I have had very little time or energy to write and reflect lately; at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself for months. The treadmill I’ve been living on increased in both speed and incline as the final weeks of the spring semester and then summer flew by. Since then, the pace hasn’t let up. How did it get to be mid-October? Simultaneously, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to focus and center which leaves me feeling more and more scattered and less in control. As a result, my mood has crashed which also means that the people close to me frequently become collateral damage in the war zone that has become my inner life. When I’m in this frame of mind, my emotional experience becomes dominated by fear, anger, guilt and eventually depression. I also experience an increase in physical pain. Finally, I feel as if I simply lack the energy to make my thinking any better. Obviously, this is not where I want my head to be and I’m sure the people I encounter would like it if I could get my head straight too.
The fifth of the Twelve Principles of Attitudinal Healing outlined by Jampolsky (2000) is that “[n]ow is the only time there is. Pain, grief, depression, guilt, and other forms of fear disappear when the mind is focused in loving peace in this instant” (p. 107). Right. Focus. I’ll get right on that just as soon as I clear a few (thousand) things off my desk, put out a couple of fires, and pay bills for the month (with imaginary money).
Jampolsky goes on to say that the “…cycle of feeling guilty, shifting blame to others, getting angry at the guilt we now see in them, attacking them for their guilt, feeling even more guilty for our attack, and finally punishing our bodies in payment cannot be escaped as long as we believe that guilt is a valid description of anything meaningful” (2000, p. 113). I get that too. Intellectually, it makes perfect sense that this cycle is bad. I keep doing it, though. It’s exhausting. But self-reinforcing.
Jampolsky argues that we needlessly complicate our lives, first, by allowing ourselves to obsess endlessly over the possible consequences of our future choices. We give all kinds of attention to what might happen exploring all manner of potential outcomes. Certainly I’ve gotten myself into my share of problems by acting impulsively. At the same time, though, I’ve wasted a lifetime attempting to predict the unpredictable.
Second, we replay tapes of things done and gone reliving emotionally their impacts over and over. This is especially the case with negative events for which we can easily imagine a more positive outcome. This is also why people who get silver medals at the Olympics are less satisfied with the outcome than those who get bronze medals; they can more easily see how they could have been just one step higher. This is an effect called counterfactual thinking. I have said it to myself thousands of times. The past is gone; now is where life is happening. Still, I more often choose to inhabit the unpleasant past attempting to undo it.
Third, we seem to enjoy finding fault in others and ourselves. If we didn’t enjoy it, why would we do it so much? The ego LOVES judgement. That’s why Facebook is so often such a hate filled place. As Jampolsky reflected, ” …how exhausting it is to always find fault, for every time we see a fault we think something needs to be done about it. Love knows that nothing is ever needed but more love” (2000, p. 117). More love. Got it. Can I direct it at people who’ve harmed me? With effort, yes. Can I direct it at myself? Not right now.
My youngest, who worries about me a lot (which makes me feel even more guilty and stupid), is a fan of the animated Disney classic The Lion King (Allers & Minkoff, 1994) although she is way more into Minecraft at the moment. She once suggested that a friend of mine who was in a bad place “…just needs to watch Lion King and then he’ll know what to do”. Maybe I need to be visited by a mystically gifted but decidedly creepy monkey with a stick who will knock some sense into me.
The present is the only time we can choose between love and fear. Jampolsky
Ultimately, I will need to acknowledge my addictive attraction to negative emotions and commit to living in the present because “the present is the only time we can choose between love and fear” (Jampolsky, 2000, p. 107). Love sounds better.