Part 3: How The Changes Leave Their Mark… As We Speak
First, let us look at the nature of the conditions that contribute to making us different from one point in time to the next. It is, generally true to say that today you are the sum of who you have been (the combination of all your characteristics, experiences and reactions) since you were born. These aspects have always been there, though always changing. Because of this, you are not exactly the same today as you were since you were born. You have grown, you are doing things you were not able or learned to do before and so on; you’re not the same person not even since yesterday and strictly speaking, not even as you were a moment ago.
As I’ve explained, many changes occur in our bodies and minds within seconds. Let’s take the example of growing. Digestion is causing changes to our tissues and contributing to the growth of cells, including bone cells in our bodies, which continuously alters height and girth; while, on the other hand, cells die or shrink, including brain cells. Together, such events, through certain complex processes, result in our growing taller, bigger or wider, at different rates. As such, as time passes, we may look and often feel physically different from how we did a few or many weeks, months or years before.
Similarly, changes happen in our mental condition, due to the events we experience, such that over time we and/or those who observe us become aware that we have changed in big ways or small, with respect to our behavioural, mental and/or emotional presentation. The common belief is that, as people grow old, as a rule, they become less happy, less tolerant, trusting or forgiving, grow grumpier and want to keep to themselves more.
Of course this is not always true; but some people believe from experience that this view represents the actual patterns that are observed in the mental attitudes of people as they age. When this is true however, those who fit this stereotype do not suddenly turn cranky and unapproachable. The mental and behavioural alterations have been happening continuously as the days, months and years pass by, so to speak.
As these changes are going on in us, a variety of transformations are occurring around us, which in turn influence where, how, why, when or to whom and to what we react. Our families grow older, leave home and may marry. Children become teenagers, go through school and often get further education. People change jobs, some move around, most progress in their chosen profession. The people we once knew may look different, show or are alleged to show qualities that we never knew or expected them to have. Neighbourhoods change, including the ones we are in, sometimes gradually; but at other times seeming to do so very fast. All of these types of changes, in turn may create changes in people’s immediate physical situations, because they may move or have to move, which they may find satisfying or distressing. The significance we attach to these events gives them a power that makes them lasting to us. These are the marks that life’s experiences leave on us.
Contemplating change may bring excitement or joy but sometimes sadness or fear as we face many conditions to which we react in many ways. This is not only with respect to the larger occurrences in life but also to the myriad smaller instances, which bring different ideas to mind or cause feelings of which we had none a moment before. We experience all of these events, when they happen; but they become history and are no longer real events in our lives, as soon as they have happened and other events take their place in the present. Now the new events become the focus of attention.
IS IT IMPORTANT TO ALWAYS TELL WHAT CHANGED?
Many incidents occur in a clear-cut manner and are easy to tell apart. For example, you were getting dressed a few minutes ago and now you are on a bus, driving or being driven somewhere. You blinked twice and clearly felt motion in the eyelids or lost vision very briefly, at two different times, in a time period of moments apart. Sometimes, however, the variation in events is very subtle and smooth and the passage of time practically impossible to distinguish between the end of one event and the start of another. For example, while watching a bird floating along in the sky and swaying from one direction to another, several events have occurred and the present has become the past in a seamless way.
Nonetheless, each event has changed the observer and the bird, at different points, in ways that may or may not be easy to detect or describe. You could make a point of stopping to watch birds flying, fish swimming, horses, dogs or cats prancing or a child playing… to see how the pattern of their activities shift. Everyday, for a while, take a close look at an indoor or outside plant to see what changes occur. In addition to watching fast and gradual change in your surroundings, you might find the slow type calming and the fast-paced movements exhilarating. Whatever the experience enjoy the freedom or genuine pleasure it provides. Observing change is important because it offers an opportunity for a re-set, a new start or other thoughts; a different approach; as well as a chance to assess or re-assess your circumstances. In other words by being aware of change we are able to move from the past, adjust or readjust. And even when we don’t have a word that is precise enough to describe what is different about an event or situation or when the transformation happened, we do have a way a way of communicating to ourselves what we just saw, heard, smelt, felt or tasted etc. However, not caring to notice the events or moment-to-moment change that happens, perhaps makes it impossible to know exactly when or how to label oneself as: “That was me” or “This is the new me”. It is likely the absence of this contrast that causes one to go on seeing oneself as being the same person always.
