What am I doing with my life? A 40-minute Talk and Intimacy Circle given at Alternatives, St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, London, UK on 2 October 2017.
Text for the Talk
The definition of a successful life often revolves around a career, a significant income, property ownership, and a family. Are we bold enough to ask ourselves a fundamental question? What I am doing with my life? If we do not ask the question from the depths of our being, we will escape into fantasy to escape our unfulfilled life. We have the potential to live a fulfilled life. What will enable us to act? Christopher Titmuss will address these issues.
WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?
(transcribed and edited)
Our View of our Experience is the Problem
Listening to the Deep
The Significance of Love
Roles arise through Social Agreement
A Daily Addiction
Realising our Potential
The Intimacy Circle
A human being find herself or himself living between two polarities of existence called birth and death.
We did not decide to choose birth. We find ourselves moving through this remarkable realm. You and I might describe life as a field of experience but not a field of experience with continuity to it but a field of experience in which change is the norm.
We move through this life and in the flow of life we sometimes find ourselves with the precious opportunity to ask some deep questions about what it is to be. What is our existence all about?
The circumstances around us, both present and past, give immense significance and shape to our existence.
You and I look at our background in childhood and the formations of our life and what we have achieved in being in this world. All of that has its impact in the present moment. Our feelings, our thoughts and our experiences are very much under the influence of the old. We look at ourselves and we might ask ourselves, and it is an important question to ask: “Do we really have the freedom to change?”
We need to question to find out new realisations. It is particularly important due to the impact of the old conditioning, which seems to determine to some considerable degree the movement of our life, the direction of our life and our experience of it.
It is important to stand still, not in terms of an ideology of being in the now. To stand still is to adopt a caring look at what our existence is about. We need to travel more lightly. To a considerable degree, we use a language, which is charged with a world of ‘I’ and ‘my.’
Many of our conversations and communications, understandably, and humanly, involve myself and others, our views and opinions and what’s happening in my life and what’s happening in your life. These interactions become the discourse of the norm. So normative that it is not leaving a great deal of space for something deep, for other realisations and receptivity, not tied into the world of ‘I’ and ‘my.’
It is quite easy to look at our life as latent tendencies towards thinking how it could be different. The thoughts arise with determination which land on experiences and roles that you and I have. “I would like to change this. I would like this to be different in some way or other.” The patterns of the past, the history of the past, keep influencing us. This generates the same thought.’ If only,’ or it could be different from the way it is.’
These thoughts do not seem to lead anywhere. The same cycle of thoughts could be repeating themselves for decades. It is not easy to be still and to engage in reflection.
We look at our inner life consisting of feelings and thoughts which is the raw material to work with. We can find ourselves having an encounter, a meeting with the difficult experience. Some of these experiences go on and on. The thought arises about this experience of what I’m dealing with. We find ourselves in this encounter with the inner life.
The thought repeatedly arises:
“Oh, this is so difficult.”
“This isn’t working out for me.”
“This is a real problem.”
“I feel helpless.”
“I feel misunderstood.”
“What is going on with my life?”
These thoughts are conceited if we imagine that what the thought says about the experience is clear, clean and objective. It might be the boosting of ourselves up or the putting of ourselves down or the view might arise that nothing is getting resolved.
We are cheated by such thoughts. We are deceived by such thoughts. We believe what the thoughts tell us. We do not realise that the experience, difficult and challenging, arises as the outcome of the experience. The thought is not outside of the experience. Do you understand? It is THE experience. It is it.
Our View of our Experience is the Problem
The very view about the difficulty of the experience, no matter what it is, and how problematic it is, IS the problem. We become so identified with the view of the experience, as if the view is saying something independent of the experience.
The view is the outcome of the experience. If women and men of the earth are going to change, we will need to take much more interest in the important primary encounters with human experience and to see whether this view which I express can bring about deep realisation, real change. Or Is the view bringing about a perpetuation of the problem?
Views are useless unless we consider making some changes in our life. At the end of the talk, I will put you into small groups of three to share together, to explore changes that you are making in your life. I would get a little time off as well.
