Mental Carpentry and Mindfulness

I want to nail those doors shut against the temptation to re-open them. I am learning that the most effective carpentry technique is to get to the source of why, despite all my best resolutions, I want to go back.

An example: I am currently addressing a temptation to blame others for what goes wrong (and “wrong” is my interpretation) in my life. I have made many vows. I have made conscious decisions that I no longer wanted to participate in the negative thinking lurking behind that door.

It was like a New Year’s resolution. You probably know how well these go. That virtuous conviction that feels so good when you first commit to whatever major change you’re absolutely going to make deflates like a New Year’s Eve party balloon no later than January 2.

I think that’s because the temptation has such a powerful pull. In my case, blaming people is easy. It absolves me of taking responsibility for my feelings, thoughts, and actions. As surely as someone who self-medicates with alcohol or drugs, I surrender personal responsibility.

In other words, escape lies behind that door, and sometimes escape seems irresistible.

Understanding Why

We forget that the behaviors we’ve shoved behind that door once served a purpose. We evolved them to solve a problem. In my case, I experienced some major upsets in a short period of time.

Like all (or most) people, when something goes wrong, I want to know why so that I can keep it from happening again. This is very necessary survival behavior for all species. The deer learns that a human carrying a long piece of metal represents great danger and may develop the ability to sense the threat before its life is endangered.

Humans are hampered by tangled emotions and thoughts directed by an ego with an agenda. This agenda often involves deciding who’s to blame. Survival behavior can be either to avoid this person forever or to fight back.

I was doing the latter—but only in my mind. The low-key chorus in the background sang, “He’s ruined my life, which is hopeless because of him. I want revenge.” And on and on. And I thought I was actually hurting someone other than myself.

Listening at Low Volume

I’m learning to let the chorus sing without getting caught up in its dramatic arias. That means being mindful. It’s owning a feeling without shame. In its ultimate form, it’s unconditional self-love.

And that, I believe, is where we want to be. In that state (I think; I’ll let you know when I’m there), all the doors to past emotions and behaviors can be swinging wide open, but they offer no temptation. We have experienced and accepted their existence. We have faced their darkness, and that allows in the light.

How to Crush Your Creativity: Anger

Anger is somewhat different from other emotions categorized as negative because sometimes the biggest problem we have with it is that we don’t want to feel it. Many people have been raised to believe that anger is destructive, uncivilized, and overall, not very nice.

Attitudes are quite different in the world of animals. I have seen tiny kittens hiss and shriek with all their might when a big dog approaches them. Sometimes it’s not the biggest but the loudest that wins or prevents a battle.

When we hold anger inside ourselves, we become candidates for high blood pressure, ulcers, and a number of other conditions. Anger, when used constructively, can relieve stress. When repressed, it creates stress.

Unexpressed anger also has a strong tendency to turn into the sour bile of resentment. (See previous post, no, not the cat. I understand he has no trouble expressing anger. It’s the one before that.)

Give yourself an outlet for expressing your anger. For years I’ve recommended to my clients that they write down everything they’d like to say to someone with whom they’re angry. Don’t hold back. Say every terrible, vicious, and vindictive thing that you’re feeling.

If you happen to be living with that person, put the file somewhere that it won’t be found. Why not delete it? I would highly recommend and even urge that you do this eventually. However, I often find it helpful to cool down and read the letter a while after I’ve written it.

Once the heat has been dissipated, you may discover that some of the things you wrote range from ridiculous to hilarious. You may wonder why you were so upset about some of the subjects you covered.

These realizations help to train your awareness. The next time you feel anger coming on, you may have the mental acuteness to ask yourself if this is really such a big deal. That needn’t stop you from writing about it. However, you might melt a few less keys as you do so.

Let me reemphasize: The release of anger is healthy, but the degree of healthiness depends on how it’s released.

Oh, and don’t forget to delete that document.

Prioritizing: Step 3Getting Specific

I recently saw a video that said you should always do the thing you hate most to do first. My first reaction was that this was the worst suggestion I ever heard. For me, it seemed to be a recipe for oversleeping in order to avoid doing THAT THING.

My second reaction was that maybe it was a good idea. If you’re going to spend all day dreading that worst thing, you’re not going to get a lot of pleasure from doing the things you ordinarily enjoy. That messes up the day.

At the same time, I don’t want to do any worst thing if I haven’t worked my way up to it. By that I mean:

I’ve gone through Step 2 (in the previous post). I figure out why it’s the worst thing. I hate to make a dental appointment because they’re going to hurt me, and it’s going to be expensive. I’m going to feel victimized and angry.

Notice these are my expectations. Regarding the dental and financial pain, I can choose how I react to each. I’ve noticed that I’ve learned a lot about my attitudes towards by money whenever I experience pain about spending. So I can tell myself I’ll be learning a lot from the experience. It’s not the most lighthearted experience, but I look for what value I can get from it.

I have control about whether I feel victimized and angry. Here’s where I go back to the subconscious mind. What benefit do I get from feeling victimized? If you ever had a sibling hit you and you ran to your mother to blow the whistle on the perpetrator, you might find some clues. Anger can protect us from the vulnerability that gets aroused by pain.

I conclude that doing the worst thing first is only a good idea if you’ve taken some of the charge out of it. Otherwise, it’s like turning on your car engine in subfreezing weather and revving up to a high speed immediately. Bad things can happen. Don’t let them happen to you.