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Robert Jackson

 

BAD HABITS OF MIND

by

Robert Jackson, A.B., Ed.M., Ed.D., Harvard University




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To occupy the mind, an antidote has to be repeated in the mind many times in sequence.

Click to skip to a specific section:

1.    in general

2.    guiltiness/regret

3.    fear

4.    turning away/avoiding

5.    self-doubt/insecurity/nervousness/nervous habits

6.    self-blame

7.    hostility/hatred/anger from abuse

8.    intrusive, unwanted memories

9.    insulted/rejected/humiliated/alienated/lacking support/failure relating with other people

10.                  depression/despair

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The body has the most amazing characteristics of healing. When there is a cut in the skin, healing agents hurry through the blood vessels to the site of the damage and begin their work of repair. Little by little, like a seamstress making tiny stitches, the new skin builds from the margins toward the center, until, finally, the new skin has completely replaced the old. On a fingertip, even the fingerprint is restored in all its fine detail. The color of the repaired skin matches the color of the old skin. Blood vessels under the skin that were broken are made whole, and blood flows freely, just as before. It is an amazing performance.

We might say that the healing agents have a mind of their own. They are purposeful. They know where they are going, and, once they reach their destination, they know what to do. It is a team effort, with various components of the blood working together to accomplish a mutual goal.

This purposefulness and this cooperation go on throughout the body. Spermatozoa, for example, know where they are headed, and, once they reach their destination, they know what to do. The fertilized egg knows how to divide. The strands of DNA separate and join with their counterparts in a process of growth. The heart beats, the lungs exchange oxygen with carbon dioxide, the muscles take in nourishment and do their work, food is broken down and digested, enzymes and hormones are created and used, and so on in an amazing, hugely complicated dance of life. The cells in all of these processes are purposeful - they know what to do. The processes are features of life itself. The cells have a mind of their own.

The brain is a part of this dance. The cells of the brain are integral with the circulatory system. The body seeks to repair a physical injury to the brain, just as it seeks to repair injuries to other parts of the body, by sending healing agents to the site of the injury. A healthy brain is characterized by good cheer, free interactions with the environment, a feeling of safety and invulnerability, self-supportiveness, and acceptance of the already established facts. It enjoys such good habits as kindness, compassion, and self-forgiveness. It is fully engaged when it is appropriate to be engaged, not absent-minded.

Any living organism is extremely sensitive. All of the senses are active. The organism reacts instantaneously. For example, when a person reads a page, he or she reads many words a second. The mind then combines the components of words into meaningful wholes - words, sentences, paragraphs, and so on, all this going on in a continuous, sensitive stream. When it comes to feeling, we feel the slightest pin prick. We hear the gentlest whisper. We taste the slightest bitterness. We smell one atom of perfume out of a million atoms.

A living organism wants to live, and, as it grows, it comes to realize that it is in danger and must protect itself. Sometimes, this realization interferes with normal functioning. In the case of us human beings, we are sometimes so horrified and terrified by what we experience that we overdo our self-protection. We enter a mood that is contrary to our best interests.

The brain wants to be healed - it wants injuries to be overcome, just as the rest of the body wants injuries to be overcome. When the body is injured, it makes an assessment of the extent of the injury, and it brings in healing agents in accordance with the severity of the injury. Normally, for example, a fever is not called for, but in bad injuries it is. The brain is not as good at being healed as is the rest of the body. When it is terrified or horrified, it often overreacts, and the person is put on guard for the rest of his or her life.

Akira Kurosawa tells the story from his childhood of watching a white dog trot back and forth across some railroad tracks. As a train approached, the dog continued his playfulness, and Kurosawa saw the wheels of the train slice the dog in half. For decades thereafter, Kurosawa would not eat red meat. How many similar horrors have happened to many of us!

A healthy reaction to horror and/or terror is to put it behind you. The memory of the event doesn't disappear, but the terrible feeling that came with it recedes, and the person moves on. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Life only avails, not the having lived." An unhealthy reaction is to suffer the awful event again and again. It's as if the mind is saying, "Don't forget this. You live in danger and must be alert to it." Your attitude toward the world is fearfulness, and you blame yourself for being harassed in your mind. Your mood becomes dark: living this way is not okay, and you are not okay.

A person who has been picked on as a child, assaulted, belittled, or punished suffers habitually thereafter, especially if his or her experiences were horrifying or terrifying. An enemy has entered his or her mind. Everyday occurrences seem to serve just to remind the person of awful events in the past. The past becomes sensitized, and the present becomes desensitized. This condition is the reverse of what it should be.

