Isn’t it strange that in order to be happy we have to unremember a lot of what we already know?
Yet, I still don’t believe that sadness is our natural disposition. Because there is so much to be done. So many to help.
Maybe we aren’t meant to be happy in spite of all the sadness.
Maybe, it is a call for us to help others overcome it.
From the moment of our birth we start to develop our personality. The cloak of thoughts and behaviours that reflects the ways we have learnt with which to approach the world. The facade of habit that we have adopted to survive in our particular environment.
These traits are brought into existence by the feedback we receive from others in our life, the important others, the ones who set the limits to our world as we grow. The ones who might withhold their love.
As adolescents, we start the process of becoming ourselves, separate entities that are different from our family. We learn to think for ourself. We practice for the future by trying new things on for size; ideas, politics, relationships.
As adolescents we start the process of becoming ourselves,
This process of individuation involves the gradual emotional separation from our family of origin. We start to seek emotional support elsewhere. Our peer group becomes all important, helping us develop a greater sense of who we are, what makes sense to us, and how we want to live in the world. All in the name of getting ready to start our own family.
Nobody has ever had the “perfect childhood”, we are all exposed to adverse events no matter how protected we are. Life is unsatisfactory in many ways. Accidents happen, people and pets die, things and relationships break. All these events leave scars on our developing sense of self, some are obvious while some are more subtle and hidden. It is in this environment that we develop habitual ways of being, acting, and responding to events in our lives. Some of these habits are helpful and some are not.
We relive scenes from earlier acts in the story of our lives – and we may do so over and over again – only to discover that the scene we are unintentionally reenacting is from a completely unrelated play. We find ourselves responding to our boss as if he were our mother!
These quirks in our personality may never cause much harm, but few add to our happiness. When they are more severe, we may be left feeling misunderstood and miserable as things blow up in our faces again. When we have one of those “Oh no, not again” moments, it is often a sign that one of these action replays has kicked in, behaviours from our past that continue to haunt us.
If this keeps on happening it may be time to take a look beyond the superficial levels of our personality, to examine the underlying emotional and cognitive responses that drive us and that can be triggered automatically – usually when our mind believes we are under threat – and see what we can do to exorcise these ghosts from our machine.
Behaviours and beliefs from our past continue to haunt us.
When we are mindful, we pay attention to our experience in the present moment. We rest our attention on what is happening right here, right now.
It is all too easy to beat ourselves up when we get it wrong again, so it is important to be compassionate to ourselves. When we take a gentle, enquiring stance to uncovering what is happening we can avoid reinforcing our negative self-image.
The idea is to explore what is causing us difficulty – not to make things worse.
When we have another of those “it just happened again” episodes, we can take a few moments to observe our inner world. Stop for a moment, take a few slow, deep breaths and then consider the situation.
- How did I feel?
- Physical sensations.
- How do I feel?
- What was I thinking?
- What am I thinking?
- What am I avoiding thinking?
- What feelings am I avoiding?
- What are my underlying beliefs?
- I have to be right.
- I am unloveable.
- Big boys don’t cry.
- What set this off?
- What might I be reliving?
- How did it go away?
This process requires a stance of careful exploration, one in which we do not settle for the first answer that comes to mind, but instead continue to ask ourselves what is happening, to get beyond the quick and easy answer to find the underlying thoughts, feelings and beliefs that triggered our responses.
A process of careful exploration.
This all takes time and repetition to make headway, for we need to slowly peel back the layers of habit that we have accrued over the years. It may be helpful to keep a daily journal of how we think and feel and to record the events of our day. It is just as important to record the things that go well as it is to record those that go awry.
When we find things coming up again and again, then it will be worth exploring in greater detail. We can do this in our journal, or perhaps recruit a good friend to talk it over with. It may be something we could reflect on in meditation. If it a serious difficulty, talking it through with a psychologist, coach, or your spiritual advisor may be the better option.
Being mindful of our day-to-day experiences gives us the freedom to choose how we will respond under any circumstances, and allows us to leave our unhelpful habits and beliefs where they belong – in the past.