blind us from the multitude of opportunities out there.

The weight we give to our past might help us react quickly and make decisions, but it also can trap us into going around and around in the same circle.

Break the cycle. Step back and give yourself a chance to look at things objectively without biases, preconceptions or judgments.

When you stop defining your future by your past you’ll be amazed at what you see.


This post originally appeared on the Crew blog.

Want more articles like this as soon as they’re published? Sign up for the Crew newsletter here.

Image credit: Charles S., Made with Unsplash

Cultivating Love

Thank you to HippDippy66 for this resource.
Love and Compassion
from An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Methods for Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun
Reflection: Cultivating Love
To cultivate love, sit quietly with your eyes lowered or closed. Begin by breathing normally and naturally, observing your breath for a little while to calm your mind. When your mind is calm, imagine a replica of yourself sitting in front of you. Think about how you want happiness and not suffering. Reflect on what this happiness is in your own case. Contemplate its causes: making wise decisions, being generous, and so on. Then sincerely wish yourself to have this happiness and its causes. Imagine that you have them and feel safe, satisfied, and fulfilled.
Then contemplate spiritual happiness and its causes in detail. Wish yourself to have a sense of meaning and purpose in your life and to be able to fulfill these. Wish yourself to be free from disturbing emotions and to have love and compassion that extend equally to all beings. Feel fulfilled and joyful.
While you are doing this, if any thoughts of “I’m not worthy of being happy,” or, “I’m incapable of creating the causes for happiness,” arise, realize that these are illogical, self-centered thoughts. We all want and deserve happiness. We all have the ability to create the causes for it. As one of my (Chodron’s) teachers said, “If you have the potential to become a fully awakened human being—and we all do—then you also have the potential to create the causes for happiness.”
Then visualize a teacher or someone that you respect, and repeat the above steps of wishing this person happiness and its causes. Send these kind wishes out to that person and imagine that the person is filled with peace and joy as he or she receives them.
Follow that by thinking of a stranger sitting in front of you and repeat the steps.
When you have done this, think of someone you don’t get along with. Try to wish him well. Remember that the entire value or meaning of his life doesn’t lie in how he treated you for a comparatively short period of time and extend kind wishes to him. Imagine him being happy and at peace inside of himself. He would be more likeable than the disagreeable person you see him as now. Being happy, relaxed and fulfilled, he would also act differently. He would be able to express the kindness that is buried beneath the pain in his heart.
Finally, think of all living beings and contemplate the steps, imagining them all having happiness and its causes. Let your love arise and radiate to all of them. Be aware of how you feel when you are able to love everyone – to wish them to have happiness and its causes. Let your mind rest in that feeling.
In this practice and the next, if you get stuck extending positive emotions towards yourself, remember that, like all other beings, you want happiness, don’t want suffering and deserve kindness. After all, we are practicing extending love and compassion to all beings, not all minus ourselves.

  
from
An Open-Hearted Life: Transformative Methods for Compassionate Living from a Clinical Psychologist and a Buddhist Nun
by Russel Kolts & Thubten Chodron
published by Shambhala
An Open-Hearted Life is the U.S. edition of Living with an Open Heart: Cultivating Compassion in Everyday Life, published in UK by Constable & Robinson
Follow Sravasti Abbey on Twitter Follow Sravasti Abbey on FaceBook
Follow the Abbey on Twitter or Facebook

the fifth precept

by Hippydippy66

I have not blogged for a while because I have not felt inspired to do so. However, having attended a meeting with a group of inspirational people all on their own different sober journeys, I felt inspired to blog.

So I got to thinking about the link for me between drinking and following a spiritual path and I realised it was to do with boundaries.  When I was drinking any boundary I had set myself like only have one or two drinks went out of the window as soon as I had the said, two glasses. Boundaries about my safety like not travelling on the Tube late at night also would go out the window. Boundaries about not just jumping into bed with any old Tom, Dick or Harry also went out the window when the demon drink took hold.

I realise that I probably enjoyed drinking because boundaries were blurred and anything was possible which appealed to my rebellious spirit.

When we go out into the countryside we see boundaries. Fields for sheep and cows to graze surrounded by hedges, gates etc. This is for their own safety because without they would be probably wander onto a path and perhaps be run over by passing motorists. Equally, we humans need boundaries to keep us safe and indeed they do. Knowing when and where it is appropriate to “cross a line”.

I shared in the group yesterday that the reason I desperately wanted to stop drinking was because the fifth precept in Buddhism is to refrain from taking intoxicants.  How could I follow a Buddhist path when I could not refrain from drinking – impossible. I could not. So that was my answer, stop for good.

I am so very grateful for that fifth precept, it is a boundary which keeps me safe on so many different levels.

Have a lovely day one and all!
x

What do deer Symbolise in Buddhism?

by Hippdippy66

Today is the Year of the Sheep/Goat in the Chinese Calendar and so it got me thinking about animal symbols and their meanings so I thought I would share this.

When I drive to my local Buddhist Centre, before we drop down to the building there is an amazing symbol that confronts you. There are two gold deer on either side of the Wheel of Life.

When I first started learning about Buddhism I asked my teacher what did the deer symbolise in Buddhism . She said that deer have such compassionate natures that if hunters wanted to catch one, they would simply tie up an animal and as soon as deer hear their cries, they would instinctively move towards the animal to try and help it and the hunter would be there and ready to kill it.

I think we humans have a natural instinct to try and help those in trouble and in need. Like Buddha teaches, we ALL have Buddha nature, but whether we decide to follow Buddhist teachings or not to unlock our Buddha nature is purely personal. However, we can all be compassionate to the part of ourselves which we have wounded through too much alcohol, or if you are reading this and you are still struggling to stop, be compassionate to yourself by stopping. It might seem like a big mountain to climb, but was is the alternative, a life devoid of compassion for ourselves. C’mon lets do it!

Have a truly beautiful day x

The peaceful mind

The peaceful mind

by Hippydippy66

Hi All

This is my first of many blogs I hope.  I wanted to kick off with looking at the nature of our mind, on quite a simplistic level.

As I am sure we can all relate, when we have been drinking in the past, our mind has been anything but peaceful. Indeed, alcohol makes our mind depressed, anxious, fearful and we can be filled with lots of self loathing.

In comparison, when we have a sober mind, our depression, anxiety, fear and self loathing is lessened, I would suggest, quite considerably. This is not to say that when we become sober, all our problems magically disappear (I wish), but that problems are easier to deal with with a clearer mind lessened by the effects of alcohol.

Buddha teaches that the mind creates our reality.

From my own experience, I know that when I had been drinking I was highly critical of everything and everyone around me at the time, until the alcohol wore off. The same situation and people when sober would appear to be normal to me. This is I feel a clear example that our faults do not lie in anything external to us, it is our own mind that is projecting the good, the bad ad the ugly onto people and external situations.

I love the idea that whatever I feel and create is down to me and my own mind not the result of anything external. This feels really empowering.

I know that I therefore have a responsibiity to keep my mind as peaceful as possible which I will blog about later.

Thanks for reading

Love me x