Even while asleep the person is harassed. In its dream life the mind makes up a story out of a feeling - you are lost and can't find your way back, something has been misplaced and you can't find it, a devil is pursuing you, and on and on.

In such a condition of distorted thinking the subtle, sweet, tender promptings of mind have no chance, since beauty, love, and sensual delight come upon you when you are not being bludgeoned.

It is fair to say that the mind has developed bad habits. Instead of reassurance, there is blame. Instead of kindness, there is meanness. Instead of flexibility, there is obsession. Instead of comfort, there are nervousness and nervous habits. Instead of learning, there is avoiding. Instead of self-confidence, there is self-doubt. Instead of realism, there is delusion. Instead of trusting oneself, one looks to others. Instead of belonging, there is alienation. Instead of creativity, there is boredom.

The situation is not hopeless. Once a bad habit of mind is recognized, its antidote can be elicited by speaking the antidote in the mind over and over again. Let's look at some bad habits of mind and their antidotes.
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BAD HABIT OF MIND

Suffering (guiltiness, shame, hatred, fear)

ANTIDOTES

 

Remind yourself of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy

 

Breathe mindfully (listen to yourself exhale repeatedly)

 

 

 

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

guiltiness/regret

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowledge your guiltiness/regret: guiltiness, regret . . . guiltiness, regret . . . etc.

Only the facts remain. The past is irreversible.

Nature itself is imperfect.

You are in Nature, not apart from it.

Forgiveness . . . (repeated many times in the mind)



For one thing, we are all guilty. We live not knowing as much as we need to know about the problems that we have, and so we make mistakes, all of us. It is Nature itself that is imperfect, and we are all the heirs of this imperfection.

When left unopposed, guiltiness seems to take over a person's whole consciousness, elbowing out possible feelings of good nature. The thought of "I am at fault" acts as a funnel through which related memories are poured. The mind is active remembering instances of being at fault.

Self-forgiveness says, "Whether I was right, justified, and not guilty, on the one hand, or wrong, not justified, and guilty, on the other hand, it doesn't matter. Either way, what happened can't be changed. The past is irreversible. Outside of the mind, only the facts remain. My only option is to move on, into the present." As Shakespeare wrote, "No more be grieved at that which thou has done:/Roses have thorns and silver fountains, mud;/Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,/And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud."

You have the power to say to yourself, "Only the facts remain," over and over again until you are convinced.

It is also true that Nature has made each of us the way we are. We are totally created. It is egotism - self-importance, defensiveness about one's self-definition - that causes us to take assaults personally. Egotism is a narrowing of a person's view of himself or herself, ignoring the magnificence of being a human being, with an evolutionary history and amazing features of mind and body. Egotism is making the individual person, the self, more significant than the significance of being a human being. With a larger view, assaults don't just hit oneself, they hit this portion of humanity.

Knowing that you are totally created makes it possible to rise above personal injuries and move beyond guiltiness and regret. In the words of Lao-Tse, "When I let go of who I am, I become who I might be."

"Who I am" is not all of one piece. As we have evolved through thousands of years, our minds have developed many compartments. including (for many of us) a harsh, unforgiving judge, which exists side-by-side with a person's better aspects. It is a relief to realize that a divided self is in nature, to be expected and to be accepted. When you address the worst parts of yourself, you are speaking from a better part of yourself.

You can say to yourself, "You are in Nature/life, not apart from it" and "I choose life, not the having lived. I am alive to the continuous newness of existence." Back to top

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

fear

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowedge your fear: fear . . . fear . . . etc.

You are feeling vulnerable.

You are separate. You are safe.

Only the facts remain.



Some religions teach that human beings don't stand alone but, on the contrary, are supernaturally connected to something outside themselves, such as God. It is easy to understand why some people believe this - since a person's mind does not have dimensions or boundaries in space, it is easy to think that it is infinite. Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism) say that "we are all connected," i.e., all living things are supernaturally connected. Other religions refer to "the ground of all being," as if we are connected with some higher (or more basic) Mind. Some people, such as Paul Tillich, refer to "ultimate reality," which they posit but of which there is no evidence.

This delusion is not only irrational but also harmful. It's awful to think that someone is looking over our shoulder every minute or that someone is keeping a record of our good deeds and our bad deeds, like Santa Claus, who "knows if we've been naughty or nice." It is good for you to be separate and to feel separate, to feel the freedom of not being watched. You can affect other beings, but you do so through your behavior, not directly (supernaturally) through your mind.

