The world does not turn without moments of grace. Who cares how small. - Colum McCann

The world does not turn without moments of grace. Who cares how small.
– Colum McCann

In unpredictable times, it is not only knowledge that lessens the fear of uncertainty, but also our capacity to bear the feelings of uncertainty and to connect with and live from a place beyond the discomfort of not knowing.


You are entering the zone of negative capability – one of my favourite discoveries.

Negative capability is the willingness and ability to embrace uncertainty, ambiguity and the state of not knowing.

A few years back I found myself very stressed about a situation, and my usual rationalisations didn’t make it go away. I didn’t know what would happen in that situation and I didn’t know what to do about it. I realised finally that I was resisting what I was feeling, so I sat down and made myself feel it and find out what it really was. It was the feeling of not knowing itself, and the powerless that came with that. Didn’t like it! But, there it was. After I sat with it and really felt it, it became a bearable feeling. And it was ok for me to not know. Sometimes as humans, obviously, we just don’t know.
Some poems, links and quotes below may open this exploration in other ways.

Writing to his brothers, George and Thomas in 1817, the poet Keats coined the phrase negative capability. He only mentioned it once but it has become a significant part of his contribution to the English language.

Alan Watts in his impactful book The Wisdom of Insecurity – A Message For an Age of Anxiety (written in 1951 as the scientific approach was impacting religious belief systems) explores this concept from a Zen perspective.


This month’s email will look at two things: getting to know more about the parts of us that feel the anxiety or discomfort, and shifting to the place beyond them – the Aware Ego (and beyond!).

When the times are a-changing it really gets our reactive selves going. From a voice dialogue perspective (which regards us as having many of these aspects, or selves, within our personality) this means that usually:

a) We feel vulnerable – changes that are beyond our control typically make our inner child, especially, feel very uneasy and scared. We also may feel very sad at the plight of others or the loss of better times. Our young, sweet, vulnerable selves tend to carry the softest part of our hearts. I have often dialogued with selves, in myself and others, who feel the pain of the world with great intensity. And helplessness.

b) We immediately rush away from this vulnerable feeling to a default self e.g. our Judge (“How can they say this! What an idiot!…”); our Cynic (“What do you expect from them, it’s all the same old same old, they’ll never change…” ); our Worrier, concerned about the situation or state of the world and feeling responsible, yet also helpless; or perhaps our Strategist/Activist which has a strong need to be active towards positive change in any situation. We will generally then get together with others’ selves who agree with us, for a talk that aims to comfort perhaps, but doesn’t usually do anything about that core anxiety and often makes it worse.

I am not judging these feelings here – we are designed for empathy and thank God we have compassion, even if it hurts. Our human hearts find suffering very painful to see or anticipate, especially if it is beyond our control, but we are creatures of connection and caring. So, how to manage that with awareness?

Looking at these reactions from a neuroscience perspective, the more out of our control things seem, the more anticipating and ‘what iffing’ we do. Or rather, the brain does. Our survival instinct seeks certainty and predictability and thus makes decisions which are intended, though instinctive and unconscious, to help us get to feelings of safety and the avoidance of fear – to experience pleasure and avoid pain. As part of this pattern of survival, our inner selves develop to attempt to help us feel safe and thus protect our vulnerable feelings.

So our protective, automatic selves get very busy trying to sort the situation out – much of this just going on in our minds – but it is impossible to sort because the situation itself is beyond our control! That doesn’t stop them though – and they will go all day and all night trying to make things ok for us/the world/our family/ the problem. They tend to do this in a very cyclical way having the same thoughts, feelings and conversations over and over. Sound familiar?

This doesn’t really work very well in terms of either impacting the situation in a constructive way or actually making us feel better.

All of these are our natural human responses to challenging situations. If they run us, however, we can begin to feel more and more sad, even depressed and helpless, or angry and very agitated. If these feelings build and remain in charge, it will affect our moods and conversations in increasingly negative ways. I find this is not really helpful for myself, nor, I suspect, for the world.

Susan webmail 3

I love this photo, taken by my friend Susan Chisholm. It reminds me that we never need to be alone with our feelings. If there is no-one to share them with, we can be an accepting companion to our own vulnerability.


It is entirely possible to have these strong feelings and at the same time not to be had by them. By this I mean, to connect with a deeper part of us that exists beyond feelings and thoughts. Let’s call it Being – though it has been given many names, spiritually and psychologically – the soul, the field, the calm centre, mindful awareness. What’s your name for the part of yourself that, even if you have never felt it or don’t connect with it much, represents a kind of ‘peace beyond all understanding’?

This is a four part voice dialogue exercise which I have found helpful

1. The Aware Ego: Next time your thoughts and feeling arise about the situation, take a second to simply observe it in a detached manner, from a place of neutrality – accepting and not judgemental. We call that the aware ego place.

