In a World where we are constantly told how we feel, how we should feel and that if we buy ‘x’ product then we’ll feel better, I fear that we’re starting to lose touch with how we really feel in replacement of how we think we feel. On the surface I guess it doesn’t appear to be too much of a problem, everyone seems quite happy, life is progressive and generally, all is ok, isn’t it? Or are we unconsciously in a state of apathy?
For example, when was the last time that you truly felt like you were alive? For me, it’s those moments dinghy sailing when I’ve caught the wind and my crew and I are heeling over balancing ourselves on the edge of the wind, carefully adjusting our movements to get the maximum speed we can without making the boat capsize. Even if we do capsize, it’s exhilarating to know that we found a boundary and pushed it. Without pushing it, we wouldn’t have known where it had ended. So even if we’re in the water, wet, and with a boat to right, we’d at least learnt something. The opposite of this approach is living in the fear of capsizing. This results in reactive thinking and quickly jumping about the boat without communicating to the other crew member what’s happening, resulting in no one being in control of the boat, inevitably causing it to capsize anyway. There is also a lesson to be learnt by the second capsize but it’s never as fun, in fact, it usually ends up in two stressed out crew members blaming each other. The thing is with sailing is that the wind changes and no one can control that, and sometimes that can be scary but we all have a choice as to whether we let the fear control us or not. To me, this situation is reflective of a lot of life scenarios, there’s the option to feel the fear and do it anyway, go through the experience whilst reacting to the fear or to not go through the experience at all because of the fear itself.
I wonder how many of us sit on the shore with certain activities, disengaging because of unconscious fear? Disengaging with relationships, jobs, even just speaking our own mind in fear of being judged, criticised and shamed? I know that I used to be one of those people and I would completely back out of any situation that would cause me to be vulnerable and I would do that by firing out judgments, criticisms and blame towards others because that is the ego’s way of defending us. Ironic isn’t it, that the very thing we fear the most is usually the thing we are unconsciously doing in order to protect ourselves.
I see this more often since I’ve practiced mindfulness and after having gone through so many difficult emotions in the last 18 months, so now I always try to put myself in other’s shoes and empathise with others situations rather than judge them. I do still slip up from time to time and it can take me a couple of days to get out of my ego and reflect upon a situation but I make a conscious effort to reflect and question my thoughts and behaviour and I ask why I did a certain thing. This reflection is the starting point of change because it always presents an opportunity for growth, but it’s this step that I see unconsciously avoided by most people. I guess it’s because if we ask ourselves why then we might find a difficult answer and then we have the dilemma of dealing with it or ignoring it and knowing that we’ve ignored it. When I ask myself why I’ve jumped to a conclusion or why I’ve judged someone without knowing the whole story or why I find myself backing away from something/someone, it always comes back to fear, usually the fear of being vulnerable. This isn’t surprising, considering that we live in a society where shame is so prevalent, the shame that creates the very fear that makes those judgments, and if we are unconsciously aware of this then we can start unconsciously shutting off, and this is when things start to get a little dangerous.
If we constantly bear away from things that fear us and we never face them, then we never grow. What we do instead is safeguard. We safeguard from anything that could scare us, and ultimately by doing this we starve ourselves from life. We starve ourselves from the same intensity of positive emotions as we do negative ones because you cannot have the good without the bad simply because without one the other doesn’t exist. Instead what happens is that we numb out, eventually leaving us in a state of apathy; the lack of feeling anything much at all. This is when the connection between humans starts to breakdown, in relationships, in friendships and day to day occurrences. It’s where the compassion dissipates because we fear those feelings of pain so much that we can’t be there for others when they’re experiencing it, because the very acknowledgement of that vulnerability in others, means acknowledging it in ourselves. This would bring us back to the dilemma of deal with it or ignore it. So instead a road that many of us walk down is where we numb out and disengage. I know this because this was the reaction from some people when my Dad died and it resonated with me because when a friend of mine lost her sister when I was 19, I remembered that I had done exactly the same thing and I’m not proud of it, but I can have compassion for myself and my friends in knowing that we are products of the culture we live in and unfortunately at the moment that appears to be in a state of unconscious apathy.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though, and you certainly don’t need to go through the trauma of being in a life-threatening situation or losing someone close to you to snap out of it. You do however need to start paying attention to your actions because they hold the clue to your thoughts, and how you feel, and it’s only when you feel that fear that you can become aware of it.
So next time you find yourself distancing from a situation, judging someone’s actions or getting angry at the way a situation is unfolding, stop and ask yourself what is it that you’re scared of? Then why not go ahead and do it anyway? You might find that you learn something by facing that fear, or that voicing it might bring you that little bit closer to the person you voice it to. These emotions are part of our being and by denying them we deny part of ourselves, so whether good or bad I implore you to fully feel those emotions and challenge why they’re there.