Between April–November 2016, I gave a series of 18 seminars on the fundamentals of personal development. Each one is described briefly below. Click on the individual titles to read the full summary and watch the accompanying video. Each summary contains further links to other blog entries which look at specific points in greater detail. (The corresponding page numbers of my book are in brackets next to each entry.)
All the videos are collected together on the Videos page. As an example, here is the one from TS 14 which summarises many of the earlier seminars and highlights the nature of the whole process:
We have greater control over our lives than we realise. It’s easy to look at our childhood and place the responsibility for who we’ve become on our environment. But that is not even half the story, because from day one we have been making decisions about how we are going to have our needs met. It means that we have already decided on our life strategies during the first few years of existence. It is important to know that our patterns are not set in stone. It is possible to change them. Furthermore, a change in one area of your life can have a knock-on effect in other areas, too. Once again, the key to it all is awareness. And a little perseverance.
Often without realising, we comply with the tricks our mind plays on us. We believe everything it says without question, and we allow it to take our hand and lead us wherever it wants to go. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, with a little practice we may even notice that its willingness to lead us astray is not the mind’s purpose at all, just as a child’s role is not to annoy its parents. Sure, it’s part of the mind’s nature to be unruly, but there is so much more to it. As with any tool, once we learn to use it properly, it can astound us with its possibilities.
It can be as simple as making a cup of coffee. That’s the procedure which one participant offered as an example of something he already does whenever he gets stuck or frustrated in his work. He explained that the process of making the coffee changes his focus, calms his mind, and allows him the space to gain enough distance from a particular problem to be able to solve it much quicker than if he were to remain at his desk. It was the ideal example of what this seminar was all about: look after yourself, discover what’s best for you, and use your discoveries to make life easier for yourself.
Life, at every level, displays the same characteristic pattern of progress. One element of that pattern is that there are always times when nothing seems to be happening. This can give rise to feelings of helplessness and frustration; and the situation is compounded by the expectations we often have of how things should be. But it is never the case that nothing is happening. There is always something going on; and when you know that the quiet periods are not as quiet as they seem, you can relax, enjoy the relative peace and quiet, and know that eventually things will start moving again. Keep going, even when you think nothing is working, because you are closer to a breakthrough than you think.
The seminar was about the power of thought and how, by creating clarity for ourselves in everything we do, we can improve our lives in a very simple way. As soon as you realise that this is how it all works – that what you think today creates your world tomorrow; and how you think about your world determines your feelings about it – you begin to appreciate the power you have. It’s a power which means that we are the creators of our external and internal worlds. So relax, create your world, and then just enjoy the show.
This is an important concept because once you get it, it’s easier to relax: It’s the foundations themselves which are the foundations of success; and any structures you build on top simply become part of the foundations for whatever you do next. We make life difficult for ourselves by focusing too much on the goal and trying to predict how and whether it will all work out, each time giving life to our expectations. Instead, we would be better served by focusing on the foundations and appreciating each step we take, no matter how small.
Whilst there are clear benefits of a certain level of self-confidence because it empowers us to take on things without fear of failure, or because it allows us to push ourselves further than we would otherwise go, we should avoid getting cocky (over-confident). Cockiness leads to a loss of focus and we relax too much, thinking we’ve made it. Alternatively, we push ourselves too much, thinking we can do it all. One sure way of avoiding such a fall, is to maintain your procedures. They are not just necessary to get us where we want to go, they also serve to keep us there. Keep using them until they become automatic.
There is a rhythm to life. There are always ups and downs – that’s how it is at every level of existence. One of the keys to being able to relax and lead a balanced life is to accept that life is this way. Surrender to the process. Surrendering is not the same as giving up. It just means that we don’t waste time and energy resisting. Just because we think things should happen another way does not make us right. Relax, find your balance, and from there you will see things differently.
