Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dying for a Coffee?

Have you ever heard of a Death Cafe?

I hadn't, until the other day.

After my talk for the International Day of Happiness, where I spoke about having a daily awareness of death gives rise to happiness and gratitude, I was contacted by the organiser of the event who said she was keen to set up a group where the main topic of discussion would be death.

It sounds grim, right?

But it can be far, far from it, I assure you.

Upon searching the net, she found a growing trend for Death Cafes.

What happens is this: people meet for two hours and talk about death and dying whilst supping a hot beverage and nibbling on a piece of cake.

It's that simple.

I think it's a great idea.

It shines light on a dark topic - a topic which a lot of us prefer to run away from, but ultimately it will catch us up.

Have a look at the death cafe website:

There's a guide on there to set up your own meeting. You can search for Death Cafes near you. There's advice on what to talk about. There's loads of stuff! Have a look and see what you think.

I honestly think that talking about death and dying can change the way we live. So many of us think that life is continuous . . . and to a degree, I personally think it is (but that's for another post), but we can all agree on the impermanent state of this physical world. Everything about this physical reality is governed by the law of impermanence - there's no escaping it. 

We have given a name to this flow of impermanence. We have called it dying.

And it's about time we sit and chat about it - over coffee and cake.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Dying to Live

When I was invited to do a talk for the International Day of Happiness, I jumped at the chance.

I was enthusiastic about it at first, but that enthusiasm soon began to fade. I started to have doubts about my ability to talk about happiness for 30 minutes.

How do you present a talk about happiness?

This was the question I asked myself over and over again.

I came to the conclusion (a few days before the event) that when we speak about happiness, we only talk of two things:

1. How we feel when we're happy
2. What gives rise to that feeling we know as happiness

Feelings are subjective.

They're very personal.

I can never experience a feeling for you and you can't experience a feeling for me.

I can't feel what you feel and you can't feel what I feel.

I might say some comforting words, such as, 'I know how you're feeling.'

But I don't, really.

They're just very nice words to hear when we're wanting reassurance that we're not alone with our feelings.

When, in reality, we are.

But we're OK with that, right? We don't know any different.

After all, we've never shared feelings before, have we?

Even if I say I know how you feel, it's still I who feels the feelings that I say are the feelings that you say you're feeling. Do you follow?

To cut out any further mind-bending sentences, let us conclude that happiness is a feeling and is therefore subjective.

And because happiness is subjective, I knew I couldn't realistically present a talk on happiness in 30 minutes.

I don't know what makes people happy! I have no secrets for peoples' happiness! What on earth can I speak about?

Then I asked the question: what makes me happy?

That would be a good place to start, right?

If I could speak about that, then I wouldn't be surmising about other peoples' states of mind; their emotional triggers and the filters of their mind.

At first I thought it might seem self-indulgent and narcissistic to just talk about me, myself and I . . . but that would only be true if I was telling them aspects of myself to benefit my ego.

And that wasn't the case.

I was going to tell them aspects of myself because:

1. I thought they would benefit from hearing about my philosophy and experiences.
2. It's the only thing I know!

I started off the talk by explaining my dilemma about not knowing what to talk about and reasons for this.

I told them the basic fundamentals which make up my own happiness, and would no doubt also make up theirs. Think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:

Physiological: breathing; water; food; sex; sleep; homeostasis; excretion.
Safety: security of body; employment; resources; morality; the family; health; property.
Love/Belonging: friendship; family; sexual intimacy.
Esteem: self-esteem; confidence; achievement; respect of others; respect by others.
Self-actualisation: morality; creativity; spontaneity; problem solving; lack of prejudice; acceptance of facts.

What I wanted to speak about was one area of life which seemed to be the undercurrent in all that I do.

It effects the way I look at life.

It effects the way I live my life.

It effects the way I perceive life and is therefore an intrinsic part of my own personal philosophy.

It's the one thing which I'm sure people weren't expecting to ponder on at an event focused on happiness.

Death and dying.

When I ponder on my own mortality, it gives rise to gratitude, love, joy, compassion, understanding; empathy, patience, contentment, motivation, ambition, and many more.

I've had an interest in the paranormal since I was a child. My parents said I was writing ghost stories at the age of six. At the library, I would run over to the non-fiction section and look for books on ghost sightings. I would revel in the black and white photos of the silky figures coming down huge staircases in old mansions.

