Monthly Archives: March 2013

Knowing or being

Knowledge or wisdom

Knowledge or wisdom









My name is Drew Mahler and I am a workshopaholic. Or at least, I used to be. For several years I went through a period of near addiction to doing self-development workshops. I went to healing workshops, retreats, courses and coaching; getting all sorts of certificates, knowledge and training. However, the day after one of these workshops I found myself thinking about what I was going to do next. Which new modality could I learn? What other teacher could I listen to to deepen my knowledge of myself and the world around me? And then it struck me, I had just spent the previous four days learning how to be a more grounded and balanced human being yet I was looking to rush off and read the next book or do the next course to try and learn how to be a more balanced human being. I had developed a pattern of frantically looking for external fixes to my internal need to feel calmer, happier and more at peace whilst denying myself the opportunity to do so! This is like a hungry man sellotaping sandwiches to himself. This will never sate his hunger until he learns to internalize and transform this for himself, otherwise he will be eternally hungry. I had been running around collecting a lot of knowledge without taking the time to reflect and transform this in to wisdom. The ability to stop, breath and create space for our minds is essential to this process and meditation can help hugely with this.

Sogyal Rinpoche once told a story of staying at a friend’s house that had a huge library of books (I suppose it wouldn’t be a library of anything else). Many famous titles on healing, spirituality, love and so on. He wondered why someone would need so many books, as it implied that there was a lot of knowledge but not necessarily much wisdom. He then told us it is like a tomato, knowledge teaches us that it is a fruit while wisdom teaches us never to put it in a fruit salad. My take on this is that unless we transform this knowledge it is of little practical use to us. Many of us have books on spirituality or positive thinking or law of attraction or have been to courses on the same. But why so many? If we really embodied what was being taught and took the effort to use this we probably wouldn’t need more than one book, or to do one course. And this is where a problem arises for many of us because, if we are truthful with ourselves, the effort of changing ourselves is more than the effort of looking for another book/course in the hope that it will do the work for us. Sellotaping more sandwiches. It is the difference between knowing it in your head and embracing it in your heart.

Ironically it was on a workshop where this all really crystallized for me. I was doing a coaching workshop with a wonderful man called Marcus McKeown (link here), an inspiring teacher and generally awesome guy. The first thing he told us was “I will teach you nothing you don’t already know”. He taught us how to listen compassionately and pointed out it was something we could all already do. It is just about parking your own stuff rather than barely listening to someone while you wait for your turn to speak, be present and trust intuition. These lessons really sank in, along with some other powerful realizations, and I have really tried to embody these changes.

Workshops and books offer an amazing opportunity for awakening, awareness and personal growth. The paradox is that until you have read the books or done the  workshops and really brought in to your way of being, that you realize you didn’t need the book or workshop in the first place. It was something you knew inside anyway, maybe the path to get there needed a bit of illuminating by someone who has trodden those steps before.

The workshops and books are the means to an end, however, not the end itself. Not that there is an end of course, life is a kick and a kiss, a hit and a hug and a constant shifting maelstrom of thoughts and emotion that will continually challenge us to reach new levels of awareness. We may as well enjoy the ride but bring a good book with you just in case.


Spring has sprung!!

Ahh Spring, the smell of fresh cut grass, the bursting yellow of daffodils and stinging horizontal banshee hailstone winds. This is a strange time of year all right. The changing of seasons of brings with it the opportunity to look at ourselves and see how we too are changing. After all, the only thing that is constant in life is change. Nothing remains the same and all is transformed, “this too shall pass” is a handy motto to live our lives by.

Spring is a particularly transformative season. Just as life around us is starting to reemerge, we too can often feel as though we are reemerging from our winter hibernation. This is, of course, nonsense. We ascribe certain days or times as good times to start something new, whether that is Mondays or New Year’s Day or next week. We are led to believe that life is linear, that there is an inexorable marching of time from when we are born until when we die. It is, according to quantum physics, much more complicated and wonderful than that although that is a post for another day. Change is the topic for today.

Change happens in every moment of our lives. Right now in your body millions of cells are dying and new ones are emerging. The skin cells that you can see on the surface are already dead, this is why they flake off as dust. You are, physically, a completely different person to who you were seven years ago. Every single one of your cells have changed. Change, death and rebirth are natural processes of life. There cannot be life without death. However, for many of us change and be scary. Change reminds us on a subconscious level that we are approaching death, which could explain why many people try to keep their lives as regular as possible. Same TV shows, same holidays, same friends, same conversations.  Yet change is an incredible opportunity to grow; to grow emotionally,mentally and spiritually.

However, change can be painful and it is easy to understand that this can be a reason people fear it. Some of our most transformative moments can come during our most challenging times. This could be the death of a loved one, the break-up of a relationship, failing during sport, acknowledging an addiction or anything that is personally challenging. Big changes can mean the breakdown of our old sense of self, our concepts of the world may no longer fit with our reality and it can place huge stress on our carefully constructed views of “how things work”. Sometimes during these moments we can feel our sense of Self shatter like glass. It can hurt even more to try and pick up the pieces as we may cut our Selves on the sharp edges in this raw state. But that’s OK. It is alright for things to hurt sometimes. We can rebuild this image in to an even better one if we are prepared to be brave enough and admit we want to be different, that we want to change.

