DISCOVERING YOUR CORE VALUES
I have most often started my Mindfulness group with a simple question. It is a question for contemplation, and designed to elicit what your core values are. The question is: "What really, really matters to you? My core value, I believe, is honor. If I tell you that I am going to do something, I show up on time, and give you the best of me. If I don't, I feel like I have disappointed myself and you as well.
There are many values, virtually an endless list, such as deeply loving, caring about others, doing the best that you can.
While I consider myself an honorable man, I am not always so. At times I fall short, yet this continuous reaching for honor is what I call growth.
If you were to think of values as a line (imagine at eye level), and the circumstances of your life as another line (visualize parallel but much lower), the distance between the two lines could be defined as pain or suffering. While the values line remains static, the circumstances of your life move up and down, like the teeth of a saw. They virtually never align. I think of someone like Buddha or Jesua where perhaps their enlightenment was simple that their circumstances always aligned with their values, in other words, they always lived according to their core values. Most of us do not, and when we hit a bottom, the pain is severe.
When we are on the bottom, a very logical and valuable way of finding our way back is to use our core values as a lighthouse. We remind ourselves of how we define ourselves and return to living a values based life.
Exercise: First contemplate what your true values are. Take a large sheet of paper and draw on it the line at the top for values. Fill in the details of what those values are. Second, draw the second line for circumstances-it may in fact be a dotted line, at different levels of suffering or lack of suffering. Fill in the details of these circumstances. For example the death of a loved one. This would have clearly been a bottom, enormous pain, and may have lasted for sometime. It may also have been followed by a period of grieving followed by a recovery-different levels. This dotted line will show the depths of your pain and suffering, and the times in life when all was well-the birth of a child, for example.
DEALING WITH ANXIETY
Suppose- this is an important word to start. It means imagine. We are going to be using this word several times in this discussion. Suppose or imagine, that instead of struggling so hard with your anxiety or any other difficulty, you take a step back and completely change the way you relate to them. My method for dealing with adversity over the years has been avoidance and resistance. I reached an point in my life where I realized that this wasn't working. I learned this from my parents. I'm sure that one of them must have said: "If you have a problem face it straight on." Then I watched them as they avoided and resisted issues. We learn from what we see our parents do, much less so my what they tell us. We have experienced the results of avoidance, we know that any problem you avoid only gets bigger. I think of my utility bill. If I don't pay it one month, the utility simple sends me another bill. But this bill is twice as big. If I pay it no problem. But if I don't, that is when I get the note in the door to pay or else. I have now created a big problem.
Suppose further, that you decide to stop struggling with your anxiety, not giving in to it or telling yourself this is way it will always be, it just means letting go of the struggle.
We struggle with anxiety because it's uncomfortable. We all know what it's like. It's that nervous feeling that some of us have experienced escalating all the way to panic. You wonder if you're going to have a heart attack.
Imagine that I get up in the morning, and I don't know about you, but sometimes just getting out of bed creates anxiety. "Oh, what do I have to do this morning?" And then I remember that I have a doctor's appointment. It's very important that I get there. Now imagine a dial that is your anxiety dial 0-10. I don't know about you but there is no 0 on my dial. I often wake up at 3-4. Imagine further another dial, same kind 0-10. This is the struggle dial. They work in tandem, just like riding a tandem bicycle, if I'm on front and pedal, you're on back you have to peddle. As anxiety goes up, the struggle with it goes up because it is very uncomfortable, we don't like it so we pretend it's not happening, we do affirmations to make it go away. And most often these do not work. The more anxious we get, the more we struggle.
