Recently I was asked what it is I’m trying to change about myself with my explorations into spirituality, psychology and philosophy, and I was a bit perplexed by the question because I haven’t been asked it before and therefore haven’t thought about an answer. After some pondering, here is my answer:
It’s not about changing personality traits; it’s more about changing how I experience experiences… how to do away with suffering… how to avoid responding to experiences with conditioned, habitual negativity and self-deprecation… how to avoid becoming increasingly bitter and self-pitying in response to life’s disappointments but to be the opposite: loving, compassionate and forgiving – not because it’s ‘good’ or ‘socially acceptable’, but because it feels considerably more pleasant.
The former way of being makes life a miserable test of endurance; the latter makes life an enjoyable adventure.
Fear and self-loathing ruin our peace of mind, and make us cowards. They make life hell. And so lost are we in it that most don’t realise that’s what the problem is.
‘We [have] become timorous, desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson
But we’re all pretending otherwise, right?
If memory serves me correctly, I started to be self-deprecating around the age of 10. I’m 52 now. That’s a fucking long time. But, thankfully, I seem to be waking up from the nightmare of self-hatred and self-blame… yawning and stretching. It’s a rare thing and I’m very fortunate – most never wake up, but remain hypnotised the whole of their lives.
But it’s learned cognition. We weren’t born that way. We become dysfunctional. Like circus animals, we were trained to live in fear. And we can unlearn it, and learn about a different way of living instead.
We can learn about appreciating things as they are instead of feeling aggrieved because they’re not as we want them to be. We can learn about acceptance vs resistance, relaxation vs vigilance, allowing life to unfold vs controlling outcomes, self-love vs self-loathing, loving life vs fearing life.
We can make a choice between love consciousness and fear consciousness… to pursue one instead of the other.
We learned to become our own worst enemy and we need to learn how to become our own best friend instead.
It requires a revolution in attitude.
How does one bring about this revolution? From my experience, my advice is: find out what our weak spots are and change them… not the weak spots of our behavioural character (which the world wants us to fix, to craft ourself into a compliant cog in the wheel) but the weak spots of our interpretative faculties – our logic – that is, understanding and adjusting what we believe about things and what the nature of the emotional attachments to our beliefs are (for these are what determine the nature of our emotional responses to our experiences, how we feel about what happens, in the context of how we interpret events, based on our matrix of beliefs).
It’s about breaking bad, unhealthy habits in thinking. It’s about recreating our personal matrix of beliefs.
It’s about overhauling, spring-cleaning, detoxing and recrafting that matrix of beliefs we developed passively, reactively and defensively as a survival function during our childhood in – what was almost certainly for everyone in Western society – a dysfunctional psychic environment.
It’s about ditching the beliefs that are preventing us from being happy… because the nature of our emotional attachments to them is causing suffering. We cause our own suffering by our own thought processing.
I’ll repeat that: we cause our own suffering by how we use our mind.
‘Men are admitted into heaven not because they have curbed and governed their passions or have no passions, but because they have cultivated their understandings. The treasures of heaven are not negations of passion, but realities of intellect, from which all the passions emanate uncurbed in their eternal glory.’ William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
So, that’s what it is about myself that I’m trying to change: my personal matrix of beliefs, so that I interpret my perceptual experiences differently from the woe-is-me and I-must-endeavour-to-be-less-inadequate narratives I have been trained to understand myself and my world by, by dint of being a member of civilized culture. Instead, the narrative I prefer is the one that is becoming more and more familiar to me: one of fascination and delightful engagement and a kind of floating-in-an-ocean sensation (I guess different neurotransmitters are coursing through my system these days)… yes, even in response to (perceived) adversity.
What are the errors in your thinking? How are your faculties for logic, and your ability to enjoy life, compromised by false beliefs? It’s not easy to figure this out. No, siree. The first step, though, is to accept the fact that you may be mistaken about what you believe to be true. That will open up your mind to possibilities that may not be apparent right now.