Two weeks ago I looked at the bookings for the 8 week mindfulness course that was due to start in a fortnight: two people. Usually by that point the course would be over half booked, with the remaining few places going in the last couple of weeks. Unlike previous courses I had started to promote the course very late and as I looked at the two bookings my inner critic started with its opinions “you’ve failed”, “that’s it, you’ll have to cancel it now”, “If you were any good at what you do you would have had it booked up by now”, “just give up, you see you can’t do this”. I even had the thought that perhaps this was the end of me running the 8 week course, that no-one was interested in it any more.
As I listened to this I reflected that I had a choice, to go with this story, or to create the intention to run the course and have it full. I briefly thought of canceling, as my logical mind was saying there was no way in two weeks that I could get it to its full capacity of 14 people. I even had a call that day from the venue asking me if I was sure I wanted the booking as they had someone else who wanted to book it. In that moment on the ‘phone I decided, and said, “yes, I’m confirming the booking”. As I hung up I had a moment of thinking “what have I done, that was a chance to cut my losses and shift the course to the New Year.” But I made the resolve that the course would go ahead. Two people had already booked on and I knew how disappointing I would find it to be told something I was eager to attend had been canceled so I decided to make it happen.
The first night of the course was last night, and it was fully booked, with 14 people attending.
What had happened in those two weeks?
As I heard the self-judging narrative of the inner critic telling me I had failed, I told myself: “It’s just a story”. I have no foreknowledge of the future, so any statement about two weeks in the future is not a fact, it’s an opinion. As my mind told me its opinion: “this is a disaster, there’s going to be so few people there at the session, it won’t work” I kept reminding myself: “thoughts are not facts” and reflected: “it’s just a story” and reminded my self that if I act from a place of ‘not knowing’ in this present moment, from an attitude of being open to any possible outcome, then there is a freedom to make any choice. And I chose to create the story: “I will have a full course”.
Once I was focused on this intention my mind then turned to considering how to make this a possibility. I took various practical measures to promote the event itself: posting on Facebook groups, sending an email out to the group and contacting friends to ask if they would share with their networks. But more was needed as I had already done this before and it had not brought in many bookings.
Creative thinking rather than catastrophising
A course I went on years ago talked a lot about creating from nothing – from a space that is free from all the views and opinions and beliefs that we usually impose on ourselves. This space of open possibility allows the mind to play and re-create itself rather than live constrained by the limitations of the old familiar beliefs and self-view. As I stayed with this sense of open possibilities, it suddenly occurred to me that I could use a skills sharing web site I had been told about recently, fiverr.com, to find someone who could create a Facebook ad for me and after three days of running the ad I had 50 contact details of people all interested in attending a free taster session introducing the 8 week mindfulness course. I then invited a few people who had attended previous 8 week courses to come and talk at the taster session about their experience. Fifteen people came to the taster session held this Monday just gone and two of those people signed up to the course whilst others expressed interest in the Spring course.
Then I thought that people might like to refresh their experience of the course who had done it before, so I contacted all past participants of the course offering a reduced rate if they wished to review the course and two signed up, one bringing someone on with them. I then edited the information on the pages advertising the course and sent out a fresh invitation to people via Meet Up and Facebook and others signed up.
This burst of activity, for those who know how I work, is very unlike me! I usually take months to do something that might be done in a week. But in this moment of only having two weeks I dropped my usual working patterns and lived as if I were focused, competent and able to create an event quickly – and it happened!
Had I stayed with the thought “I’ve failed, it won’t happen”, this free thinking playful creativity might not have so easy suggested how to resolve this. I might easily have been caught in catastrophising: “that’s it, it’s a disaster, look how there’s only 2 people and only 2 weeks to go…. how will I ever get it booked up now…..” and sunk in to a gloomy despondency that would have felt very familiar. But instead by being in a space of open allowing it was possible for the mind to play in the present moment and be creative, finding solutions rather than seeing problems.
Next Monday at 6pm there is a second free taster session for people wanting to find out more about the Spring 8 week course, and that also has about 15 people signed up to attend. The result of this is that I may now be able to start booking people onto the Spring course whilst others who come to the free taster may start coming to the weekly class. Instead of being a story of failure it has turned into a sense of being competent and having agency. It was also in line with what I teach on the course, that as we change our relationship to our thoughts we change how we act in the world and feel about ourself.
Freeing yourself from your stories
When the most disturbing and limiting thoughts are seen as a mirage, they loose their power to intimidate. As you notice your stories, really become aware of how much they follow old familiar patterns. If it’s an unhelpful narrative, play with challenging it by saying to yourself “it’s just a story……it’s just a story…..it’s just a story…..” and see what other possibility can arise out of the emptiness of the present moment when it is not bound by assumptions and fixed opinions of how things are or who we are. Notice how the mind has got into an habitual way of holding views and opinions of how things are, how you are, what you are cable of and how you think about yourself. Then recognise that all of this is an opinion held by your mind, and is not necessarily true.
As you rest in this place of open allowing – feel into what you would like to be possible. And then create the intention to live as if you are that possibility. What actions would you take? How would you behave? Then live that as your truth rather than believe the story of limitation.
In Buddhism there is a teaching of ‘no self’. This teaching states that self-view creates the assumption of a fixed identity, but that in fact there is no fixed identity. Identity is constantly coming into being every moment and is passing away every moment and as such can constantly be re-formed if we change the underlying assumptions that give rise to our view of ourself and who we believe ourself to be. Our self-identity depends on supportive conditions, just as a plant depends on the supporting conditions of soil, climate and light. Deny the plant water, it will wither, water and feed it and it will flourish. Choosing how to relate to our thoughts and taking actions that bring supportive and affirming experiences into our life helps to create conditions that allow us to then flourish.
Gently challenging the assumptions and thoughts that define our self-identity offers an opportunity to see that we are not the self that our mind may like to tell us we are and we may find a much more free and playful way to create ourselves in this moment as we let go of the old assumptions and beliefs.