I wanted to know what it was all about death and why people feared it. Maybe, as children, we all have an innate knowing that death is safe, but it's knocked out of us by our exposure to fear, through adults and the media.

Another reason why death plays an important part in my life, is that I've had three friends die before they're 30, so now, because I'm approaching 31, I feel like I'm on borrowed time. I didn't share this with the group to gain their empathy - thousands of people die everyday - death is as common as life - but my exposure to death has impacted my philosophy . . . and this is what I was wanting to share with them.

A good friend of mine died of cancer at the age of 22. He said to me, 'Gav, one day you're on the bus going to college and the next day you've got a brain tumour.'

Life unfolds like that sometimes.

But doesn't that make you want to live?

Doesn't that make you look around and think, 'Wow -  what a beautiful planet we share. Oh, look, I'm breathing - that's amazing!'

When I was in my late teens I was incredibly miserable. I was overly ambitious and my dreams just weren't happening fast enough. I didn't like myself. I didn't like what I saw in the mirror. I turned to smoking weed and I drank way too much. I was your stereotypical teenager, really, but I was suffering, nonetheless.

One day, I was walking my dogs on a grassy hill. There was no sound on that hill, apart from distant traffic and the occasional barking dog somewhere. My dogs were running around frantically; happy chasing leaves and their tails. I, on the other hand, was listening to the constant stream of thoughts going on inside my head. It was dreadful. I liken it to the sound of a football match.

Then I found myself staring at a tree. I stared and stared at this one tree.

Then my perception of the tree changed.

Then everything about Gavin and all of his problems; all of his past; all of his future plans; and all of his insecurities vanished in an instant, leaving nothing but awareness and a formless identity.

And that identity was shared with that tree.

I went from rock bottom to ecstatic laughter in an instant.

I laughed my arse off for a few minutes on that hill and I had no idea why.

As soon as the first thought came, Gavin Whyte came with it. It was a thought which asked, 'What the hell was that?'

I, now back to being Gavin Whyte, with his past and future etc, was confused. I thought I was losing the plot.

Still on the hill with my dogs and pondering on the experience, a voice came into my head and said, 'See everything as if for the first time.'

Now, I know it sounds crazy to have voices in your head - honestly, I do - but it happened.

This voice has made itself known three times in my life, and every time it grabs my attention and I have no choice but to listen.

You know when you read a book in your head? You know when you're talking to yourself in your head?

What does the voice sound like?

It sounds like you, right?

That's the trick of our thoughts. They use our voice which makes us believe they are us. But we are not our thoughts; we are their observer.

The voice that said, 'See everything as if for the first time,' was not my voice.

I don't know whose voice it was, but it wasn't mine.

And I had no control over it.

It just came - said its thing - and left.

As soon as I heard it, I stopped walking with my dogs and instantly thought I had been given a secret to life. A secret to happiness.

I continued to reflect on the mini message (which has profound effects if you do what it says) and then I thought, what if if you see everything as if for the last time, too?

So what happens when you look at something as if for the first time?

You eliminate the past.

You cut through all of your preconceptions and all of your 'knowledge' of that object.

What happens when you see everything as if for the first time and the last time?

You eliminate the past and the future.

With this perception, you know you've never seen this object before and you know that you're never going to see it again.

Also - you have to admit to yourself that you have no idea what it is!

With this mindset, calling a tree a tree makes no sense whatsoever!

Calling a flower a flower is nonsense.

Calling a person a person is ridiculous.

You have to admit to yourself that you don't know what they are - because you have no idea who you are either!

You have absolutely no idea.

But there is one thing which you do know:

That you, this nameless witness, shares the same energy and presence with everything else in the entire universe.

Looking at life this way, we see that we never die, because we were never born.

Death is a natural process in life which we have labelled 'death'. And this label brings with it so many negative connotations, which breeds fear.

We could go so far as to say there is no such things as death. There is only life because death IS life.

As Ram Dass said, 'Death is like taking off a tight shoe'.

The physical universe is in a constant state of flux. It's full, from moment to moment, of subtle changes which our eyes don't pick up. We only notice change after a significant amount of time has passed, or if there has been a set of circumstance which have caused a vast change in a small amount of time.