On the other hand, what we are able to retain in our thoughts and memories over longer than very small time spans, seems to give us the image or sense of being the same person yesterday as we are today or from one moment to the next. On one level however, our memory keeps a running record of who we are, and on another, the very slow or unbroken way some changes happen, blur the fact that we are continuously changing and therefore we are not necessarily aware of the “new” person we become as time goes by. It is a good thing that we retain this sense of continuity, otherwise we may not be able to cope with an awareness of an ever changing identity. So what’s the lesson from all this?
LEAVE YESTERDAY TO ITSELF
This idea that we are constantly becoming different and that the world around us is also never the same from one moment to the next means that if we go with the flow, we will be able to set aside yesterday’s events as belonging to a different time, when a “different you” was around. Today, you are a “new” individual in a “changed” world. Of course, as I have stated earlier, the physical and mental alterations in and around us, as a rule, are not always drastic or noticeable enough to change our awareness of them. Nonetheless, these changes are taking place. We hear statements like the following, quite frequently: “I am not myself today”; “Just give it a new coat of paint and it is a new house”; “You look different”; “How are you, today?”
If we our surroundings and we are always the same, none of these expressions would make sense. With careful observation, however, we can learn to take note of otherwise fleeting or very small differences in our inner and outer world so that we are always in a position to re-label them with more acceptable or happier meanings. Giving close attention to our experiences does help us to understand them better and gives our minds and bodies a chance to fully participate in every aspect of our life. This approach can be used as a valuable tool with which we can bring our whole self into the present. When we learn to use this close attending in a special way, our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are in the present with us, allowing them to be better understood and, therefore, easier to manage that is, to change or celebrate them.
Not only is change occurring, whether or not we know it; and whether we make the effort to actually experience it or not, we can and do, sometimes willingly, cause some of it. Thereby, we consciously contribute to defining who we are or want to be, at any point. We cause it by planting ourselves on a certain point of view or by adopting a constant way of perceiving events thereby training our brain to always take us down that that path of thinking and behaving. When this path leads to a pleasant and healthy place it is to be desired. Otherwise we enter or remain in misery territory. In other words, we can and do create that “new” person.
Knowing that something has changed is a signal to react. The key issue in any change in condition or circumstance is whether we see it as neutral, advantageous or not. In other words, once you realize that something is different or new, what is its effect? More accurately, how do you allow yourself to feel about it? The fact is, every time you recognize that something is new or becoming different you have an opportunity to direct your reaction, for better or worse, whether or not you can describe it accurately and whether or not you can pinpoint the exact point of change. Choosing to react for better is always beneficial, whereas making things worse is always harmful.
This ability to adjust our response to change so that it aligns with the response we prefer allows you to leave your old self behind, along with how you acted, yesterday, two days, a month or a year ago and so on. The significance of The Past in our emotional adjustment is described more thoroughly in my book (See below). With this chance to choose how to react, you can drop the attitude or behaviour you had an hour, a few minutes or moments ago, when that is not reasonable even if it favours some special desire. It means that in our ever-changing world and with our putting on a different self as required we have the opportunity to watch our reactions; and over a period of time, learn to remake or retool ourselves advantageously. For example you may conclude: “Some people just make me angry.” This actually is code for: “I have learned or taught my brain to react with anger towards certain people.” Because you can choose how to react you are in a better position when you feel the anger coming on, to begin to train your brain (we’ll get into that later) to react differently to the emotional change that’s beginning to happen or is already happening in response to the current events.
About the book
The “PUBLICATIONS” Tab on this Website will take straight to the book on Amazon.
“TO YOUR HAPPINESS: A Self-Healing Guide to Peace of Mind” deals with a variety of distressing or unmanageable emotional states from which many people may be unable to escape. Sufferers who cannot or do not want to see a therapist will find psychological techniques in this book that will help them bring about their own healing, all offered by someone with 40 years of clinical experience in the field of psychology. It is available on Amazon Kindle Store and can be read on many devices.
About the author:
I am a retired psychologist whose career was cut short in 2009 by a central cord injury that left me an incomplete quadriplegic. The ebook I just published has kept my mind constructively engaged and calm. It presents the same help I offered in my practice to people with emotional issues and ideas I, myself, practice to maintain a rational and balanced outlook.