This week I bring you a great article written by Timber Hawkeye
published in The Science of Mind September 2018
A few years ago, during a guided meditation exercise, we were asked to sit comfortably, close our eyes and think back to the saddest moment of our lives. We were gently invited to recall who was with us at the time, what we were wearing, and the sounds, smells and textures of that moment, all in an effort to remember the event with as much detail as possible.
Some of us conjured up the memory of a death in the family, while others recalled a recent heartbreak, divorce or the loss of a pet. Video footage of the room captured everyones posture slowly slouch with heavy shoulders and a few of use even started rocking back and forth with tears in our eyes. It was as if we weren’t just thinking about the sad experience, we were going through it again.
We were then asked to recall a happy times in our lives, be it the moment we fell in love, a surprise birthday party or even the aforementioned divorce, if it was a pleasant occasion – pretty much anything from the past that makes us smile.
Although still sitting in silence with our eyes closed, the shift in everyones thoughts was clearly captured by the camera once again.
This time our postures straightened, smiles began to spread across our faces and a few of us even began to giggle as the memories took shape in our minds. Just like before, it was as if we weren’t simply revisiting a memory but going though the experience all over again.
In my own minds eye, I returned to the beach in Hawaii, overjoyed by the smell of plumerias and the sound of crashing waves. Its my happy place, a sanctuary I can revisit simply by closing my eyes at any given moment. Think about the incredible power behind that given moment. Think about the incredible power behind that simple exercise, we were in complete control of how we felt.
It turns out we can actually decide how to feel at any given moment, yet many times throughout our lives we have heard people say “I cant help the way that I feel” or worse yet ” You make me feel…….”
Eleanor Roosevelt said “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” and I not only agree, but also believe no one can make us feel anything without our consent. In other words, no one can drive you crazy unless you give them the keys.
When we make someone else responsible for how we feel, we not only give them power over us, we also blame them for our own thoughts and then make it their responsibility to “fix it”.
We essentially rob ourselves of our inherent power and personal responsibility. Every time we say those works (“I cant help the way I feel” or “you make me feel…”) we identify as easily manipulated victims, controlled by others, instead of mature, accountable, calm and collected adults.
Im not suggesting it’s unnatural for us to feel sad, angry or overjoyed – it would actually be unnatural for us not to. I’m only questioning our habitual tendency to emote and whether it proves beneficial or detrimental for our ultimate stability. As the Dalai Lama says ” If our emotions fluctuate wildly and we easily give in to hatred and jealousy, even our friends will avoid us”.
When I sat down to write my memoir, I started feeling sorry for myself, each time I was tempted to describe my childhood as difficult, traumatic, tragic or unfair. So, I challenged myself to still recount the events and experiences from the past without using any adjectives and I actually managed to sidestep the slippery slope of victim mentality and to prevent a free fall into the abyss of depression.
Speak your truth
The pain of grief was recently described by a friend as equivalent to discovering a large hole in the ground that she kept falling into at first. But now, even though the hole is still there, she has learnt to walk around it.
This practice doesn’t deny, ignore or minimise the past. It acknowledges everything that has happened but de – sensationalises it and that makes a really big difference. You can then speak or write about experiences from your past without feeling any anger, resentment or even judgement.
Think of it like stepping out of a movie theatre and explaining to a friend what happened on the screen, you would be able to describe each scene, but you’d have no emotional reaction or attachment to it because the story is over and done. You are now safe and everything is ok.
As long as the narrator in your head calls your experiences “devastating” or “traumatic” you will continue to feel devastated and traumatised, which can continue to wreak havoc on your present, future and your relationships with others. So next time you share a story of a past experience with someone, try doing it without adjectives to see how the story is still true without needing to be sensationalised. By tapping into the strength with which you made it through everything in your life so far, you access the same strength that will carry you through whatever comes next.
This technique is often offered to those with post-traumatic stress disorder, but I’m sure we can all benefit from this exercise. Can you think of past experiences in your life that could use some rephrasing? Perhaps change the descriptive narrative from horrible or tragic to something less hostile like interesting or challenging instead.
Change Your Perspective
We are not what has happened in our lives, nor what we have done in the past; we are who we choose to become – today.
The past is in your head. The future in in your hands. How, then, do we regain control of the wheel? Mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be succinctly explained as the gap between impulse and action. The larger that gap, the more mindful our response, while the shorter the pause, the more impulsive our reaction. Emotional reactivity, as it turns out, is what pulls our lives away from where we ultimately want to be; blissful and at peace with the world, both within and around us.
The good news is that we can be in complete control of our emotional reactivity – and thereby in control of our lives – instead of being controlled by external stimuli. When someone says something offensive to me, for example, I can simply choose not to be offended. In fact, I can choose not to be angry, afraid, insecure or anything else that I don’t want to experience.
Im not suggesting stoicism. As difficult as doing this may sound, it is actually significantly easier than spending the rest of our lives as victims, easily manipulated by everything and everyone around us. Its not about learning to control the mind so much as no longer letting the mind control you. Just as I don’t meditate to control my thoughts, I meditate so my thoughts don’t control me.
“When I felt like life wasn’t worth living because the world is filled with too much hatred, anger, violence and greed, I only had to change one thing to make life worth living again; my perspective”
The villain here, so to speak, is emotional attachment we develop to things, people, and beliefs. Attachment is not only extremely debilitating and restrictive but a dangerously detrimental tendency, if left unchecked.
Love and life without attachment is a lost art in western culture, often criticised for being less passionate, even though non attachment allows us to fully experience everything unconditionally without the very things that ruin our experiences in the here and now: fear, regret, anxiety and stress.
Our thoughts about a situation, not the situation itself, create our experience and memory of it.
So, is peace the absence of war, or is it possible for us to remain peaceful in the midst of conflict?
Is happiness the absence of suffering, or is it the art of being content despite imperfections?
I think we can be happy in a world that is already broken and have inner peace in the midst of chaos, just like we can be in the middle of frustrating situation yet choose not to get frustrated.
This is the subtle difference between being reactive and being responsive. The moment I stopped blaming other people or circumstances for my behaviour, was the instant that I regained control of my situation itself.
This is a freedom I had previously overlooked or taken for granted. There are more than enough reasons to spend the rest of my life angry and bitter; I just choose not to and thats true freedom, isn’t it?
Perhaps the most important kind.
Timber Hawkeye – Author of best selling Buddhist Boot Camp sits in grateful meditation.
Till next time