So when you do actually see a flower, it really is the first time you've seen it, and the last time you're going to see it.

That flower is always changing.

To assume it isn't is plain ignorant.

So many of us live our lives as one big assumption. We go to bed at night as if we've signed a contract which states that we're going to wake up in the morning. We think there's a similar contract in the morning which promises that our heads will rest at night . . . but there is no such contract.

Yet this is how most of us live our lives.

A healthy awareness of death and the fragility of this physical world and your physical form, brings you back to here. To now.

I finished the talk at the event for happiness with a few simple figures which put things into perspective for me. They're figures which I've stated previously on this blog, but I will repeat them here.

If you live till you're 80:

- you have approximately 4160 weeks here. (Half that if you're approaching or are past 40).
- you have approximately 29,200 days to shine. Match this with the number of sunsets to see.
- you have approximately 960 months. The same applies with the number of full moons to see.
- you have approximately 80 sets of seasons to make the most of.

How that does that make you feel?

I don't know about you, but it makes me want to live.

And when I start living, I'm happy.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Happiness & Honey - 99p download!

I'm happy to announce that my book, Happiness & Honey, is now available to download directly from my site for a whopping price of 99p.

Please visit if you're interested in a fable about believing in yourself, overcoming doubt and going for what you believe in.

With Gratitude.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Are you a Couch-Sitter or a Star-Sitter?

The other day, an elderly man, who I see every other week, asked me how I was doing. He used to be a doctor but has since retired.

I said I was busy as ever. He laughed.

'It's good to keep busy,' he said. 'Many people sit in front of their TVs and don't live - in fact, they just die.'

He began to tell me of his days as a doctor during the 80's.

'A lot of my patients were miners,' he said. 'They would spend ten hours in the mine, yet they would still smoke 40 a day.' He laughed in disbelief. 'When they went home they would sit in front of the TV, drink and smoke, and ultimately die. They didn't know any other way to live. The way of living was just passed on from one generation to the next. But this way of living didn't have any hope. It's sad, really. If they weren't at home in front of the TVs, they would be at the pub smoking and drinking. You see, back then, teachers and miners got paid the same wage. The difference was how they spent their wage.'

'Also,' I said, 'I assume that teaching is a much more fulfilling job than mining.'

'Exactly,' he said. 'The difference a teacher can make is huge and the sense of pride and fulfillment is almost instant. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but . . . '

He pondered in silence for a moment.

'Do you know what the answer is?' he said.

I smiled. 'What?'

'The answer is to keep going. Don't stagnate.'

We all have so much potential, yet we clip our own wings and then complain that we can't fly. We look in awe at others who are flying high and fantasize at being just like them, or we despise them out of envy. But we don't need to be just like them. To fly as high as them, and even higher, we just need to see how unique and truly amazing we are. We need to understand that we have what it takes to reach for the stars. All we need to do is water our innate qualities with self-belief, drive, ambition, purpose, goals, passion, confidence, enthusiasm, faith, hope, tenacity, motivation and patience - loads and loads of patience.

It's hard to be yourself but who else is there to be?

There's a common difference between the couch-sitters and the star-sitters - one reaches their hands up and the other lifts their arses up.

Are you a couch-sitter or a star-sitter?


Friday, 7 March 2014

FREE Download - The Sun and the Moon

Last year, whilst writing Happiness & Honey, I wrote a small story about the relationship between the sun and the moon.

I don't agree when people say that when you write a story, it has to be a certain length.

That's like telling an artist they can only use a canvas of a certain size, or telling a poet they can only use so many words in a verse.

Nope, I'm sorry . . . I don't agree.

This is creativity we're talking about here and its wings should not be clipped. It should be allowed to fly to unknown places, go on adventures and get to know itself.

I understand that publishers and all the rest have their guidelines. I once had a recording contract and as soon as the record label told me what to do with MY music, I turned around and said no thanks.

Even when they say they give you freedom, it's still within the limits of their own landscape. 'We won't clip your wings, but you're not allowed to go over there or over there . . . no, not over there, either. Over there is a no-go. Definitely not over there.'

This is why so many creatives end up going alone. It might be harder and the process longer (although sometimes it's not) but there's one thing that remains intact: integrity.

And surely one of the most important character traits for any creative person is integrity.