The message of this seminar – over and over again – was that all you have to do for the transformation to begin, is to see your behaviour clearly. See who you are, and you will notice a momentum of change which has its roots in the observation itself. It is a magical, powerful part of the whole process; one which makes everything so much simpler. It allows us to relax more easily and to trust more readily that we will get where we want to go. And it leaves us with a definite sense that so much can be achieved just by observing our behaviour.
When you know how a machine works, you can get the best out of it. So come to rest and be quiet. Listen closely to yourself. That way you will be more in tune with yourself, with a greater appreciation of how beautifully precise and intricate your machinery is. You will also be more alert to the subtle messages your body is giving you, and more able to identify, categorise, and respond to any disturbances which occur.
We begin to strategise much earlier than we think, and if the strategies we choose work – no matter how ineffectively – then we repeat them because it’s easy to do so, and because there is a certain level of risk associated with changing them. In this way our strategies establish themselves so quickly that they soon take on an automatic nature, becoming indistinguishable from our true selves. It therefore takes some effort and commitment to become fully conscious of them; and then more of the same to change them for better ones.
When we surrender, there is no need to fight anymore. All too often surrender is seen as a weakness, but if we are able to see the empowerment which lies at its heart, then we feel encouraged to practise it more and more. And when we surrender our attachment to who we think we are, or how we think life works, or what we think we deserve, or what we think others expect of us, then we liberate ourselves: we become free to do whatever makes us happy, to give everything we have to whatever is in front of us and remain calm and balanced because the results – whatever they are – do not affect us.
What if the entire world were your very own feedback mechanism? What if every thought and feeling you have, gave you information about where you are right now. What if every conversation, every person in your life, and every experience you have, told you something about who you are and where you’re heading. Would you listen? Also, your feelings about what happens to you are created by what you think about what happens to you. If you don’t like how you feel, change how you think. Whether you alter the original thought or the resultant one, the power lies entirely with you.
Personal development is a process, and the latest seminar in this series was a chance to highlight this by summarising the previous sessions. Knowing that there is an underlying process makes it easier for us to evaluate where we are, what we need to do, and what the likely outcome will be. It also opens the door to being able to monitor and chart our progress, which is a more powerful motivator than we could possibly imagine. In addition, recording our progress provide us with evidence of our success; evidence which becomes unexpectedly valuable during those times when the mind tries to convince us otherwise.
The material for the first part of this seminar was taken from the blog post, ‘Discovering The True Self’. That piece talks about the quiet space inside us from where we can observe the surface-level of our worldly existence. It is a place of awareness which allows us to see more clearly that veneer of being where we spend most of our time, distracted by the shiny stuff of life, the bright lights, and the thoughts and emotions which accompany us there. The remainder of the seminar was taken up with how we are able to use our experience and awareness to create ourselves however we want to be.
The last word came from the audience. Having spent much of the seminar looking at why it is so difficult for us to let go – of words, thoughts, feelings, relationships, habits, etc. – we turned our attention to the advantages of releasing ourselves from whatever does not serve us: relief, freedom, space for new things, and the achievement itself of letting go. It was then that the question came: Is some kind of healing possible? Yes. Absolutely. We can heal ourselves by releasing whatever we’ve been carrying; especially when there was never any need to carry it in the first place.
The fact that this was one of the best seminars so far was due partly to the variety of subjects we covered: the importance of listening (to the self and others), of writing, and of focusing on our breathing, as well as the role which suffering plays in our happiness. The main reason, however, was the clear demonstration by one participant of the entire point of the seminar. Namely, that we easily dismiss things if they do not fit into our narrow band of relevance, and that when we listen more closely we make life easier for ourselves.
The final question of the seminar came ten minute before the end. It was a powerful one and elicited a response which somehow summarised the essence of this entire series. That summary can be seen in the video below, but to summarise this seminar: Accept who you are. If there’s stuff you want to change, change it, but don’t compare yourself to others because you can never fully know their story. Be inspired by others, but only compare yourself to where you’ve been. That way you can see your progress. Talk to yourself, too. Remind yourself of your deepest glory. And then celebrate yourself completely.