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Part 4: Seriously, Today, Right Now, Is What Counts
It is a good thing to learn to be totally in the present, because by this means we are able to leave yesterday to itself. Hey, haven’t you heard “Let bygones be bygones”? What you have been reading about is how the temporary nature of life in our changing world “teaches” us to let go – a very important skill we need, with which to manage our emotional state and on which our mental health depends.
We need to remember, that the memories and thoughts about ourselves (as we take part in the events we encounter daily) are not our real selves; they are only a record of how or who we used to be at the time we were involved in those activities. They do not stamp an everlasting or permanent identity on us whether or not we are aware of their changing effects on us. The real “us” and the events that happened already faded out of existence and the “notes” we took that are registered in our memory are all that’s left! Clearly, we are not obliged to respond to the mental images of events as if they are the real events. They are truly just documentation of our relationship with the events of life. We need to recognize that those thoughts only remind us of the actual events. Thoughts or their counterparts, mental images, can be changed. So we can practice checking, correcting or discarding the mental information that come up, using techniques such as Thought Replacement. So who or how we are today, right now, is really up to us to fix. By the way, every passing moment is right now. As stated earlier, staying in the present does not mean you are not allowed to think about the past. Of course you can; but only to find out what it taught you about any experience of importance you went through. The Past is a very good teacher. Do not try to deny or ignore its lessons. You go to the past to learn not to reside.
True, there are many things that come our way, which could hurt us; and some do. Right off the bat, then, we are faced with choosing which ones we will allow to be a problem for us, during and, especially, after the event has happened. Once an event has occurred we can accept that the deed is done and that we can no longer change that fact. We may need to take some action, regardless; so then we act. We don’t stop there, though; we need to acknowledge that the event is no longer happening (when the painful or frustrating activity has ceased) and that only its effects are left behind. With this reality clearly established, it is the effect on us that we need to cope with or take charge of – even when the reactions are not to our own situation but to that of someone about whom we care. Rehashing the facts of the problem event only serves to increase or intensify emotional reactions and has no healing value.
There are many ways to go about managing the various feelings that arise from adverse events in our life. This means you do not go ahead reacting badly or out of control, as if that’s the only way to deal with problem. You can and need to take charge of which reactions you will allow yourself to show. And you can choose a reaction or an action that protects you from feeling hurt, frustrated, sad, ashamed etc. In other words, you can choose the kind of responses that are aimed at stopping or changing the immediate unpleasant reactions arising in you. Be aware though that the two powerful saboteurs here are usually anger, fear and shame. Both are discussed more extensively in the book: “TO YOUR HAPPINESS: A Self-Healing Guide to Peace of Mind” and the program: Mass Mental-Health Education for Everyone provides hands-on action.
Think about it. To be able to choose the reaction you want calls for you to pay attention to noticing and observing the changes that have been taking place inside you and then choosing the ones you want to keep in view, so to speak. Therefore, why would you choose sadness, frustration, feeling ashamed, being angry etc? It is important to remember that changes are happening inside you, anyway; that you need to learn to stop noticing some but not others; and that you can, consciously, make changes of your own to those mental-emotional reactions. So then the question becomes why not bring to pass changes in your reactions, for the better? Why not choose reactions that will make you feel happier, calmer, less stressed and so on, which will boost your inner peace. Wanting the opposite of disturbing thoughts is what you need, isn’t it? This matters every passing moment! It is where healing begins and occurs.
A ”New Normal”
Because it is our thoughts that initiate and guide our voluntary behavior, control over one’s thinking is critical in the process of observing and causing change in your functioning or in your world. Practicing this skill is where reconstructing how you face life begins. You need to be able to honestly and accurately describe what changed for example, in the way you reacted or did something before and how at present you are behaving in connection with the same thing or something similar. In most situations it will be obvious what changed. In a minority of instances however by being brutally honest you will be better able to discover why the event in question is unbearable or has affected you this way.
“Brutally honest” does not mean exaggerating what happened or add-on a negative meaning. It means you first describe the incident “as is”, to yourself without excuses or adding characteristics that you made up. Excuses make it very likely that when or if the event happens again you will not be prepared. Adding features transforms the experience into something else and as such if or when you encounter the same thing later you will tend to react to it as if the features you added are a part of the repeated event. This is a distortion of the facts. In any case you would have deprived yourself of a prepared effective reaction.
Sometimes, to reduce or remove an offending or distressing issue, you may simply change the way, how much or often you allow that matter to show up in your head. This means watching your thoughts about the incident, deciding how to avoid bringing it up in your mind. That is, you need to learn and practice a technique that will control the thoughts related to the matter. I have mentioned Thought Replacement. To take another example, you can learn to move your thinking from one way of looking at the situation (perhaps how terrible it is) to considering the other parts of your life that are not that way, so as to convince yourself that your life is not all misery. Or you may try to see in what way you can re-interpret this bothersome situation so as to make it acceptable to you.