For that reason, I wrote a story and when it felt complete, I put a full stop at the end of it. It turned out it was less than 700 words in length. It's cool, though, it is what it is.

Please go to the book section of my site and you'll find it as a free download.

Keep shining!


Monday, 3 March 2014

Confiding in Yourself

So the weekend TEFL course has been completed.

I'm glad to say I passed!

Although it's not that much of an achievement when you consider the fact that it has a 99% pass rate - but still, I passed it!

I think the only way you would fail was if you really didn't like people.

I like people = I passed.

I didn't think I would make it to the second day because of a hell-raising trip there.

The train was cancelled so I had to take the coach instead. As long as I got there in time, I didn't mind. I put my headphones on, got my book out and began to read. We had been on the motorway for about five minutes when I thought I heard shouting. It was loud enough to be heard over my music. I took out one earphone and looked around, everybody seemed to be normal (either looking out of the window, playing on their phones, or reading etc). I waited for the shouting to occur again - by this point I was beginning to think I was imagining it. I was just about to put my earphone back in when somebody shouted something.

'I've told you!' said the voice. 'They're not working! I can't see! Yes! As soon as I got on the motorway.'

It was coming from the coach driver . . .

I looked down the isle to the front and saw several other heads doing the same.

There was rain and mist all over the windscreen.

The wipers had stopped working.

'No! said the coach driver. 'Well what am I supposed to do? No. Yeah. I've told you! Yeah!'

People began to get a bit fidgety. Great, I thought, I'm trying to better myself and die in the process.


It reminded me of what Ricky Gervais says in the film Ghost Town. 'I was just getting started!' He says, just after he has died. 'Everything leading up to this was a warm up.'

Fortunately, the fact that I'm writing this post means that I didn't die. We got there in one piece with a very frustrated driver, who, when we were getting off the coach, was inspecting the faulty wipers.

Back to the TEFL course. The whole group were dreading the long hours. Saturday, for instance, was 9am to 8pm. Sunday wasn't too bad, starting from 9am to 6pm - but still quite a long stretch.

Many people were moaning on the Sunday about getting up early. Why do so many of us think it's against nature to get up early on a Sunday? May be it originates from the rumour that it's the day of rest . . . ?

That said, the whole weekend went really quick. We had fun and learnt new teaching skills. We played a lot of games and supported each other, giving honest feedback when needed.

When you get a group of people doing such a course, it only takes around 20 minutes to suss everybody out.

  • You've got the extrovert who always wants to be heard. They always put their hand up to volunteer and they always want to be laughed at. 
  • You've got the serious people who are there to have minimum fun, but by the end of the course they're cracking a smile and having a good time like the rest of the group. 
  • You've got the shy people who never put their hand up. They smile faintly at other peoples' jokes, but not too much as to attract attention. Towards the end of the course, they're comfortable at putting their hand up and speaking up - but not too loudly.
  • You've got the person who thinks they know it all, but every time they try to answer a question they get it wrong. Yet still, they think they know it all. 
  • You've got the people who are in between the introvert and the extrovert. It doesn't take them that long to put their hand up to voice their opinion, but they're fully aware if and when they're holding the class back, and decide to shut up. 
  • You've always got the person who doesn't seem to care. They don't really want to be there and everything is a chore for them. They sit doodling on their A4 pad and picking their nails whilst everybody else is contributing and taking part. 

It's fascinating.

In school, I was the quiet kid. I knew the answers to most questions but I never raised my hand, just in case I was wrong and got laughed at. The less attention I had, the better. Even now, I still find it daunting to raise my hand to answer a question or to even ask one, because as soon as I do, it's all eyes on Gav. I've always been a self-conscious person, even as a child, but attending courses like TEFL do wonders for confidence.

If I have a question, I can still feel the critic inside saying, 'Don't put your hand up. People will stare at you and you will get embarrassed. You will go red and you'll go even more red because you know you're going red!' bla bla bla.

I turn to that inner-critic and say, 'You're going to be fine. It's OK. Watch . . .'

I force myself to raise my hand, and guess what?

I survive the ordeal.

Every time.

Without fail.

Doing it more and more reduces the amount of control the inner-critic has.

Remember - confidence is confiding in yourself that everything is going to be OK.

If you're interested in TEFL, this is the link I used to book my course - if you go by coach, though, make sure the wipers work before getting on.