Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Hope is something we generally think of as positive. It keeps us going in tough times and is the light at the end of our tunnel of suffering. But, hard as it may be to believe, hope has a dark side. The dark side is that hope exists primarily as a reflection of anxiety. Hope, like anxiety, is all about what might happen in the future, not about what is happening in the moment. We set up hoped-for circumstances which, if we attain, we believe will make our lives more successful and fulfilling. Setting goals is not the problem, it is when we postpone living right now until those conditions have been met that creates our absence in the present moment. Anything that threatens our hoped-for future turns into a cause for anxiety.
The biggest disadvantage of using hope to cope, according to the gifted author Dr. Richard Moss is when "we substitute heading for our lives for actually living." In other words, we use hope to avoid and evade what we are actually feeling and what is really happening right now. In our search for success, we become focused on the future, avoiding self-examination of what our senses, bodies, emotions and thoughts are teaching us as well as the enjoyment and growth opportunities of the present moment. Instead, we fast-forward through the moment, working towards a future in which we hope we will have the time and space to really start living. We live in hope that "things might get better." Is living in hope really much different than living in anxiety? Anxiety's only different because the thoughts about the future are primarily worry that "things might get worse". However, both of these perspectives diminish our capacity to truly "be" in the present moment.
More often than not, we use hope to hide from ourselves. We don't really believe in the power of the moment and that the experiences of the past and possibilities of the future inform but don't define who we are, unless we let them. Who we are is happening right here, right now. In each moment we can redefine it, but we have to be fully in the moment to do that!!
An exercise you can use to experience the fullness of the moment rather than escaping into hope (or anxiety) is to stop when you catch yourself longing to be elsewhere and just let yourself feel and tune into what is going on within and around you. Notice your bodily sensations, the environment, your feelings and thoughts. Pay attention and be aware like this for a minimum of five breaths. You will be amazed at the richness and detail that surfaces around and within you when you do this. It gives you a much-needed respite from the relentless swing of hope/anxiety, judging/appeasing, building ourselves up/knocking ourselves down we usually operate in.
While we all may know deep down that the moment is really all there actually is, we don't usually practice being in it! I have been amazed how simply bringing awareness and attention to the present, regardless of whether I like what is happening or not, creates a tremendous sense of clarity and appreciation for my life, as well as a sense of fullness that far exceeds my hopes.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Due to the nature of our early life we all have unconsciously programmed and conditioned behaviors and reactions that helped us survive our earlier years, but left us with a lot of trouble understanding ourselves once we mature! During our formative stages we learned methods to avoid pain and survive, emotionally, physically, and socially. The methods we learned were based on our natural temperment and how others in our environment reacted to the way we expressed ourselves. Their reactions usually taught us we were insufficient or not enough of what was required, or that our natural expressiveness was excessive or too much for them. We learned what was acceptable and not acceptable to others, and to suppress, hide and deny aspects of ourselves which were disapproved of. When we felt the need to control the reactions of others the basic choices we saw to take charge of the situation were to anticipate and accommodate, defy and rebel, or stonewall and withdraw. These survival strategies became seamlessly integrated into our identity and their origin forgotten. Unfortunately, the underlying belief that most of us took away from our early conditioning is that our real, true selves are inadequate and unworthy. This fear remains lurking in our unconscious, getting triggered by situations that stress or threaten the positive or negative social identity we have created to mask or calm this fear.
Our social identity is comprised of roles such as the "spoiled girl" the "successful businessman" the "creative artist" or the "funny fat guy." When the identities we use to cover our feelings of insufficiency are questioned, we are thrown into survival mode and our early programming and conditioning takes over. Some examples: even when you are trained and relatively competent at a job do you get the feeling that you are a fraud and your expertise is not real? Have you felt like someone questioning you at all invalidates and insults you? This is that early conditioning and fear of underlying inadequacy getting triggered.
It is easy to get triggered because we also tend to overly value, idealize and identify with whatever aspects of our social personality we are using to cover our fear of inadequacy and unworthiness. The more able we are to understand how our minds work, the more curious we become and the less threatened we feel when one of our roles and social identities is questioned or challenged.
The next time you feel yourself getting triggered, try naming and staying with the feeling (without overly identifying with it) and ask yourself what it is you fear. If you can name the feeling, the thoughts that feed it and observe it, you can make a more informed choice of behavior. When you get stressed or threatened, notice whether and when you automatically anticipate and accommodate, defy and rebel, or stonewall and withdraw. Get the feelings, accompanying thoughts and fear out where you can see them, and you'll be amazed what you learn about your own mind!