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The Primacy of the Felt Experience

Hello again,

I find it amusing and a little bemusing to think that we human beings come delivered, pre-packaged, with everything we need to live a contented, peaceful and purposeful life, and then pretty quickly we adopt everything we need to fuck it all up.

Others have said that more eloquently, no doubt. But however it’s put, it’s the crux of this very human condition we’re all experiencing.

Which is to say that all experience is rooted in sensations. There are no exceptions to that rule. If we’re lucky enough to be healthy then what we come pre-packed with is a range of sense organs whose function it is to perceive sensory data to give us sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, as well as the lesser-considered senses like proprioception, interoception, acceleration, pain, balance, agency, familiarity, and, even, time.

Our reality is being continually created in every moment by the confluence of our senses.

What am I seeing, what am I hearing, what am I tasting? And so on.

This is the primacy of the felt experience.

At this level of experience there is no good or bad, no right or wrong, no judgment, no prejudice, no expectation, no success or failure. There simply is what is. And in that wide expanse of momentary being, everything slows to the natural rhythm of existence, everything remains open to the potential of the connecting moment, everything is perfect as it is.

But then, because we’re such advanced and crafty apes, we add to this primary layer of experience the layer of cognition. And in doing so we form interpretations and make meaning from the sensory data we perceive.

And it is in this secondary layer that we, invariably, fuck it all up.

Because all disturbance to our contentment, peace and purpose, all mental dis-ease, is rooted in thought. There are no exceptions to that rule.

As soon as we enter the thinking realm, our brains have already kicked in with a variety of ingenious software plug-ins like prediction and bias, which are based on past experience to save us time and keep us safe and functional, but the algorithms of these plug-ins can’t help but tint and distort present reality.

You’re standing in the socially distanced queue outside Sainsbury’s, for example, and the guy in front has his eyes glued to his phone and isn’t noticing when the queue moves forward and so keeps holding up your progress. And it’s beginning to really piss you off and you quietly stew in anger and you mutter under your breath about what a selfish prick this guy is and when is he gonna learn some civility, the massive bell end, and I’d like to rip his stupid phone out his hands and ram it up his…Except you’re not actually responding to the present reality, the primary sensory experience, of this guy on his phone. You’re reacting to your thoughts that automatically kicked in about him. Your brain came up with a (quite plausible) story. A story about him being selfish and uncivil, and so on. But you’ve made that story up from a limited set of data which you’re now reacting to. You’re not actually reacting to him at all. You’re reacting to you.

The primary sensory experience of this situation might go something like, “I’m seeing a man in front of me who’s looking down at his phone and so isn’t noticing when the queue moves until a little after it has moved.” That’s all. There’s no meaning attached. No interpretation. Simply the objective observation of what’s taking place.

Him being selfish and uncivil is the story you’ve attached to the sensory data. And it might be a correct story. But you couldn’t be sure unless you asked him. Because what if he was texting his mum who’s badly ill at home who needed something from the supermarket and he’s in a panic about her and he’s worried sick and he’s quite understandably distracted? Would you still think he was selfish and uncivil or might your story change?

I’ve just spent an entire weekend in the neurosomatic psychotherapy training I’m doing, practising almost nothing but sensitivity. In other words, doing almost nothing but observing and communicating the primary data of my senses. And let me tell you it’s really, really, really difficult.

But it’s also really beautifully simple. It’s what my dad used to call coming into the back. It’s dropping back from the narrative-making prefrontal cortex into the innate observer we all have within us who is connected directly with our wisdom.

And when we do that—when we focus on our senses rather than on our thoughts—life simplifies. It can go from feeling overwhelming to manageable, from boring to interesting, from dulled to alive with potential.

This happens because of and for a number of reasons but the main one is that we can only properly focus on one sense at a time. And in doing so we begin to regulate with whatever we’re sensing. In other words, we begin to regulate with our environment, and we find equilibrium.

So if we’re in a state of heightened stress or anxiety or overwhelm, for example, we can re-regulate ourselves, our entire organisms to our environment. We find balance and harmony with the natural order. Our heartbeat normalizes, our breathing slows, our muscles relax, we ground, we become alert, awake and conscious, and suddenly life becomes perfect exactly as it is.

And all we have to do, in any given moment, is return to our senses.

Makes sense, no?