The truth is that every person's mind is separate - only the person is in direct control of his or her mind. When one's mind is not subject to the delusion of supernatural interconnectedness, it is more manageable. We are in charge of only one person, not the whole world.

When prayers don't work, people who pray often blame themselves - they haven't prayed well enough. They carry the burden of the whole world on their shoulders. The fact is that circumstances, which are always in some way awful, are not your doing. You are not responsible for them.

That everyone is distinct and separate from everyone else is often known to be true but isn't felt to be true. One of the effects of being excluded, for instance, is that the resulting fear directs a person's attention outwards, toward outside danger. Being physically assaulted produces the same effect. A fearful person feels vulnerable, without adequate protection, at the mercy of outside powers, with the effect that he or she feels thin skinned, not well separated, like a buoy tossed in the waves. People who are self-doubting have more faith in others than in themselves, and, consequently, they focus their attention not on what they like and want but rather on what others like and want. They try to please others rather than themselves and in extreme cases sacrifice themselves to others. Since looking to others is a habit, they don't feel distinct and separate from others.

Not only do they not feel separate from other people, but they feel that other people are not separate from them. They try to push other people around and overwhelm them to get their way.

A fearful mood has another bad effect: insomnia. When a person suddenly wakes up, his or her mind is saying, "You are in danger. You'd better wake up to defend yourself." When you are awake, you are less vulnerable than when you are asleep.

Insomnia is caused either by memories of events that haven't been fully consigned to the past or else by aloneness.

In the first instance (memories of events that haven't been fully consigned to the past), something awful has happened, and the mind wants somehow to undo it. It keeps you awake while you go over the unfortunate episode again and again. However, the episode, now in the past, is irreversible. Whether you were in the right or in the wrong, it is a fact. Only the feelings connected with it are reversible.

Not only are the awful feelings alive, but, in addition, there is confusion - there is a tumbling or churning or flashing in the mind. There seems to be no place to land. Insomniacs have lost faith in the safety of existence. The terror, horror, and disgust that underlie everyday existence are immediately under their noses.

In the second instance (aloneness), the person is outside the pale, where wild animals roam and unfriendly tribes lurk, and there is no tribe of your own to offer comfort. The anxiety is the anxiety of the outsider.

If you believe that you are connected (through telepathy, prayer, participation in a "ground of all being," or some other delusion), you are vulnerable. This delusion has to be rejected if you want to recover a feeling of safety.

Thus, the antidote to fear is saying to yourself, over and over, "You are feeling vulnerable" and "You are separate. You are safe" and "Only the facts remain." Back to top

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

turning away/avoiding

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowledge your turning away/avoiding: turning away, avoiding . . . turning away, avoiding . . . etc.

Who are you, and what is your purpose?

You might wish that it were so, but it isn't.

You might wish that it weren't so, but it is.

You are subject to causation.

I acknowledge my unwanted thoughts and feelings.

Agonizing/worrying doesn't change reality. Everything is exactly the way it is.

Life only avails, not the having lived.

I assert compassion toward myself. I deserve comforting, self-reassurance, and support.

The antidote to delusion is truth.



It is inevitable that what has happened to a person has had an effect. You cannot be other than affected by both good and bad experiences. Emotions have causes both inside and outside you. Any serenity you have can be traced to good caring - caring that others have shown you and caring that you have shown yourself. Similarly, any disturbance can be traced to mistreatment - mistreatment of others towards you and mistreatment that you have shown yourself. All experiences result in emotion. You cannot be other than a feeling creature.

The operations of one's mind are the operations of Nature/life. If your mind is full of conflict, it was set up by the processes of Nature/life to be that way. It is limited because all minds are limited. You cannot be everything that you wish you could be. You are limited by the limitations inherent in Nature. You are subject to the processes of Nature/life occurring in you.

As a human being, you are a mistake maker - you are set up by the processes of Nature/life to make mistakes. Anyone, including yourself, who thinks that you shouldn't make mistakes is unreasonable. You are a human being.

