But how is that a choice? It just happens, right? We can’t help the way it makes us feel. The truth is we are choosing every moment of every day how to react and how to feel. The problem is we chose a long time ago, probably when we were children, before we could rationalize, before we could defend ourselves properly. We were so vulnerable as children. We came into the world trusting and open and defenseless. And somebody or some situation taught us to get angry when someone interfered with us. Or maybe we lived in an unsafe environment and had to constantly be on alert and our fear reaction was born. Yogic philosophy and modern developmental psychology teaches us that our ego develops sometime during the first 2 years of life and that’s when we realize we are a separate being and therefore its possible for “others” to get in our way or hurt us.
And because of the frustration and fear, we build our defenses over time and sometimes we have experiences that create in us knee-jerk defensive reactions that can stay with us all our lives. These “reactions” can become scripts that we play out over and over again with the right stimulus. In yoga we call these “samskaras”, and they are like well-walked trails. Sometimes they are so old and so deep, its like walking in a canyon with high walls on either side of us. We’ve forgotten that there is any other way to be, and from our vantage point, there is nothing else.
But there is something else and as overwhelming as it may seem to overcome these old groves in our brains, there is one very effective way. First, we have to abandon hope.
Now, we can get down to the real work. We can change ourselves. Notice I said we can change ourselves. We will not change anybody else. We can not change the world. (Good grief!!!!! How pessimistic does that sound?) The only thing we can change is ourselves. And as Dr. Phil likes to say, that’s the bad news. What’s the good news, Dr. Phil? We can change ourselves, and that’s the crux of the matter. Its not what anyone else is doing or what’s happening out in the world, it’s the way we perceive it that makes us unhappy. Your mother cannot make you unhappy. Your boyfriend cannot make you unhappy. Your past cannot make you unhappy. How you perceive those people and your past can make you unhappy.
So, back to those knee-jerk emotional reactions and scripts. Now that we’ve embraced our reality and acknowledged the power we have to change ourselves, we can start re-programming ourselves. But we have to do it one step at a time (Oh, I’m big on that cliché).
Practice that for a few days and then I’ll get back to you in on the next step in the next blog post.
Heyam duhkham anagatam
“Future suffering is to be avoided”