And then I remember that I have to take the bus. I hate riding the bus. I don't know if it's all the people, there's just something about, and now my anxiety dial is at 5, and the struggle dial is the same. So I force myself out to the bus stop, and get on the bus; and that's when the anxiety really takes off. And I begin to struggle mightily. I start asking myself fearful questions: "What if I have a panic attack?" This thought just about guarantees that I will have. Then I think: "What if they stop this bus, and What if they ask me to get off, What if I don't make it to my appointment?" You can see where this is going. My anxiety dial is at 8-9, my struggle dial is right with it, and I am considering the real possibility of a panic attack,
But what if in that moment, I was able to think differently. What if I thought something like: Wait a minute, I was just on this bus last week. I made it all the way to my appointment and back. Imagine if this thought, which reminds us of a previous success actually slowed down the struggle. Imagine that the struggle dial dropped to 5-6. We said that the dials work in tandem. If we let go of some of the struggle, the anxiety will drop. Then imagine further that I get close to the bus station, and I think: "I'm probably going to make." Imagine that the struggle drops further, and that now my anxiety is down to about a 5. Most of us are experts at living at 5. We have lots of practice. We can do this.
ACCEPTING YOUR CONDITION
Imagine that you could accept your condition, this tendency toward anxiety, as being vital in your life. I know this is an odd statement. But please, allow yourself to continue to imagine. When I was a small child, about three years old, my mother told me this late, I loved to sing. I don't remember this-it was pre-memory, but she said I would go everywhere singing. Then she said that I just stopped. To this day, you couldn't make me sing. I took that little singing kid, stuck him in a closet somewhere and locked the door. We do that when the significant adult figures in our lives disapprove of something about us. Some of the best and some of the worst things about us, we take and lop them off, stick them in the closet never to be seen again. These are sometimes referred to as shadow parts. We desire to live as whole beings. How can we do this when parts are locked away in the closet? Perhaps our anxiety, in part, is due to this condition. Suppose that difficult thoughts about ourselves, and difficult feelings are related to having parts of ourselves detached and lost. Now, there isn't a real closet somewhere, these parts are lost in our psyche. Is it possible that this idea of accepting our condition is related to finding a way to integrate these parts?
Suppose further, that what this means is not resigning yourself to this condition, but rather stepping away from it and learning how to notice your difficult thoughts and feelings without becoming embroiled and entangled in them.
This is the difficult thought that I have always had about myself. It is: "It's because your not blanking good enough anyway." When I screw up, when I let someone down, or don't meet their expectations, I hear it. It is loud, demeaning, very personal, and it swears at me. It would be different if it was like any other thought, a thought about the weather that's in one ear and out the other; not this one, it gets in my head and takes up residence. I can't think straight, I can't see the world around me because I am entangle with this thought as if I were blindfolded. In another article, I will talk about tools for dealing with this condition.
THE OBSERVER SELF
So what is this "taking a step back?" It is a witnessing aspect of ourselves. Many of us who grew up in dysfunctional homes learned to do something very similar at an early age. It was imperative for us to keep an eye on the family situation, to learn to recognize when we were approaching the danger zone. This "taking a step back" is much the same, only we are observing ourselves, our own situation that we might be clear what is going on within and without.
There are many names for this witnessing part, pure consciousness, pure awareness, the inner self helper, a term used to describe a core pretective entity in multiple personality. My belief is that it is us at the deepest level, you as if you had lived a thousand years.
My experience with the Observer Self is that it is very wise, knows details of our life that we are not in touch with, and can provide us with strategy for dealing with the obstacles that our lives present. As I have stated elsewhere, my inner wisdom does not speak with me directly, but rather provides me with symbols or puzzles to work out, or more likely dreams or visions in meditation. In one meditation I was taken to an apartment where we lived when I was about three years old. I have few memories from that time, just enough to know this was where I was. I was shown a darkness or shame that existed there, a shame that I have felt most of my life. I realized that it was not mine, but rather my father's. This has been very freeing for me. I have been able to open up, and share myself with others without having to consider what they might be thinking of me.
One means of contacting this Observer Self or Inner Wisdom is through an Inner Wisdom Journey. This is a creative visualization created by Dean Schlect who is a therapist and authority on Multiple Personality Disorder. I have done well over 100 of these journeys with clients and friends; and continue to be astounded by how much each person, in their own way, is touched by contact with their own depths. Most people I have worked with go easily and deeply into meditation with this visualization. One client, as I watched, had a tear form in the corner of his eye, roll all the way down his cheek and drop off on his chest. He did not notice. This was one of the most profoundly touching moments of my life. Look for this visualization on the Home page.