I remember when I was young I had a Lego castle. To make it better sometimes I had to only add a couple of little bits to make it more brilliant (usually more dragons to be honest) but sometimes I had to completely dismantle it and start again. Sometimes there was pain too. Unless you have experienced it yourself, I am unable to convey the blindingly annoying agony that comes from standing barefoot on a piece of Lego. This applies to us too, sometimes we only need to change a little bit, sometimes we need a complete overhaul.

As this can sometimes be a big, even daunting, process at time, it may be necessary to see a therapist or counselor. For many years there has been a bit of stigma around this which I don’t really understand. If my washing machine was broken I don’t possess the skills to fix it so I would find someone who did and ask them to help me. If my mind is, for want of a better word, broken then surely it is pretty obvious to get someone to help me with that too? So if you have been thinking that you would like to talk to someone about an issue, maybe a big one, maybe a small one, just do it. Don’t fear change, embrace it as a natural part of life.

An exercise you can try right now. Find a blank wall somewhere quiet. On this wall project a picture of your life one year from now (or week, or day, whichever appeals to you most) as you want it to be. Not how you expect it to be, how you want it to be. It is like going to watch the movie of your life except now you get to write the script. Looking at this picture in full Techincolor, what three things would you need to change in order for that to happen? Learn to drive? Move country? Break up with your partner? Tell that person no? Stop eating cakes? Write down these three things, don’t judge them, put them down or censor yourself. Now, next to these write down when they will be done by and do it. If you want your life to move in a certain direction, you have to embrace the change that will bring that about.  

A friend of mine once asked me if I would have a bath in the same water I bathed in ten years ago. Of course not! Then why would you reuse energy and patterns of belief that you held ten years ago if you want to grow and transform? Spring is springing. Cast off the winter shackles and embrace the budding new season, the new life, the new you. Be thankful for the challenging moments, for the painful moments and choose to see them as the opportunities they are as you use them to build the person you always wanted to be.



Watching the waves

As I was meditating down at the beach today I was struck, not by a wave, but by a thought, about waves. I noticed that as a wave rolled in another rolled out. I’ll admit some people may have noticed this before. However, what struck me as interesting is that there is no in-wave without an out-wave. And there is no out-wave without an in-wave. They rely on each other and as such balance each other. There is a yin yang element to the waves’ existence. I felt this to be a rather simple yet elegant metaphor for our own thoughts and emotions. These roll in to our mind, whether this be anger, joy, sadness, indifference etc then recede to be replaced by another; sometimes the same emotion building in strength until we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes these waves seem so fierce and stormy that we will surely perish beneath the weight of them, but they always lessen eventually. They always calm and are replaced by another thought or emotion. This constant shifting of emotions shows that we are not our emotions.

I often hear people tell me “I’m an angry person” or “I can never speak to people because I’m shy”. These are only temporary states, these are not “you” even though it may feel like they are constant. What it is possible to come to realise is that we have can have control over thoughts and emotions. Learning meditation is an excellent way of “bringing the mind home” and finding some balance. This is not to suggest that these emotions will not be felt; to be angry, joyful, sad, apathetic are all normal parts of being human and we can be grateful for that. What meditation can help us learn is to observe the thought/emotion and detach ourselves from the story behind it, allow ourselves to experience it without judgement and let it pass.

To return to the wave analogy, we allow an emotion to roll in and then let it go without a bigger wave, then a bigger wave, then a bigger wave to quickly roll in on top and swamp us. We can learn, quite easily, to allow ourselves the space to let go of an emotion and find equilibrium. This applies equally to too much joy, it can overwork our adrenals eventually leading to fatigue. Besides, if you go around grinning and laughing all the time you may quickly find not many people will sit next to you on the bus and parents of small children hurry off in the opposite direction.

In Irish they express the feeling of emotions in a beautiful way. “Tá fearg orm” is translated as “I have anger on me”, in English we would say “I am angry”. There is a difference here, one identifies the whole self as that emotion, the other as the emotion existing as a state separate to the self and as such can be recognised as temporary as it will be replaced at some stage by a different visiting emotion. This is important for our mental health as we can often feel weighed down if we continue to experience the same emotion for a long time. Learning to recognise that it is just a wave that will roll out when we allow it to will calm the seas in our mind and help us find peace and not to worry about the new wave that the out-wave will bring in to us, this too shall pass.

To try this now sit in a comfortable position, take three deep breaths and let the mind empty. You may find that quite quickly a thought will pop in to your head followed quickly by an emotion. That’s fine. Just observe it, notice your breath again and allow the thought to roll back out to sea. You can do this for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it doesn’t matter. Practicing this every day will help calm the mind.

Here is a beautiful guided meditation by a wonderful teacher, Jon Kabat Zinn. I highly recommend his books as an excellent way to start learning about meditation, or to deepen your current practice.