Love, Jake x

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Crowded House – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

A couple of thousand years ago or thereabouts the Roman Stoics practised a mental exercise (as in, for the mind; not as in, my mate Jonny puts ketchup on everything—he’s so mental) as an antidote to what’s much more recently been termed ‘hedonic adaptation.’

We’ll return to the Stoics shortly, via an age-old fable, but first, hedonic adaptation is, essentially, the phenomenon of wanting something new, getting it, and then pretty quickly getting bored of it.

It’s something I’m sure everyone’s familiar with.

Wanting a new car/house/job/relationship/whatever.

That whatever becomes the object of your desire, the answer to your prayer, the moly to your holy grail:

The shiny new Mercedes; the 4-bed semi with kitchen side return; the Marketing Director promotion; the beautiful woman who stirs your loins and emotion. And sometimes you’re lucky enough to get what you want and it’s every bit as good as you’d hoped.

The car eats up the tarmac like a beast; the galaxy of stars displayed through the symmetrical skylights of your swanky side return has never seen such successfully presented soirées; as the Marketing Director you have an assistant who brings you coffee and respect; the beautiful woman who stirred both your loins and emotion isn’t only beautiful, she’s also the first person to truly, finally, get you.

Ahhhh, at last, life is good…

And then, comically quickly in fact – absurdly so given the force of importance previous placed on the attainment of the object of desire – you start to notice:

The little rattling sound coming from the rear panel when you accelerate that makes you think I bet that doesn’t happen on a Porsche; a polished concrete dinner table that’d suit the new space much better; that the Managing Director gets croissants with her coffee, goddamnit, that’s true respect; that I do like my new girlfriend, but I wish she wasn’t so patronising with her assumptions about who I am.

And so on.

And on and on. Never, ever satisfied.

But it need not be so, said the Stoics. They twigged this bug in the human system, this forever-wanting mind, and they figured out some ways to counter it, to drop the constant wanting and to feel contentment and tranquillity instead.

One such way is the mental exercise of negative visualisation. The idea with this is to periodically consider what your life would be like if conditions were worse than they currently are. So, for instance, rather than getting frustrated that your mid-range Mercedes isn’t a Porsche, consider what your morning commute would be like on the bus; instead of coveting the polished concrete table, imagine if your house were flooded, ruining your whole ground floor; rather than coveting croissants with your coffee, imagine if some terrible trauma took away your ability to swallow; instead of wishing your girlfriend were different, consider how lonely you were before.

And so on.

And on and on. Little by little becoming more content and satisfied with things exactly as they are.

The idea of negative visualisation is rather nicely, if inversely, illustrated by the fable of the crowded house. Credit must go to LS who told it to me recently and who I can only hope won’t mind my remixed version:

A man lives in a small, cramped dwelling and his lack of space is making him miserable. So he goes to the local Wise Woman and says, “Look here. I’ve got a tiny little shit’ole of a house and it’s not half getting me down, old Wise Woman. What say you to that?” And Wise Woman says, “Get a chicken.”

Bit weird, he thinks, but she’s not been wrong yet, so he gets a chicken. Now it’s him and a chicken in his tiny hovel and the chicken’s squawking, shitting and shedding feathers and the miserable man feels even more miserable than before. He goes back to Wise Woman and he says, “I got a chicken like you said but it’s made things even worse.”  

“Get a goat,” says Wise Woman.

This bint’s lost the plot, he thinks, but he gives her the benefit of the doubt and gets a goat. Now it’s him and a goat and a chicken and the goat’s an angry, spitting bastard and the chicken’s still fowling (geddit?) up the place, and the man’s even more miserable again. He goes back to Wise Woman in a right old huff, and he says, “I got a goat to add to the chicken but now I’ve got even less space!”

“Get a cow,” says Wise Woman.

You nutty old broad, he mutters to himself as he walks away, but still, he follows her counsel. Now it’s him and a cow and a goat and a chicken inside his little shack and the stink and racket and chaos is quite literally driving him up the walls. He goes back to the Wise Woman, his eyes mad from lack of sleep, his hair on end, all covered in animal crap and he says, “Now you listen to me, Wise Woman, I got the chicken, I got the goat, I got the cow, all like you says, and not only am I not less miserable, I’m the most miserable I’ve ever been!”

