Have you ever stopped to think about the sheer number of conditions you put on your own happiness? We all have preferences, they abound in every moment in every day and they are entrenched in how we think others should act.
I happened to dip into a workshop that was being broadcast of Byron Katie challenging one of the participants on the feelings she was having towards her brother. The starting point was her sense of him being selfish and disrespectful. She was recalling the year she had gone travelling as an example, she had bought all his presents in advance and was feeling hurt that he neither reciprocated nor acknowledged the gifts she had thoughtfully bought.
In her head she could imagine him opening the gifts and tossing them aside in a ‘couldn’t care less’ kind of a way. What she was being challenged on was whether her feelings were caused directly by her brother, or whether they were caused by the conditions she had placed on the scenario and the stories she then told herself.
It’s good food for thought. I could see the young woman wrestling with this, the assumptions that arose like “it’s about respect” and “surely it’s just common courtesy to thank someone”. Many would agree, because there are common social conventions that many adhere to, that’s why they are common. However, what the young woman was in effect saying to her brother was:
I am giving you these gifts on condition you show some appreciation and reciprocate.
Of course she didn’t actually stipulate these conditions to her brother. What happened was that neither of these conditions was met and that reinforced her feelings towards her brother, based on prior experiences where similar conditions had remained unfulfilled.
Here’s the thing though, whether she is right or wrong, is she happy? It is easier to change our perceptions and behaviours than it is to change others, in fact we cannot change others as our divorce rates attest to.
That said, it may be easier to change our perceptions and behaviours than to change others, but given the latter is impossible (in terms of intrinsic change rather than forced short term compliance), it doesn’t mean your own task is actually easy, far from it.
It starts with awareness. The realization that we do not all think alike, that the social standards we subscribe to are not in fact subscribed to by everyone. Furthermore those that do sort of subscribe to the same ones as us may have completely different interpretations of them.
In my mid twenties I was exposed to a lot of personal development, and while it is now twenty years ago, I remember the ‘ah ha’ moments like they were yesterday. Listening to Florence Littauer explain the different personality types, to Alan Pease talking about why men don’t listen and why women can’t read maps, to John Gray talking about why women are from Venus and men are from Mars and reading about the different ways we experience love in Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages.
I couldn’t believe that, as smart as I was, it had never occurred to me that we are all wired differently. That the lenses we look upon the world with are all so different.
While we come into the world with different talents and traits, as newborns we also come into the world loving unconditionally and with a healthy sense of self worth. Left to our own devices, with only unconditional love beaming back at us, this would remain.
However, that is not our experience. We all want to be loved unconditionally and we would all like to think that we give it unconditionally, but we live in a very conditional world. From the moment we are born there are expectations placed upon us and slowly but surely that beam of unconditional love in the newborn starts to fade.
I have been reflecting a lot on the relationship I have with my kids lately, and pondering how to just get out of their way rather than be the bulldozer stopping them in their path and knocking down all their ideas.
Even though my driving force as a parent is to let my kids be who they are, I know my own conditioning (the tapes playing in my subconscious mind, rooted in my own childhood) results in behaviours and emotions that are far from my intent.
I constantly hear myself reshaping their demands into requests, telling them not to touch this or that, telling them what is and is not appropriate behaviour, the list is endless. I know I love my children, but I also know that I have expectations – particularly about respecting people and things – that are a condition of the love I express to them.
When asked my daughter will say I’m sometimes happy but usually grumpy, that is a reality check. In my heart I know the love for my children is unconditional, however, it’s what is in my head that stops me expressing and feeling it at all times.
Every day and in every way we place expectations on ourselves and others. Expectations that range from courtesies while driving, to those in line at the post office, to the intricacies of the social networks at school or the office, to the minefields of families and intimate relationships at home.
Those expectations are born from your early experiences, the expectations placed upon you, mixed with your the unique traits, talents and preferences you are born with, which give rise to the beginnings of a subconscious mind that gathers momentum over a lifetime, attracting many more examples to reinforce your expectations and experiences.
It’s not a simple thing to overcome, those subconscious thoughts are playing in your head more than 90% of your day (and you think 60-70,000 thoughts a day). So step one is simply to become aware. We can’t delete those thoughts in our subconscious, but we can create newer, stronger ones over time. Once you are aware of your thoughts you can choose ones that feel better.
What I mean by that, is to choose thoughts that feel better than the ones you are aware of. In the example of the young woman and her brother, she has so many examples of his selfish nature from a lifetime of experience with him. She needs to go more general with the thought, start revisiting it from a different standpoint. What if his behaviour wasn’t a sign of him being selfish, what are other possible reasons that could be driving his behaviour that feel more laudable?
If you can attribute the best possible motive to someone, you will start to feel better about the circumstances. It doesn’t mean that motive is true either, it’s as fictional as the first one you attributed, but at least you feel better.
People are a complex mix of their unique wiring and the experiences that have happened to them from birth, you cannot ever hope to understand the ‘reality’ of each circumstance, especially when you are so wrapped in your own experiences; your lenses are tainted, accept that. However, it is true to say that most people do generally act with best intentions, and we generally do things for ourselves, not to others.
Feeling better is the key; it unlocks the love that wants to flow, your natural state. It doesn’t mean you suddenly become some beacon of sainthood. This isn’t about you foregoing your judgments and conditions placed on others to let them off the hook, this is about you loosening up your grip a little on the stories you are playing in your mind in order to let a little more happiness into your life.
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