When we look at our life, there are two things to bear in mind. We have two choices. Sometimes it is the outer choice and sometimes it is the inner choice. This means you appreciate and recognise the necessity to make a real outer change. An opinion poll said a few years ago that 90% of people living in London would like to live somewhere else. Who am I to argue? 90% of the people living in Devon, where I live, are happy living there. I live in Totnes South Devon. The Observer had a colour magazine which said that Totnes is a town in Britain where only psychotherapists and their clients live. (laughter). It’s not true. Only psychotherapists live there. I am not one of them, by the way.
The thought arises, or you have a conversation over a cafe latte:
“I would like to change my life.”
“I would like to change where I live.”
“I would like to change my lover.”
I would like to change my job.”
“I would like to change my location.”
It is an interesting conversation but, all too frequently, it has got no power to it. It is chatter. There is no significance to it. The gap between where the human being is today and where one would like to be is so big; it is an impossibility to bridge. For something to be bridged and change to take place, one has got to be extremely clear, dedicated and committed to making something happen – if you want to make a significant outer change. Relationships, work, study, lifestyle, location or whatever else.
Otherwise, you’ve got the comfort, a pathetic comfort, which says: “I am like this. This is where I am. This is where I would like to be.” But there is no bridging of the gap. Just remember this, every time you get off the underground train. “Mind the gap!”
If you want to make an outer change, valid and important, you need to be extraordinarily clear what the actual steps are that you are willing to make to go from where you are with an action based on the clear intention to follow it through to the consequence, the result, the fruit, of where you wish to be.
If that movement is taking place, then there is potential. If it is not, it is a fantasy, a nice idea, a projection. The outcome of the sweet idealisms, which we generate, also easily lead to an increase in the level of dissatisfaction. where you are now.
You have created a positive fantasy of where you would like to be. You find yourself pulled back down to earth. The fantasy is flight, an escape. We are not dealing with reality. It is not easy to have a vision. When you start to follow it through towards a worthwhile result, you are an authentic human being. You have integrity.
Listening to the Deep
I was giving a retreat. A guy from London was about 60 years of age. On my retreats, people come for a one-to-one. He sat down in front of me. Rather unexpectedly, he said to me, “Christopher, I’ve just realised something on the meditation cushion. I’ve wasted my life.”
“What tells you that?” I asked him
He said his whole life he had been obsessing, working hard for money and position. (This is the world ‘I’ and ’my’).
“My life has been so focused on that. I’m 60 years of age. I feel I’ve wasted my life.”
I said to him: “You’re right. You did. You wasted it. You blew it.
“But you have today. Are you going to leave this retreat and just go back to the old?
“Are you going to carry on with the thought’ I am wasting my life?
“Are you going to engage in action to do something?
“Are you going to make a real change in your life?”
Bless him. He did makes changes. Ten days later, he flew to India. India is still a kind of refuge for such people. Do you all have to go to India? You could consider…
Sometimes the outer changes need to be made. It isn’t easy in the field of thought, and the proliferation of ideas, to know the voice of the Deep? What is the voice within worth listening to? What is the voice within that can move through all the thoughts to find an actualisation in the consciousness? This thought brings about the action.
Years ago, I had lovely conversations with that rather saintly Albanian lady, Mother Teresa. She told me she was sitting on a train going up to Darjeeling from Kolkata. A voice came from the Deep that she had to resign as the head teacher of a catholic middle-class, bourgeois school in Kolkata. She had to go out on the streets and help the poor, who were dying on the streets.
This voice gets us to move to bring about a change. The voice may arise, but we really must listen to the Deep. That voice, which is listening to the Deep, is taking a risk. One of the actualities of the risk is that it ethical, has spiritual sensitivities, in the service of others, creative and you feel something profound about the change. You might find other people discourage you. If so, you know you are on the right track. (laughter).
One thing is you do not want to be persuaded by the voices of the others. We have to listen within. We have to act, even if it looks crazy. We’re not sure where we are going. The voice inside is strong. We want to live. To live is a movement from the known and the familiar, called the habit, into something fresh.
We need to ask ourselves. What fresh movement and initiatives can I take in my life? What can I respond to, so I can make a step? Artistically, spiritually, meditatively, mindfully? Work? Travel? What will make the step towards change? It is not that the first step is the everlasting step. The steps express our humanity.