“Now get rid of them,” says Wise Woman. So the man gets rid of them.

And never has he loved his dwelling more. 

As I say, credit goes to LS. Since I’m in the credit-giving mood I’d like to give my mum her due credit for trying to get me to think this way while I’ve been unwell. Things could always be worse. Be grateful that they aren’t. Sorry mum if I was grouchy when you tried.

And since, one paragraph later, I’m still in the credit-giving mood, I’d like to point your attention in the direction of someone else who deserves a whole load of it. My friend, Tom Lawton, is an inventor, an inventor with movie star looks no less, and his latest project, Wonder, is a thing of sheer beauty and artistry. It’s a “kinetic, ethereal, meditative sculpture” which took its inspiration from my dad, and Tom’s good friend, Stephen, practising Qigong. Tom has a Kickstarter campaign going here, with a beautiful short film about it, and I’m sure he’d be grateful for any pledge you can afford if it takes your fancy. And if you feel like reading more about the whole idea, Tom’s story of Wonder is here.

And with that I wish you week of chickens, goats and cows. And love and wonder.

Jake x

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Love Actually – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

Hi everyone,

This week’s piece has been on my mind for a while. I’ve known I wanted to write something to mark the year since my dad died, but I haven’t known what. The temptation is to go all Richard Curtis and sentimental. And he’d have liked that. He couldn’t resist a bit of schmaltz.

But what comes to mind today as I think about things, about these sad, mad, but not all bad 12 months, is something that’s been slowly circling through my mind for a few years now and has gained a certain solidity since this time last year.

It’s a really quite simple observation, nothing ground-breaking or show-stopping, and I’m not the first to have it, but it feels important to say today. It’s that pain – or, perhaps to be more precise, the suffering that comes from pain – is simply the other side of love. It’s the denial of love, the refusal, the rejection, the absence of love. It’s that wherever pain exists, love is what’s missing.

And that therefore, just as hot is to cold or light is to dark or Curtis is to Cubric, the cure – perhaps the only cure – for pain, is love.

And therefore, furthermore, that if we’re all, as I think we all are, beings in pain – to some degree or another – we’re all also capable of being in love.

I’m sure there are a few cave-dwellers dotted atop some mountains who’ve been meditating almost constantly for 35 years that exist in a state of blissful free awareness, unattached contentment, but for anyone who wants to live in society, with people, in relationship, performing tasks and ventures, objectives and adventures, pain, it would seem, is an unavoidable part of the deal.

But I’m convinced, completely, that wherever pain is found, then below its surface, maybe just below or maybe hidden deep, is a well of love waiting to be tapped.

And in that, as some great philosopher-filmmaker once wrote, love actually is all around.

There you go pops, that one’s for you.

 

Jake xx

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What Are You Thinking?! – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

Do you ever think about how much time you spend thinking? Or to be specific—how much time you spend thinking without thinking you’re thinking?

Because when we begin to examine it, we quickly see that we get so lost in thought we don’t even know we’re thinking.

Which has got me thinking.

That whether we’re engaged in fully conscious thought or lost in the fast current of unconscious cogitation, our thoughts materialise from somewhere just off camera, just beyond our frame or field of awareness. We don’t direct them into existence. There’s no central subjective Self, some Mini-Me of the mind, sitting somewhere just behind the eyes, pulling all the strings and levers of our faculties.

That might be a troubling thought to think: that we’re not in charge of our thoughts.

You would’ve thought, wouldn’t you, if there was anything at all we were in charge of in these infinitely complex lives of ours, it’d at least be the content of our noggins.

But as anyone who’s spent even just a minute in meditation will tell you: not so.

If you sit and close your eyes and attempt to focus on your breath, you’ll inevitably, invariably and almost instantly be buffeted and bombarded by thoughts. Try it.

All manner of thoughts will come. Some might even feel quite relevant like, “I’ve never noticed how hard it is to stay focussed on my breath.” And before you know it you’re thinking when thinking was exactly what you didn’t have in mind.

So yes, when you get down to it, it’s really quite clear that we have pretty much zero say in our thinking.

And again, that might be a troubling thing to contemplate.

Because it leads, in one direction at least, to the question of free will: If I don’t control the thoughts I have, and if all action is the manifestation of mind, then what exactly, if anything, am I in charge of here?

