An experimental life

The only thing we have much reliable control over, is ourselves. What we do, how we think and how we feel helps shape not just how we experience life, but what happens to us. However, changing our ways of seeing and reacting to the world is incredibly hard – even when I’ve known my thinking was faulty, it’s been a fight to identify, challenge and change it. Often we don’t know where the problems are, or why. Self change is something many people use magic to explore, and often it is a big part of a spiritual path. But, how to do it?

Scientific method goes… observe, theorise, test, conclude, and then you will likely take those conclusions as the observations for the next round. It works to take similar approaches in our lives.

Observe: This means paying attention to patterns of cause and effect, and looking to see if they might be correlations instead. What’s happening that doesn’t go the way you want it to? Identify the problems. So, to make this less hypothetical, let me observe that I have a lot of issues around being touched, but that one of them is fear that my body is fundamentally unacceptable to other people and that contact with me could be offensive and that rejection is therefore likely.

It’s worth noting that this observation is full of existing theories – I have a set of beliefs. I might want to unpick them and work out why I have these beliefs, or I could just accept that they may be wonky. Either way, I can safely theorise that these feelings of mine will be contributing to the problem – I avoid physical contact, and when I don’t I’m usually awkward, which could be sending out the wrong signals to people.

To test the theory I have to be more open to hugs from people I know. I have to notice where that might be available. I don’t have to say yes to everything, I don’t always want people to touch me (I may be in too much pain for a start). I theorise that if I could sort my body out to hurt less, that might help. There’s no need for this to be a wholly linear process, after all. If people can be physically kind to me and accepting of me as a physical presence, then I can question the underlying belief that I’m intrinsically repellent. I’ve been testing this for a while, with mixed results but an overall sense that people are often more ok with me than I expect them to be. I conclude that it’s worth pushing outside my comfort zone to keep exploring this.

The testing flags up other issues – that it’s not just about my acceptability, it’s about my need to feel safe, and I feel safer if I think I’m so horrible that no one would want to get anywhere near me. Even though I feel sad about feeling unacceptable, feeling acceptable might be worse. The thing that hurts me also functions to protect me. There’s a defence mechanism here that helps me keep people at a safe distance, and it helps explain the people I’ve had problems with (it’s my fault, not theirs and I find this easier to deal with). That in turn may be protecting me from facing other things I have not wanted to think about. I find it easier to internalise blame than to deal with the idea of other people being inadequate or unfair. To change, I need to identify all those things and think them through properly. Testing my reality opens up new questions, and new things I need to deal with.

The key thing here is creating the opportunity to gather evidence that what we thought, may be wrong, and to use that to construct better ideas, and from those better ideas, better ways of being in the world. It offers no quick fixes, it can be bloody uncomfortable, but it gives you something solid to work with. I’m not good at belief, or just changing my reality with a daily positive aphorism, but this experimental approach gives me information I can work with to rethink issues.

It’s important not to beat yourself up while doing this. Exposing unhelpful theories and beliefs can make a person feel a bit stupid. These are coping mechanisms that have passed their sell by date, usually – things that once made sense, or once held up. We change, everything around us changes, what worked before is hurting us now. The more lightly you can hold the idea of a rethink, the less the process will hurt you and the more good it can do.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “An experimental life

  • hejyork

    I recognise so much of myself in what you’ve said. Just wanted to say I understand x

  • Devore

    We need more people like you, my dear. You are aware that you are vulnerable, and unafraid to share those ‘chinks in your armor’. Thank you.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Remember my personal saying, “Wisdom is what is left after you have done all the dumb stuff.” That comes from personal experience on my part. But it has taken my lifetime to get to the point of being happy most of time and part of that is pure luck that I did not end up the complaining bitter old man, as I had been the angry bitter and frustrated young man.

    You are right though how we react to things is just about the only thing we have a chance to control an it takes times to learn to do that.

  • inanna

    nimue, do you know the work of matt licata? he regularly posts on the issues you’re talking about. there’s a certain new agey, stereotypically californian bent his writings could easily take, but they somehow manage to steer clear and are obviously the work of someone who has immense amounts of experience of, and trust in, this path of vulnerability. i can’t find a link as i’m writing on my phone one-handed, but google him. i find his work heartening and inspiring – which is not something i say lightly! x

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