I recall one day when my wife took me for “a walk” outside the rehab hospital in my wheelchair and we stopped to chat in a semi-secluded area on the grounds. Our conversation turned to the things we used to be able to do together and it was beginning to upset both of us. Since however I do not allow negative or painful thoughts to take space in my mind for long or almost at all, I gradually steered to other topics. At a comfortable point when the previous unhappy topic was buried under more agreeable issues, I brought up the suggestion that we need to start becoming familiar with our “new normal”. So from that time onwards, we discussed only improvements and possibilities, whenever we talked about my condition, as we now accept there has been a re-set of normal life.
As I was writing about this development in our conversation, I reflected on how I succeeded in keeping the uneasy matter out of my mind, which was by leaving the past in the past. So now I do so repeatedly, telling myself not to forget to always go with the “new normal” approach. So then what takes up mental space now are the calming thoughts that address the “new normal” such that right now talking about my disability does not create any negative feelings. Hanging on to thoughts that yearn for a former happy state of life is not necessary or desired. I have spent a long time practicing this approach; but there was a point before I learned to use it when I wallowed in a state of misery. It is never too late to start.
You may not ever face the same challenges that I have had to face. You may face more or less. In fact you may not have any events in your life that may be considered problematic. Whatever may be the troubling facts in your life, it is possible for you to review them honestly and then decide to approach them with a positive twist that you can believe in. This does not mean deceiving yourself or being unrealistic. It means looking for an angle that is true of your situation and that’s comforting or at least less unpleasant. It is usually enough just to accept what is (‘the now’) and take time to plan how to alter your reaction to it. A close friend, a wise acquaintance or professional may be available to help you do this.
Heal Your Hurts; Don’t Hide Them
When something bad has happened, big or small, lasting a day, minutes or years it is not realistic to continue being tormented by the circumstances that may have caused it, as if there are no other ways to describe that occurrence. I have tried to explain that even shortly after a bad event, awful feelings are avoidable. It is in the best interest of our mental health to consider and decide how best to relate to the perceived, disturbing change or occurrence so as to accommodate it in our “new life”. Upon this ‘reality check’ will depend what quality you will allow into your life from that point on.
How long will you choose to nurse the hurt, fan the flames of anger or hide from shame – all in your head? Some people have lived like that, in the dumps, for years, some for their whole life, knowingly or innocently damaging themselves, others and their relationships. If you are one, may I be so bold but candid to ask how many other areas of your life or other people’s will you choose to bring misery, before you decide to begin to heal what started it all? Indeed healing those hurts is necessary! You cannot allow yourself to be distracted by anything from engaging in a healing process. It is inappropriate or self-defeating to use a belief that justifies your present inaction such as, that something must have happened in the past (that’s hidden from you) making you react in that manner. Or to react with: “That’s how I am”, so you don’t have to do anything. The moment of awareness of your reaction is where healing needs to begin. Finding a mentally healthy or resilient way to respond to the right-now obstructive feelings is where to start. Ways to do this is what I’ve been talking about so far. Allowing any other attitude is hiding from making needed progress with healing. I apologize for the blunt talk.
In my case, for many years before these serious injuries occurred I learned and tried to look for the silver lining in every untoward event in my life to help me through. As a result, in my present situation, I am able to review the “favors” that my quadriplegic condition has provided. Front-and-center among them is the opportunity to write a book to help others learn how to deal with emotionally difficult or traumatic emotions, which I presented in Part 3. From the writing of the book has come the idea of launching a website that would contain, among other endeavors, this blog page.
During the period of my rehabilitation, which is ongoing, I have paid attention to reviewing and renewing concepts and ideas in my professional life, as a self-encouraging way to occupy my thinking sometimes. As a result I have been able to come up with spanking new ideas to understand personality functioning, along conducting scientific research that backs my proposals. So that people and their loved ones with the identified, specific group of anxiety problems can be better managed (see chapter 4 in the book). With all these interesting and productive ideas on my mind there is practically no room left for self-pity or complaining. As such in my world God (the universe, life, the creator or however you express ultimate reality) is good and He means well for the world and me! Of course there are things in life that need fixing, which sometimes includes accepting and moving on. This blog is one attempt to describe how we might fix our human condition through self-healing.
Because the emotions that accompany bad situations or experiences are unpleasant, our first reaction is to try to distance ourselves from them as quickly as possible. One way we tend to do this is by denying or rejecting these new, disturbing feelings. Again, self-deception, denying the facts or building an imaginary shell or wall will not bring about emotional healing. Instead it will only make the pain bigger every time there is a gap in the disguise or the mask. There is a section about this also in the book.