But since free will, it seems to me, seems to be one of those rarefied dinner table conversation topics, like voting conservative or going vegan, that provoke heated debate then ire, I’ll leave it for another day (a decision which to some will prove the existence of my free will and to others will point to its absence since I didn’t author the thought or feeling that precipitated the decision…). As I said, best left for another day.

Not having control over the thoughts we think isn’t the same as saying we don’t have control over what we believe or say or do or don’t do. We might not control the moment-to-moment thoughts that arise in our mind’s eye, but we can choose our response.

This, I think, is the level of consciousness in which our agency exists.

And it’s in this agency that (whether or not we have true free will), we truly do have freedom. And in it’s in this freedom that we can choose to make our lives, and the lives of others, as pleasant as can be.

It’s a little like the weather. We can’t help it if it rains or shines, we have no say in the matter at all.

But we can take an umbrella and choose a lovely pair of boots.

And with that I wish you happy thinking.

Love, Jake x

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Help, Again – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

Way back in the summer (remember then? It was, genuinely, remarkably, somehow, a simpler time), I used this weekly piece to offer a free coaching session to anyone who wanted one. The response surprised me delightfully, and I was honoured and fortunate to speak with a considerable number of people and I’ve felt even more honoured and fortunate to continue working with many of you.

And now, as we shift into a new year, a new time, I’d like to make the offer again. So, to anyone who didn’t respond then, or did and we didn’t manage to connect, or we did connect but only did one session and for whatever reason didn’t carry on, or to anyone reading this anew, if any of you would like a free session, my offer stands again. If you’re reading this on cobsalad.com you can contact me here otherwise just reply to this and we’ll arrange it.

Here’s a bit about me and how we might work together.

I’m training to become a psychotherapist – I began a few years back, took a break, and I’ve returned to it to train in a modality that goes by the name of Neurosomatic Psychotherapy. The approach combines neuroscience, physiology and psychotherapy to help people gain emotional insight and alignment by understanding the body and the brain’s contributions to the processes of living in relationship to oneself, the world, and others.

To bridge the gap to the time that I qualify, I’ve trained and gained certification in a form of coaching that predominantly uses a cognitive-behavioural approach to helping people form and work toward goals and to surmount the inevitable obstacles that rise up along the way.

The work of therapy and coaching is, in large part, to uncover or recover those things in life that are of greatest value to you and to understand how to attain and maintain those things of greatest value, both spiritual and material.

When we begin to gently clean away the surface layer of psychological defence and protection, what’s revealed is pure and near universal: I believe what most, if not all, of us truly want is greater tranquillity of mind, connection, contentment and compassion; less anger, sadness, isolation, hatred, blame and regret.

The work of counselling and coaching is to orient oneself further away from the latter and further toward the former. It’s to prioritise what matters most while we’re still alive.

It’s to learn how to stand again from inevitable setbacks and to roll and rise with the vicissitudes of living, to win the things of greatest and deepest meaning to you.

It’s to see or frame our setbacks from a new perspective. To understand that the list of things in daily life that we have no control over is long (like, for instance, running out of milk for your coffee when all you want is a milky coffee, or, I don’t know, a massive bastard of a pandemic), but what we do have control over is our response to the setback. Admittedly, thinking philosophically in those moments of crisis is difficult and the difficulty increases linearly or perhaps exponentially with the severity or longevity of the setback itself. But it is precisely this that’s the work of living meaningfully and well.

It is the work of transforming oneself from victim to Stoic, from prosaic to poet, from helpless to heroic. And watching, as we do so, how life flourishes and becomes beautiful.

Living well isn’t easy, nor is it, I believe, a permanent state. It requires continuous practise. And the way to get good at something, to become successful, is to do it repeatedly and thoughtfully.

Successful people do difficult things often and routinely fail. And it is their willingness to risk failure that leads to reward. Their “failures” become sources of fuel for renewal, to go again stronger, wiser, kinder, more open, more flexible, and with greater resilience, and it is the repetition and thoughtfulness – the conscious practise – that leads to success.

Success doesn’t necessarily mean fame or fortune or lots of milk. Success, simply, practically put, means finding good solutions to the problems that present themselves; to experience life as it comes and to work creatively with it (to minimise anguish, anxiety, unnecessary suffering). In short, to live a life worth living. To live fully.

