We all have our stuff; ways we’ve been hurt or disappointed, longing that’s gone unmet, grieving we’ve had to do. We also have our histories, our patterns, those dynamics we grew up with that shape (but needn’t define), who we are. The more work we do to know ourselves, the easier life becomes. Otherwise we’re being pulled by unconscious drives, and are along for a bumpy, painful and confusing ride.
Having said that, consciousness is not the final destination. You might know yourself well. You might recognize your tendencies and know exactly what’s driving you. You might understand and embrace in your heart what’s true for you, what scares you, what excites you and inspires you. That’s all amazing, and what we work toward, because that way we can be accountable to ourselves and to everyone else. But in large part, happiness is a choice, and it can take enormous willpower to choose it.
Don’t get me wrong, here, because there are heartbreaking, stressful, lonely times in life when it would be unrealistic to think or expect that you could simply choose to be happy. When we lose people we love, for example, it’s appropriate and healthy to grieve. When we’re under enormous pressure to keep a roof over our heads, it lacks compassion for someone to suggest to us that we should just choose to be happy. I’m not talking about those times.
I’m talking about the day-to-day rhythm when we can easily allow the mind to get snagged on what isn’t going well, on what we don’t have that others seem to, on everything that hasn’t happened yet. You can look up “negativity bias” if you like, because we’re naturally inclined to be on the alert for any potential dangers. This is a life skill we don’t need the way we used to, but old habits die hard. Since we don’t have to worry about saber tooth tigers chasing us down for dinner, we might dwell on paying the mortgage, or our inability to feel like life is flowing the way we wish it would, and lose sight of all we do have, like our health, the ability to put our hands over our hearts and breathe in deeply and breathe out fully, which feels great (try it if you don’t believe me), the sun shining in a particular way, or the laugh of someone we love so much, the way their nose crinkles when they smile.
The other thing is, just knowing we have unhealthy tendencies in some areas is not always enough to stop us from playing them out, even though we know they lead to a head-on collision with a brick wall. This, once again, is where willpower and vigilance come in. If, for example, you have a history of dating people who are unavailable in some way, and you’ve come to understand that pursuing people like that leads to your own heartbreak, you may still feel pulled to head in that direction should the opportunity present itself, even if you’ve worked on bringing this pattern to the surface, even if you’re extremely self-aware. This little (or big) pull may always be there; it’s what you do, or don’t do about it that matters. Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen, and this goes for your habits, too. Don’t feed your pathology. If you meet someone at work and you start having a coffee here and there, and you find out along the way that they live with someone, but you’ve already developed a little crush, I would say get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now, no more coffees, no more flirting, just shut the thing down. If you meet someone and they’re in all kinds of pain, and you can tell they just really need to be loved, and you feel like you’re the one who can love them the way no one else has ever been able to love them before, if you tell yourself you’re the missing link, and your love can heal them and save them, even though you’ve done this in the past and you know it’s futile, I would say, get the f&ck out of Dodge, and do it now.
It’s not okay to be reckless with your heart. If you are, you’ll find your heart will harden eventually, and out of your mouth will come words like, “You can’t trust anyone”, or “People suck”, and neither of those things are true. Also, you’ll prevent yourself from diving in all the way when things are good, because some part of you will still be pulled toward those things that bring you pain. As I’m writing this, it’s 12:45am, and a woman is walking by my house on her cellphone, crying loudly between bursts of words. I don’t know who’s on the other end of the phone, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel heard because she’s raising her voice, and she’s sobbing about why it always has to be this way, why this person has to keep hurting her. The real question is why she’s choosing to participate. Because I really think life is too short to spend the wee hours of a morning that way. People can’t “keep hurting us” unless we give them the power to do that (I’m not talking about things that may have happened when you were a child. Children are powerless in abusive situations, and some adults feel that way, as well. If you fall into that category, you need to reach out for help).
Feeling pulled in an unhealthy direction is fine. Acknowledging that it’s happening is good, especially when we do that with people we can trust. Bringing our darkness into the light takes the power away from it. But feelings aren’t facts, and we don’t have to act on every feeling we have. In fact, there are a lot of feelings we’d do best to observe, because all feelings have one thing in common: they arise, they peak, and they subside. No feeling lasts forever. Once again, I’ll suggest to you that yoga is an excellent way of training yourself to sit with uncomfortable feelings, calmly. Holding Warrior II when your quad is burring, and sweat is dripping down your face, teaches your mind and your nervous system to breathe through sensation. That’s all a feeling is—it’s a sensation. If you need help with this, or want to try practicing with me online, you can sign up for a free trial here. Sending you love, and reminding you to starve your pathology. Your heart will thank you for it.
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