Archives for April, 2011
Have you felt stuck lately? Going ‘round in circles? Trapped on a treadmill? Caught in a vicious cycle? There are so many ways of describing this kind of experience. And so many ways to get caught up in it. Lured by the daily grind of repeated schedules or habits, it can be easy to feel your whole life is stuck on repeat… like you’re locked into an endless loop. So you scroll around to ‘yet another Monday,’ or you find yourself having ‘the same argument,’ or you catch yourself reaching for the same ‘solutions’ that have never quite worked – and the whole cycle ‘begins again’. Or does it?
Where in the world are you? Right now. Not just where your thoughts are but where you are… And how long is it since you’ve actually gone in search of yourself? In the busy-ness of the everyday, we can sometimes feel scattered all over the place by the habit of multi-tasking and the ‘need’ to be in at least two places at once. Sort of being everywhere. And yet nowhere. And somewhere along the line, maybe you un-learned how to simply be. Right where you are… (So maybe, in a way, you’ve lost touch with yourself).
“YOU CAN” How often do you hear yourself thinking this? Or does this kind of thought feel a bit out of place in your mind? Like it sort of doesn’t belong there. Doesn’t sit comfortably. (Maybe you’re more used to being visited by its darker twin: “you can’t”…) Either way, if Henry Ford (1863-1947) was right, “Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.” What if that's true? What if it really matters what you think? What if your mind’s not just some private, secret palace where your inner critic can run rampant, but a kind of place that helps sets the very tone of your life? The possibilities. The dreams. Maybe even the realities. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) thinks so. But it’s not alone. For the idea that maybe our thoughts influence our lives isn’t new (or just some new-age notion). In fact, it dates back hundreds of years, across many cultures. So how can you draw upon all of these centuries of thought to enhance the life you’re living now? Lets wander back through time a bit and find out.
“Wellbeing is at the heart of everything,” suggested this billboard as I wandered past recently. Or is it? What about in your life? Where does wellbeing feature in your scheme of things? On your list of priorities? (Or maybe it doesn’t quite make it onto that list?) It can be so easy in life (and in therapy) to focus on the ‘negative’ side – the heartache, the pain, the frustrations, the angst. To notice what’s ‘wrong’ over what might still be ‘right’. To kind of zoom in close on the tragedy and push the joy somewhere out into our peripheral vision. In fact, it’s thought we might be “pretty much hardwired to focus on the negative,” as Dr Ruth Buczynski puts it. That’s your brain’s “negativity bias” at work – and it’s a pretty diligent little worker… So what’s this negativity bias all about? And how might you rebalance it enough to entice a bit more wellbeing back into your life?
It’s amazing how powerful words can be. For language is not only a kind of tool to help us communicate and describe, it also – sometimes inadvertently – helps shape our whole world, both internal and external. It sets our definitions. It highlights what we see. (And it can mask what we don’t…). So how do you use yours? Your language. Your words. When life’s challenges come your way, how do you find the words to respond to them? Which words do you choose? Could that choice, itself, sometimes help or hinder you? And what might a different choice invite? For instance, take the word “problem.” It’s a pretty popular word. And it often comes up a lot in therapy, both in the theory and the practice of it. But what else might the word “problem” sort of silently bring with it, for you? Are there other meanings that it envelops? Or maybe possibilities it screens out?
How often have you heard someone say, “It’s just the way I am”? Or, “It’s just who I am.” Maybe defending themselves somehow. Or limiting their options in some way. Or undermining a sense of self-esteem. And how often have you been the one saying it? (Or maybe even just thinking it). It can certainly seem that way sometimes – that we just ‘are who we are’ and there’s no getting around it. That we’re immutable, static, solid. (Stuck?) Yet there’s another way of looking at all of this. Of looking at us. For our brains tell a different story about who we are. They remind us that we, quite literally, can change at any time. That our behaviour – towards the world and towards ourselves – actually shapes us, from moment to moment, right down to a synaptic level. And they hint at another saying: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”* So what are you doing with your brain? And how might you use it more mindfully to sculpt your self?
Ever noticed that ‘anger’ is contained in the word ‘danger’? (That’s actually what the sign in this photograph says). And it’s often how anger’s treated – like a ‘dangerous’ emotion. Volatile. Caustic. Like it might lead us to act impulsively or say things we might later regret, or to feel things we ‘shouldn’t’ feel. So maybe you were taught to suppress it. Stifle it. Avoid it. Perhaps to secretly seethe with it on the inside but to pretty much ignore it in public. To pretend you don’t have it, maybe – that you’re ‘above it’ somehow. Or maybe you’ve learned that anger gives you some sense of power. That it sort of justifies a ‘right’ to take spontaneous action because it ‘makes’ you. Perhaps you’ve even used it to justify behaviours you might otherwise feel remorseful about. Or maybe it lets you do things that it might otherwise be hard to work up the courage for. But what if anger has another whole side to it that’s often overlooked?
“Intersections” – our days seem full of them. Places where our lives overlap with one another, where there’s a merging of the paths we’re on, where we converge in relationship, and maybe even share a meeting of the minds. It all sounds a bit metaphorical… But it turns out that on another level, it’s uncannily real. For neuroscience is finding that “relationships are not just what we do – they shape who we become” (Dr Dan Siegel, 2011). Welcome to ‘interpersonal neurobiology’, a field that sees the brain not as an isolated creature locked in a skull, but as a social organ, linked to other brains. Where our relationships are seen as the way this social organ (our brain) evolves. Where relationships are, quite literally, “the substrate in which we grow” (ibid). In fact, it’s even thought that, just as our brains have a biological synapse – a rich space across which our thoughts leap from neuron to neuron – so, too, there’s a social synapse – the rich space between brains which our thoughts and emotional selves leap out into.
Walking home the other evening, some melancholy thoughts on my mind, I happened upon this rhyme stuck to the wall of a building: Roses are Red, Violets aren’t Blue, Smile, it will get you through And (even though it’s a little kitschy) it did make me smile. Pulled me out of those thoughts and back into the world. Connected me in some intangible way to the person who had mysteriously felt compelled to share their bit of wisdom about what ‘gets them through.’ So what gets you through? And how can you connect with it in those moments when you might feel overwhelmed with challenge or sorrow?
I just bought this bunch of everlasting daisies from the cemetery florist. It seems more than a little ironic… For wandering between the old, sunken headstones out here, the knowledge of the temporary nature of things – of life – sinks in a little deeper. How we like to forget this… to remain hidden from it in the everyday. Shielded. If you believed the stronger messages and myths that our (western) society spins, you’d think that youth can last forever (if only you buy the right face cream or get the right surgery or adopt the right frame of mind). But the hundreds upon hundreds of graves out here all tell a different story. What price might we pay, collectively, to do this to ourselves? And what might it be costing you (and your loved ones) if you stay hidden from the thought of your own death? From the impending truth of it?