Many people avoid doing hard things precisely because the fear of failure is too great. The work of coaching or therapy for a client is itself hard. It’s why it’s work. But it’s why it works. It’s an opportunity to take risks. To try new things, to speak, to open up and expand, with a companion, in the safest of environments without fear of judgment or recrimination, but with support, trust and enduring empathy. And thus, to begin to succeed.

If you’d like to give it a go with me, I’d certainly like to go with you.

Contact me here or reply.

With love,

Jake x

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Reorient Forward – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

As we reorient ourselves once more to face forward, looking up at 2021 as it forms before us, it may well feel daunting, it might’ve already floored us, But give me time, it implores us, because 2021 might turn to adore us.

Right now, admittedly, that feels, at best, imaginary. But if we first don’t imagine, how can we make any single thing happen?

Imagine then act and imagination becomes fact.

Not always, maybe not even often, but enough for our failures to recede and soften.

Enough to climb from the canvass and go again like a badass. Because the bell’s just rung for 2021.

A new round of the adventure has begun.

So, stand strong and tall, guard up and mindful, active not idle, with imagination switched to kind and beautiful.

Now, keep stepping forward.

And however implausible the thought is, this might be a year to reward us,

Love, Jake xx

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7 Relaxation Methods

7 Relaxation Methods

We face new challenges each day, especially in this current COVID-19 Age and in the long run these challenges contribute to high stress levels. Stress can affect our well being and reduce our productivity. When we let pressure build up we can end up harming others, making irrational decisions, and in extreme cases we vent out our stress to others. Therefore it is vital that we find a way to reduce stress levels.

There are various ways we can unwind and here are 7 Things you can do to relax.

1. Do Some Yoga or Learn To Meditate

Find a quite room and do some yoga. Yoga helps your body and mind relax. You can lookup brief yoga routines on YouTube and practice them. Yoga will help you release all the pressure that has been building up in your body and it is also beneficial for your body.

2. Listen to your favorite genre of music

Listening to music lets you get loose. As you get to listen to favorite musician you forget what is troubling you which in turn reduces your stress levels. A good thing about music is that you can plug in your earphones and separate yourself from the stressful environment.

3. Take a walk

You might opt to walk or jog into the park and enjoy what mother nature has to offer. If you leave in a noisy neighborhood find a quite place to walk. This lets you organize your thoughts and you get to view things from a clearer point of view. Find time in your busy schedule and enjoy the walk.

4. Play games

Computer games or physical games can do. If you love staying indoors then computer games will help you vent out the stress that has been building up in your body. You can play board games against your friends and it will hep you focus on something new other than your problems.

5. Hit the gym

The gym helps you relieve all the mental and muscle tension that builds up during the day. Your job could be demanding that you stay seated for a long period of time and this is bad for your health. Weight lifting will help you reduce all this tension that has been building up. You also get to socialize at the gym which is very healthy.

6. Watch movies

Watching movies lets you forget what has been stressing you . Take sometime off and watch a movie on netflix or in a cinema. Movies are enjoyable to watch and we can dedicate weekends to watching movies. You can also watch documentaries if you are not a fan of movies and you will learn new things.

7. Travel

Visiting new places is one of the best stress relievers. And whilst at the moment, travel may seem an impossibility, planning your next vacation can give you a positive future goal.  You can save for a vacation and to get your mind off the things currently stressing you. On vacation you get to interact with new people and learn their diverse cultures. Traveling helps you reduce tension in your life and you can take your family with you.

Until Next Time

Dominus Owen Markham

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Stuck in The Mudmas – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

Did you ever play Stuck in The Mud when you were younger? It’s basically a game of tag. One player’s ‘it’ and everyone else scatters to evade capture, squealing, if that’s your thing. If you are captured though you become ‘stuck in the mud’ and you can’t move. You have to stand still with your legs and arms apart, like a frozen star jump, and wait for someone who isn’t stuck in the mud to free you by crawling through your legs. It’s a fine, fine game.

Right now it feels like there’s a lot of us stuck in the mud while Covid runs amuck making us squeal, if that’s your thing.

And getting tagged, getting stuck, sucks.

Especially at this time of year, when we’re so used to running free with our friends and family, especially if it now means spending this time alone, feeling lonely.

None of us wants that. No one wants to be stuck.