The Significance of Love
The other alternative is the inner change if we remain in the same situation. This means a change in attitude. Inner life may require a change in attitude. Earlier, Richard (Dunkerley, Co-Director, Alternatives) referred to the importance of wisdom and love. There is the extraordinary potency and power of love. A healthy attitude in our life is to ask “Where, to whom and to what, can I bring more love?”
We do not offer love to please the other. We do not offer love to feel good about ourselves. It is to bring love, to make this extraordinary power, actualised in difficult areas. Buddhists speak of three kinds of people in the world – the friendly who are easy to love. Strangers who are reasonably easy to show love. To show love to the unfriendly is more difficult. Some of you may be living with the unfriendly.
One of our dear poets, W.H. Auden, said in so many words that if I’m in a relationship, may I be the one who loves most. You should remember that. The significance of the movement of love in life shows the ethic and value of love is fully appreciated. The response of the other is not so important. The movement of the attitude of the heart, of kindness, of generosity, of friendship confirms an authentic human being who stays true to love. If I asked what am I doing with my life, may we put hand on heart and say: “Loving life.” Yes, loving it.
I have a friend in Totnes. She may give you some inspiration in case you want to move to Devon. She told me she worked here in London in the ‘high-end fashion business’ for 10 years. She decided to make a change. She considered different places. She is one of these people who loves her solitude and going on long walks, alone with her tent in the nature. Moving down to Devon, she is not so far away from Dartmoor. She goes walking across Dartmoor. There is something precious and beautiful about the solitary walk across Dartmoor. She’s now got the inspiration to give support to other women to make the same steps. We make one change. That inner change releases something fresh and new. This movement really keeps our heart and mind open.
Others of you in the hall here need to be very specific and clear for your emancipation as a human being about what changes you need to make. If I say in conversations with myself or others: “My life is so busy,” please regard this as a severe form of mental sickness. There is no virtue in busyness. Busyness obstructs inspiration and insights from the Deep. We can spend so much time in hurrying from one thing to another that that we don’t have time for what matters. The Deep matters. The Deep is precious and significant because it releases the creative, love and wisdom.
Roles arise through Social Agreement
If we can hold the world of ‘I’ and ‘my’ lightly, this will ensure in daily life our roles are just functions of social agreement. Christopher is the Dharma teacher who sits here in this moment. It is by agreement. This person speaks to you. We have an agreement, rather sweet so far, namely you stay silent and have not stormed off. This allows the teacher and the listeners to come together.
The role of the teacher works the same as any other roles that you and I may have. Everyone’s role is a formation of an agreement. The parents need the children. The children need the parents. The employer needs the employee. Life is a lot more significant than any identity with our role. If we are going to touch the Deep, the world of ‘I’ and ‘my,’ and all the roles, need to be rather quiet in our daily in consciousness. Do you understand?
I am not the ’teacher.’ I am not a ‘father.’ I am not ‘a friend.’ These roles are by agreement. If they are quiet in our silent, meditative times, we are receptive to something else that might come through the being. This is what we take a real interest in. The inspirations, insights and realisations from the Deep inform the roles. Our response to such receptivity supports the roles. We do not have to fight ourselves nor each other because of our history, our pattern. We do not have to be in the grip of our history around our role and the patterns influencing the roles.
Please make some valuable time in your daily life to feel the absence of the role – the workers, students and the mothers and fathers amongst you. When we come to the end of the day, of the moment, of the situation. Be clear that you experience the end of it. We are not in the role all the time, not even the mother and father. Is a parent for 24 hours a day? It is not possible. Kids are in bed. Kids are at school. There is a quiet period. What can you create? What can you make happen? What support can you give? Do you have time to be in the nature with all the beautiful parks that this extraordinary city offers?
This takes a discipline. I come to London regularly. My daughter is a single mum with four kids. She lived in Stanmore, Middlesex, just outside London. She moved to Welwyn Garden City. She is a Devon woman. She likes the trees. She moved for various reasons.
if you can please remember that an important aspect of human exploration is the feeling of belonging. That sense of belonging arises when we can find some groups or networks. Or initiate such a group so there is an opportunity together to speak about things which are important to you.