The truths of existence are very hard to accept - death, sickness, loss, betrayal, natural disasters, cruelty, hatred, humiliation, and more. Most people avoid them, often by turning to religion, the belief in which counteracts loneliness, guiltiness, and fear of death. They also turn to other delusions. David A. Gershaw in his Web site explains that "a delusion is a deeply held false belief that is maintained even when other information contradicts the belief. The contradictory information is either ignored completely or discounted in some way. Many prejudices rely on stereotypes that apply to a small minority in a group, but these stereotypes become delusional when they are used to judge everyone in that group. Besides race, religion, sex, ethnic group, and nationality, people can develop stereotypes about occupational and age groups. Very few computer experts are 'nerds,' and only a small minority of athletes are 'dumb jocks.' Likewise, few teenagers are 'delinquents,' and only a small percentage of the elderly are 'old fogies.' However, people who hold strong prejudices against these groups will ignore the contradictory information and characterize all or most members of the group with these stereotyped labels."

Doonesbury cartoon of a rationalist

Doonesbury Cartoon by Garry Trudeau



We must not assume that we are doomed to requiring such delusions. We can learn better ways of thinking. A more truthful life is waiting to be found. However, it is found not in the hurly-burly of everyday life but in quiet moments. If your life is filled with moments that don't matter (or worse), it is up to you to find moments that do matter. It is at those times that you can say to yourself, "This moment matters. Life only avails, not the having lived. Each moment is new." It is then that your inner nature gives you the gifts of the best part of life.

To find it, you have to abandon being somebody - a static concept - and, instead, adopt living, which is a process. It's up to you to make your own peace. No one else can do it for you. Relief comes from within. Finding it comes from listening, from paying attention, not from commanding. You can't make insights. You can only let insights occur to you. This is true as you live your life moment by moment, continuously. As Isaac Newton wrote, "Truth is the offspring of silence and unbroken meditation."

The Buddhists call this attitude mindfulness. It amounts to taking a dignified attitude and reminding ourselves of our newness in each moment.

One's mind is a refuge. It is a distinct and separate place. Within it are wonderful reserves that can be discovered or created - interests, desires, hopes, love, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, reasoning, imagination, and ideas. We are truth-seeking organisms. The truth emerges if it is not stopped by delusion. Back to top

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

self-doubt/insecurity/nervousness/nervous habits

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowedge your self-doubt: self-doubt . . . self-doubt . . . etc.

You are separate inside your skin. You are not anyone else's opinion of you.

No two people are the same. I am not like that [other person]. I am okay.

I impose my own values on myself. I am decisive in my own behalf. I persist. I dare.

Life's greatest word: equal. Not only are others equal to you, but you are equal to them, as well.

You have a right to your own opinion.

Your life is only your own, not anyone else's.



Persons with a healthy attitude about themselves have a feeling that the body and the mind are impregnable. They grew up sensing a distinct boundary around themselves. This boundary begins at the surface of the body. If the boundary has been honored by a person's parents and others, the person has no experience of physical intrusions - there has been no physical punishment, assault, rape, suffocation, or mutilation - so the person feels whole and complete within himself or herself.

Persons without this sense of impregnability are persons who have been physically punished, assaulted, and so on. What should be a sacred boundary has been breached. Once hit - or raped or mutilated or forced under ether - the person is put on alert by his or her own mind to other possible intrusions. We call this condition anxiety or vulnerability or self-doubt, which brings a feeling of inferiority in its train.

Overwhelming passion shatters the boundary around the self. It leads to obsession with other people, which is an overvaluing of others and an undervaluing of the self. Unlucky is the person who experiences overwhelming passion. There is no peace in it. It is not an antidote to self-doubt. Shakespeare knew this well in Sonnet No. 129:

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and, till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad,
Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and, in quest to have, extreme,
A bliss in proof and, proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

It is not only the body that should have a sacred boundary. It is also the self. The self that has received good care, both from caregivers and from the self, senses his or her own separateness from others. This condition is called self-reliance or self-respect. The first step in solidifying the boundary around the self is to be aware of it. The person can then be alert to intrusions. You can say to yourself, "You are separate inside your skin. You are not anyone else's opinion of you."

Shakespeare understood this in Sonnet No. 94:

They that have power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show [do not exert their power even though they have the trappings for it],
Who, moving others, are themselves as stone [they are self possessed],
Unmoved, cold, and to temptation slow,
They rightly do inherit heaven's graces
And husband [protect] nature's riches from expense [waste].
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others, but stewards of their excellence [other people serve those who are self possessed].

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

self-blame

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowledge your self-blame: blame . . . blame . . . etc.

You are a creation of Nature. You are totally created. There is nothing about you that is of your own making.

No two persons are the same. You are not like that (other person whom you envy). You can only be the person you got.

Who are you? You are a living organism, a self, functioning in the present. You are free of distorted thinking.