But getting stuck at some point, it seems, is inevitable.

And when we do, rather than stand with legs akimbo and arms apart (which, when you picture it is a posture powerful in full acceptance of the moment and all openness to possibility) we might want to curl up into a closed ball (for comfort, protection and maybe self-pity). Which is entirely understandable. I’ve been in a form of stuck-ness for a while now with my health and I’ve wanted to spend most of it curled up, metaphorically.

But there comes a time, sooner or later, when the curled-up ball of comfort and protection actually becomes a kind of self-denial. It prevents the incoming possibilities of future and change.

Historically, pandemics and plagues have always ended so there’s no reason to think it’ll be different this time. Yes, currently things are shit, Christmas is cancelled and so on, but right now we’re just stuck in the mud. And at some point someone will be along to crawl through our legs to unstick us.

So come, stand big and tall, legs apart and arms raised and wait patiently for the crawling liberator to come.

I wish a peaceful, or at least passable, Solstice, Christmas and Stuck in The Mudmas to everyone.

Love, Jake xx

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Not Every Crisis Is A Fire – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

Not Every Crisis Is A Fire

Our instinct to help others in need, especially those we love, is a sign of our natural human (primal, even animalistic) drive. We see someone suffering and unless we’ve got a screw loose in the old noodle, we want to come to their aid. 

However, how often do we consider the form that our help could take to best serve the person in need? In other words, how often do we consider the other person’s situation from the other person’s perspective—rather than from our own? For that matter, how often do we simply ask what they need from us rather than assume we know?

It strikes me there are (at least) two types of crisis a person can suffer.

One is urgent, and the form of help required doesn’t call for much consideration or discussion. It’s blindingly obvious. You see and hear someone crying out at the second-floor window of a burning house, for example, and it’s safe to assume you know what they’re after. It’s unlikely what they actually want is to know who won Strictly Come Dancing because their TV just lost signal.

But the other type of crisis is more nuanced, more complex, and requires a form of selflessness entirely different from running into a burning building, and in some ways might even be harder to perform precisely because what the other person needs isn’t obvious to you, even if you assume it is.

Imagine, by metaphorical example, you become friends with a prisoner. He’s been locked up for 15 years with no end to his sentence in sight. You learn he had an unfair trial. Evidence was wonky, witnesses were shonky and the judge was a donkey. And for 15 years your friend, from prison, has filed appeals, found one new lawyer and legal specialist after the other only to be let down time and time again, studied the law in relation to his case, and subscribed to extracurricular training, schemes and out-reach programmes to boost his chances. In short, doing as much as he could possibly do to try to rectify his situation, but all to little or no avail.

And each time you visit the prison your heart goes out to him because you’ve come to love him. And you see him suffering, perhaps unfairly, perhaps not – you don’t really know – but what you do know is he’s a good person experiencing pain and you think he deserves better. You want to help.

So you jump headfirst into what you think is a burning house and make suggestions of lawyers who’ve done great things for other unfairly convicted prisoners. Or you send him articles in journals about legal technicalities that might pertain to his case. Or you tell him about a judge you’ve heard of who’s now campaigning for prison reform.

And to every suggestion you make, your friend, a little wearier each time, tells you he’s tried it all, he’s spent 15 years doing everything he’s had the energy and time to try, and now, after all these years of effort and disappointment, he no longer has much faith in the justice system. But, still, he thinks he’s just about found a way to live with his fate, albeit in pain, albeit sad and angry sometimes, but a way nevertheless.

His apparent refusal to heed your advice and suggestions upsets you. How can he just give up, you might think? Can’t he see how painful it is for you to see him like this? How can he not try one more avenue or explore one more recommendation? After all, look at all this reading into his case and into the law you’ve been doing! You think you know the ins and outs really well and you believe he can get out.

And you might be right. In fact, you are right to want his suffering to end, to find a way to bring about his deserved freedom. But does that mean the form of your help is right? Have you sought to understand which kind of crisis you’re really dealing with?

Most importantly, did you stop and check to see what help he actually needs or wants from you? Did you ask him or just assume? Because if you did ask you might learn that what would help most would be for you to just sit and listen; to hear what this difficult experience is like for him; to hear him talk about how he’s feeling; to accept him as an autonomous adult who’s responsible for his own decisions; and to do so without the need to try to fix his feelings, fix his decisions or fix his situation; to not rescue but simply bear witness.