2. Connecting with the self internally: Now move slightly to one side and tune in carefully to the part of you that is speaking.There may be several voices, so just pick one to start with.

Listen to its language and opinions, its ‘shoulds’ about how the world should be and its confusion or sadness about what’s happening instead, its outrage or its hopelessness.
Don’t be afraid to really feel it. It is a genuine, distinct part of you with its own experience of the world and your life. It may recall key moments that impacted it or have impacted you.
You may be able to get a sense of how long this voice has been part of you and where it comes from. Does it feel like a young voice? A judging voice? A rebellious voice? A grieving voice? A deep soul longing voice? With total acceptance, get to know and understand its perspective. Its thoughts and feelings will be automatically generating your reactions to the situation and as long as it takes over your thoughts and feelings, it will be taking you over. Really connecting with it and understanding it is the first step to shifting this.
Notice where in your body it seems to be – your stomach? Your shoulders? Is its energy sluggish, rigid and upright, folded and powerless, animated and urgent?
Ask it how you can help it or what it would like to happen. It may have some great ideas to lessen the stress and pain you are going through.

3. Separating from the self: Now consciously detach from that part of you by moving back to the aware ego place. This is called ‘separating’ from the self. Notice, when you get back to a neutral place, how it feels different from when you were in the self. This awareness is a crucial step, as now you can recognise more quickly when that part shows up again, by its thoughts, feelings, what’s happening in your body. Notice, though, if you find yourself judging the self. That’s not the aware ego! That’s a judgemental part of yourself who thinks that the other self is bad or problematic.
Pure awareness doesn’t judge, it just notices, accepts and allows what is present.

4. The Compassionate Field: From the aware ego place, you have a chance to connect with the part of you that can see the bigger picture and holds even the aware ego – a spacious field that holds all of existence. Imagine it perhaps as energy – behind you, around you, within you, or you may have your own way of connecting to it. For me, I kind of move my awareness backwards in my being and expand it outwards – or that’s what it feels like.

The experience of this will feel unique to everyone. This may be your familiar place of Being, or whatever you call that peace which passeth all understanding. What does it feel like? Use your breath to keep you connected to the feeling of it, and not distracted by your mind’s input. Spend some time here. What does your life, and the world and those in it look like from here? This is a place beyond judgement, rules and resistance. It is certainly beyond anxiety and the fear of uncertainty. Take the time to let it nourish and strengthen you and refresh your perspective.


Another way to take care of our vulnerability is suggested byDr Hal Stone*.Beauty 1 He said, and we all recognise this, that our vulnerability is very exposed to suffering these days through the news, the web, TV images and video and so on and that we actually need to consciously protect it. Many of us instinctively do that in response to a gut reaction when we see something – “I can’t look at this. ” There is no shame in that. Our vulnerability is like a young child, and we would not force a young child to see and hear terrible things over and over. It’s one thing to be informed and compassionate about what’s going on; it’s another thing to consistently, daily, take the suffering into your gut because of some self that feels guilty, responsible, is lost in grief or fear, or has a bad case of FIMO (Fear Of Missing Out). One of my selves is addicted to the news and definitely has FIMO. I need to sometimes choose to protect my overwhelmed inner child and put my attention elsewhere on something that nourishes, strengthens or inspires

“This we have now
is not imagination.
This is not
grief or joy.
Not a judging state,
or an elation,
or sadness.
Those come and go.
This is the presence that doesn’t.”

– From Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks.


Two quotes here from the eloquent Irish writer Colum McCann

“It’s easy to be cynical. It’s much more muscular to find some sort of grace. It’s much tougher…”

“It’s easier as a writer to go to the darker corners but I think what you have to do is go into the darker corners, yes, but not remain there. I’m much more interested in exploring the darkness but then finding some sort of way to explore the light that comes out of it. So I’m an anti-cynic.”


“Spiritual life is not a matter of quantity but of inherent quality of living. Spiritual infinity includes in its scope all phases of life. It comprises acts that are great as well as acts that are small….and it can equally express itself through happenings irrespective of whether they are outwardly small or great. Thus a smile or a look stands on the same level as offering one’s life for a cause, when the smile or the look springs from Truth-consciousness.”

– Meher Baba Discourses.


For creative and supportive self care, dru yoga and mindfulness workshops or sessions, you may like to look at the work of Sunshine Coast practitioner Ruth Donnelly at Heartmind Connections.

*Drs Hal and Sidra Stone created Voice Dialogue

If you’d like to book a voice dialogue session to work directly with the kinds of selves I’ve been discussing here, just give me a call on 0408 226 353. I’m generally available from Monday to Wednesday in the Nambour Heights area or via Skype. Voice dialogue is also very powerful for couples in exploring, understanding and shifting relationships dynamics.