Don’t make the mistake of assuming the externalities of your life improve if you come to greater awareness. They often will, but that’s a byproduct and it’s missing the point. The point is that living with greater awareness about how you function means that you can be okay in any situation, not that you can turn any bad situation into a good one. This isn’t about changing the world, it’s about changing you to better suit the world.
One of the weird downsides to your own health is that the more people live in ego, the sicker you’ll appear. Egos adjust to society, but society is a construct. A healthy person moves through the world moved by their internal motivations, not by external rules. They’re not good or decent or compassionate because it’s legal or the right thing to do, they’re those things because they see innocence in everyone because they know they used to be that person too; someone often lost in thought. And so compassion feels like it’s in order.
This means you’ll defy convention, you won’t feel motivated to accept invitations you don’t want, you’ll say ‘no’ more often, you’ll spend your time with the world rather than talking about the world in unaccepting ways, and you won’t engage with people in the often hurtful gossip that egos can build whole ‘friendships’ around. But maybe the weirdest thing you do will be to make an emotional switch that others presume is impossible.
A good example is an argument. Even in the heat of the moment, we can maintain our sense that we are not our thoughts. This third-person observer-view provides us an escape route, but it doesn’t mean the other person will take it with us. I have angrily said to people, I know I love you so I know something is off because I’m yelling! But I cannot get to that love right now, so I just want to stop! Their reaction is generally to look at you like you’re nuts. That is not a change they’re likely to have witnessed before.
Calming down and engaging in a normal conversation then makes that worse. Because a healthy person lives in the moment, so they don’t worry about the past because they cannot act to change it. Healthy people focus on where they can make a difference, which is why they rarely if ever complain about weather. So they let it go and just want to reconnect.
Meanwhile, the other person is still engaged in ego, talking to themselves about you instead of talking to you. To them you must still be angry too so now your positive change seems suspicious or even unhealthy. Funny isn’t it; that we can get so sick that having someone calm themselves and treat us better leads to us thinking something’s wrong?
Bottom line, the switch is the healthiest version of being responsible. It is a move from a fearful and painful emotion to a centered and loving feeling. But to be able to do it in a situation like intense anger, you need to practice it on smaller emotions. So today find one. Find just one situation where you’re in the midst of feeling strongly and negatively, and then make your own switch. Acknowledge where you are, accept that the move you’re making is challenging, and then stumble through it as best you can. Do that enough times and you can get really good at it, just like you learned to walk by falling.
Do it today. Find your example of feeling betrayed, or sad, or frustrated, or angry, or depressed, or fearful, and note that those sensations are created by your brain chemistry which in turn is incited by your thinking. Remember that the feelings aren’t you, that they are what you are doing, and then do something else more likely to generate better feelings. Use the video in yesterday’s blog post if you need to.
Prove to yourself you can make this change and then practice it. Because if everyone can do it, then calming down suddenly will look normal, rather than strange. And prolonged anger will look less healthy, and that in turn will motivate people to avoid it. In this way, individual by individual, society will shift to healthier behaviours. You absolutely can do it. But to do it you must choose to do so. Start making that choice today.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.