Which, admittedly, is a difficult thing to do. To see a person you love suffering and to hear them describe that suffering is tough. Because what do you then do with the feelings that that brings up in you? How do you handle those feelings – the helplessness, the sadness, the pain, the anger? Most of us don’t or can’t handle them (or at least we believe we can’t). And so we avoid them, and rather than simply bearing witness, we jump into action instead. And then we get upset when our action isn’t met in the way we want and expect. And in so doing we make our inability to handle our own hard feelings his problem instead.

But we’ve mistaken this subtler type of crisis for the crisis of the burning house. And they’re not the same at all.

This second type of crisis doesn’t require action or rescue. Not from you at least. There’s nothing for you to fix, not unless he specifically asks for it. That’s for him to do or not do as he sees fit. That need of yours to fix things is just that—it’s yours not his.

By not listening to him to discover the help he actually wants and needs, you’re unintentionally imposing your needs and expectations onto him, adding yours to his already hefty pile. He has needs enough of his own. He doesn’t need your unmet needs as well

This kind of help is difficult. I repeat, it’s nuanced and complex. Therefore, rather than assume, try asking instead. Because no matter how obvious you think things are, they’re probably not obvious by any stretch. Because maybe what he needs for himself and what he needs from you two are entirely different things.

Where so many of us fall down here is an inability or unwillingness to empathise. Even when we think we’re empathising we’re not really. Because how often do we approach this kind of crisis by saying “if it were me” and think we’re empathising? “If it were me” isn’t empathising. “If it were me” is simply assigning your own thoughts and needs to the other person. This, if anything, is the opposite of empathy. It’s actually a subtle and quite insidious form of judgment because it implies what the other person is doing isn’t meeting your set of standards.

Empathy isn’t saying “if it were me”, it’s saying “if I were thee”. It’s stepping outside of yourself to temporarily take up residence in the other person’s position, not assigning your position to the other person. It’s stepping outside your mind and skin to try the other’s on instead, leaving your own assumptions and needs behind.

As I said, it’s a selflessness of an entirely different kind. And it might be the biggest gift of help you can give.

Until next time and with love, Jake x

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Featured Food For Thought Healthy Mind Lifestyle Mind Motivation

December, You Confuse and Complete Me – Jake Russell – Cobsalad

So here we are again then, December. And what a confusing old month it is. It’s a time of merry celebration and weary, northern-hemisphere hibernation; of light and energy just as the day’s overcome by night and lethargy; and yet the longest day of darkness also signals the return toward the sun; the year’s end before we re-start and do it all again; December’s the oldest the year will get before it’s departed and done and yet the vitality of the month makes it feel fun and young. Yes, a confusing, enigmatic, paradox of a month.

December. Even the word is confusing, coming as it does from the Latin word for ten despite its position as month number twelve—a quirk carried over from the Roman calendar which only counted ten months from the start of the year in March. Interestingly, they didn’t assign the winter days between the end of December and the start of March to any month at all. Just a period of unaccounted for time. I quite like that. They’d worked out a very complex, sophisticated method, based on an obscure system of kalends and ides and nones, to cleverly keep tabs on time and then it gets to the end of December, they realise they’ve left out about 60 days and they think “ah fuck it, that’ll do.”

Which I totally understand. Who doesn’t feel that way by December? A whole year’s worth of effort has been expended and all anyone really wants to do is have a big feed and fall asleep.

Christmas. The epitome of confusion. With all its silly nonsense and all its sacred significance. All at once and all with turkey. Why on earth turkey?

Before we herald the arrival of the new year, when the clock resets to zero and we get to try again. A time for contemplation, to count the past year’s accomplishments and losses, to look forward with renewed resolve. To make a wish, say a prayer, give thanks, promise to do better. While we get utterly shit-faced and try to snog whoever happens to be nearest.

And then finally, for me anyway, it’s the month of my birthday. Both confusing and completing in equal measure. Another slice of time munched, another orbit done. And how much of the Big Cake remains, how many more orbits to come…?

I hope many more – for me and all of us – because despite the confusion, even in this most confounding of years, it can all be a lot of fun.

Love,

Jake xx

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*Original Post By Kind Permission Jake Russell*