Do you remember learning to ride a bike?
I do. Mark Rogers from no. 25 taught me in our street, in front of all the neighbours. I remember the moment of panic as I suddenly realised that I was riding on my own, without stabilisers or Mark holding on to the back of my seat. I wobbled and nearly fell, not because I didn’t have the balance or skill, but because every thought in my panicked head began: ‘am I?’
- Am I going to fall and hurt myself?
- Am I going to humiliate myself?
- Am I going to get in trouble?
- Am I going to die?
- Am I safe?
The moment I became secure was the moment I learned to say “I am!”
- I am safe.
- I am doing it ‘automatically‘.
- I am riding my bike!
- I am flying!!
- I am loving it…
Do you remember when you first learned to swim without water wings in the deep end of the swimming pool? Alan (pictured above), my ex-flatmate / ex-business partner taught me. I remember swimming beyond the shallow end, realizing that the water below me was far deeper than the length of my legs. I could have felt panic. I could have felt terror. When I disengaged from it and thought about it, I felt fear. But when I engaged with my stroke, breathing into the present moment, I allowed it to carry me. I felt myself float and I swam with the calm and joy of a Buddhist dolphin.
This article is about two states which I call ‘am I?’ and “I am”. The two perspectives on life that we can take in our every moment, either consciously or unconsciously. I hope it will help you to recognise which state you are in at any given moment. I’d like to share a few tricks on how to change state from ‘am I?’ into one of “I am”. Here’s a run-down:
‘Am I?’ is driven by an external sense of self. The feeling that who we are is determined by others, as we hand our power over to them. Often it arises from out dated doubts and fears, paranoia and projected fantasy expectations. It leaves us in a constant state of doing – reacting, spinning plates and putting on a good show, troubleshooting life as we attract trouble to shoot.
‘Am I?’ attracts repetitive unhelpful patterns and same old unsatisfactory outcomes. It’s a life lived in survival mode. It’s a life lived in fear and panic, dodging judgement and abandonment. ‘Am I?’ has us shallow breathing, power-thinking, panic-reacting, second-guessing, uptight, on our guard, ready to fight, flight or freeze.
This self-preservation instinct has, no doubt, helped billions of people survive life-threatening situations, but how do we let our inner protectors know that the war is over – that it’s safe now? Once we progress beyond living in survival mode, our old protective shields can turn into tight little cages that restrict our lives from growing. Such control leaves little, if any room for who I am to take root and flower.
In my 25 years of work in this arena, the most frequent concern I have heard from men is a lack of control. I have met men who would rather kill themselves than be out of control. Men come to me running from the two big male fears: humiliation and abandonment. They all come in wanting something, and rather than getting that thing, they make their hero’s journey from ‘am I?’ to “I am”, and along the way, they make authentic space for themselves.
If ‘am I?’ is external, “I am” comes from an internal sense of self. It is conscious. It is authentic. It brings out the best of who we are in the present moment. It’s aware of our baggage, but it doesn’t let it run the show. It attracts calm, certainty, safety and the right people. It allows things to flow efficiently, where meeting our own needs comes first, enabling us to extend ourselves to others. It is a very comfortable and powerful place of being.
I am is awash with endorphins, the substance our bodies create that produces a feeling of wellbeing. Similar to how we feel after exercise, in love, at orgasm, or a relief from pain. Safe and able to take part in life, sharing, receiving and growing.
If you are anything like me, you have probably felt moments of terror when asked to take the spotlight, a platform, on a stage. By coming from I am, I have found a way to take these opportunities and enjoy giving them my best shot, rather than fearing every step. I have learned to focus on an outcome beyond my edge. Then the journey brings me alive. Am I? would take me back to the troubled child who fluffed his lines and had the school laughing. I am takes care of that frightened child and brings him on stage with me, showing him how wonderful the view is from here as we unlearn the past together in a breath.
My trusty shields protected me from public humiliation for all those years, but also kept me from realising my potential as I blocked life’s opportunities. That shield is no longer running the show. My long-suppressed inner showman now relishes the endless possibilities of authentic, playful presentations that bring praise, celebration, self-acceptance, self-nurture and invitations for more. Beyond this, he’s up for fun, risks and even trusting Channel 4’s ‘Cutting Edge’ as my shadow is paraded for all and sundry! This is now my norm and the fear of criticism, humiliation, rejection, abandonment and abuse – from myself or others – can be the fuel that drives me forward. What a relief!
As soon as I catch myself lost in my headspace, I move from Am I? to I am in just one breath. As I inhale I fill my lungs with air and I fill my heart with the contentment of be~ing, thinking ‘thank you for reminding me who I used to be’. As I exhale, I let go of the stressful demands that my inner am I? is trying to foist upon me and with a quiet mind I engage with what’s in front of me. I take part in life.
I often had inner dialogues with my thoughts and emotions running constantly in the background. Times and places that I had not quite let go of, that I survived, but that I still carried around. I put those things to paper and disassociated from them, so I can look at them from the outside rather than believing that this was who I am. I am who I am right here and right now.
If the ‘am I?’ to “I am” breath doesn’t cut it, there may be a depressed ‘pause button’ that keeps you stuck somewhere in the past. As you breathe into the feeling, let yourself follow it to its source. It is likely to take you back to a specific scene, incident, or time in your life that will likely reveal itself, ready for acceptance and reconsolidation info a life beyond old limitations. Clearing up what’s in the shadow makes space for more in the light of daily life.
My wife once said to me “all this talk of alcoholism, drug addiction, sex and love addiction, workaholism, I don’t buy it! I think it’s all addiction to thoughts and emotions!” Spot on! She reminded me that I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions. I am not my history. I am a free spirit, on an earthly adventure, creating my reality as I straddle my cycles of life, swimming high on the crest of a wave with quiet confidence, natural courage and on purpose. I am.