Explore the deeper things of life. Really listen to each other in small groups. One to six people is enough to share things which matter to you. There is a huge wealth of insight and wisdom of experience between women and men. There are not enough voices.
People like me can come to St James’s and give a talk. The challenge rests with you to make events happen. That means some of you have to initiate a meeting.
What matters in life?
What is love?
How do I deal with change?
What is my relationship to death?
What shows the creative in my life?
What do I need to do less of?
What do I need to focus on?
A Daily Addiction?
There is a world-wide phenomenon of addiction. Russell Brand (comedian and social critic) spoke here a few days ago on addiction. One common addiction relates to the screen, namely the television screen. My grandson, 16 years old, an Anglo Caribbean family, peeped into the living room on Christmas Day.
“Why don’t you come in and watch TV?” we asked him.
He replied: “Only old people watch television.” (laughter). He was right.
There are the other screens as well. The iPad, the mobile phone and the computer screen. The screen is not true reality. There is no comparison with the real world. It is a substitute world. Is there an addiction to the content of the screen? Is there an addiction to social media? I hear from those with such an addiction that it causes mental tiredness, stress, anxiety and an inability to stay happy and focused.
Is any wonder when the attention span is so short. Sometimes I’m a little nosy. I look at the screen that people are using on the London Underground. I see what people are doing with their mobile phone. People mostly seeing text messages, scrolling down Facebook pages and playing games. These preoccupations cannot serve as a substitute for real living. The constant staring at the screen has a consequence on the brain cells, a consequence on the energy, feeds unhappiness and generates a lot of comparing with others.
The addiction becomes very strong. If we wish to live and make authentic changes, then it means a liberation of the being. It will mean sharing together, developing a sense of belonging, a deep enquiry and a holding of the world lightly.
Realising our Potential
You need to spend more time in the nature and be clear about the steps that you need to make. We need a commitment to that with the support of each other. Our heart, mind and being can open up in extraordinary ways.
We are human. We should not underestimate our power. We should not underestimate our incredible potential. We should not underestimate our capacity for love, for wisdom and receptivity to the Deep.
If it is not happening for us, then go out and find some people who are inspirational. Hang out with them. Go to their meetings. Listen. Listen. Maybe some of their inspiration will rub off on you. If your life is precious and deep already, be grateful. Be happy. Enjoy it. No need to go and try to make major changes in your life.
If your heart is at peace and your relationships are clear, then you can love. If you can do that, wherever you are, that is marvellous. That’s the best.
Thank you for listening. Thank you.
The Intimacy Circle
For the next 10 minutes, this is the form. You form into groups of three. There is a theme and form. The theme is:
“What change can I make in my life which would be beneficial for myself and others?
“What is the single change I need to make?
There are three roles which will be in rotation. One person is the speaker in response to questions. The second role is for the person, who asks the speaker questions. The speaker speaks for three minutes. The third person is the silent witness. She or he sits there and listens as a presence.
A friend of mine and her partner were in a crisis. They did not know whether they would get through the week, let alone months or years. They were ships passing in the night and sometimes colliding. The husband and wife sat down together and agreed they had to do something about the state of their marriage, otherwise it would be time for a divorce.
They came to an agreement. One would share the experiences of the last week to express what they appreciated about each other and what they found difficult. One spoke while the other listened. They agreed they would not make any references to anything more than one week old. One who listened asked questions.
They gave more than an hour to this exchange between them. They did this practice every Wednesday after the evening meal for 11 years. It was not an opportunity to attack, blame and using the language of: “you always… Or you never…”
On one of my retreats a couple of years ago, I asked the woman: “How are you and your good man?”.
She said: “We are together for 28 years.”
“What about the weekly practice?”
“No. We only use if we are having a little difficulty.”
The couple developed a form to support their marriage by keeping close to the present – without going back more than a week. Some of you might think about using the form. The couple gave the opportunity to each other to express their appreciation and the challenges. Think about it.
The silent witness watches and listens. Then there is rotation of the three roles. You might have appreciation for love, service, mindfulness and much more. What benefits yourself and what benefits others?
I will leave you to form into groups. We will complete the intimacy circle in around 10 minutes.