I live in an atmosphere of my own kindness and forgiveness . . . (repeated many times in the mind)



It is an odd paradox that, although we live creatively from moment to moment, we are not our own creation. We live creatively in that our minds move swiftly from instant to instant, thinking, reacting, initiating, planning, sensing, perceiving, and remembering, all in relationship to what goes on in the present. We sense the environment; memories occur; language becomes available; thoughts occur as to what to do next. What we see clears away from instant to instant so that we are ready for the next moment. We make hundreds of decisions every hour, directing our bodies from moment to moment to do all the thousands of things that we do.

And yet we are not our own creation. We inhabit a person that we had nothing to do with creating. We are in Nature, not apart from it. Each of us is a phenomenon of Nature, appearing for a lifetime and then disappearing. We behave in ways that are given to us by Nature/life itself. We are the product of billions of years of evolution and thousands of years of civilization. When I look at my hand, for example, I consider that it is my hand, but it is also not mine - I had nothing to do with creating it. It is completely given to me, produced by millions of years of evolution. The working together of bones, muscles, blood, and nerves proceeds, independent of my consciousness. If my hand is injured, healing agents travel to the injured site, all without my direction. Similarly, I have certain feelings. They, too, are mine, but they are also not mine. As with my hand, millions of years went into producing them. I did nothing to create them. Similarly, our sentences arise from a pool of originations in the mind. They occur to us as a whole, and then we express them. Each person is privileged to have life, warmth, senses, intelligence, personality, skills, locomotion, protection against disease, and all the other amazing characteristics of human life, all of them creations of the processes of Nature/life.

Every thought and every feeling are provided by Nature/life - they are precisely the result of 1) your inner makeup and/or 2) what is perceived outside you. Everything that has happened was inevitable. It could only occur in the way that it did. Similarly, everything that is now happening and everything that will happen are inevitable. They are expressions of Nature. The Buddhists refer to this truth as the impersonal nature of all phenomena. They point out that self-importance is totally unjustified. They say, not I, but life in me. The realization of this helps to reduce personal shame and guiltiness.

Although what has happened was inevitable, and what is now happening and what will happen are inevitable, no one knows what the future holds, what the circumstances will be, and what the contributions of people will be. Stopping to act would be its own action. Not knowing what the future holds, we can only continue to live our lives in the best way that we can. Maybe, circumstances and our own constitutions will make something good out of the future.

Religious leaders have tried to make out that we are our own creation by inventing the concept of the soul, as if there were some part of us that is, indeed, our own creation. Since we are responsible for ourselves, and since we create what we do each moment, we certainly seem to be our own creation, but deeper thought reveals this not to be true.

When people talk about body, mind, and spirit, what they mean by "spirit" is sometimes soul. However, the word "spirit" can be meaningful if it implies life itself. A spirited person is a lively person, and spirit, meaning life, is something that we human beings can be aware of, unlike all other animals. We know that we are alive and that life itself is something amazing and mysterious, untouched so far by science, which has not found what it is that adds life to matter. Spiritual people are people who honor the life within them. Since our lives are full of problems, it must be said that a qualification is needed - spiritual is that kind of life that chooses good nature. It is the evidence of love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.

We human beings often blame ourselves for our bad feelings, as if we should be in sufficient command of ourselves to overcome them. We convict ourselves of weakness. Something is wrong with us, we think, that we can't repel these strange forces within us. We don't realize that any bad experience, such as being excluded, is felt. It is in our nature/life to feel it. If blame must be attributed, it should fall on Nature itself. It is self-importance that causes the agonies of a bad conscience.

We have "should" on our minds - I should have handled that better, I should have gotten the right answer, I should have done better on the test, I should have been more fun to be with, I should have known what to do, I should have acted better. We also have "shouldn't" on our minds - I shouldn't have lost my temper, I shouldn't have been so quiet, I shouldn't have made the mistake, I shouldn't have failed.

In such instances, you can remind yourself that human beings are in Nature, not apart from it. Everyone lives within a stream of events, responding moment by moment to what is happening. How a person responds is in large measure a consequence of the past. We are both empowered by the past, in that we learn, and debilitated by the past, in that we sometimes seem to be stuck with held-over bad feelings.

My parents made terrible mistakes. They were set up by the processes of Nature/life to make terrible mistakes. I, too, as a parent made terrible mistakes. Like them, I was set up by the processes of Nature/life to make terrible mistakes. Imperfection is inevitable; I join my parents in that reality.

Self-importance and the belief that all men are not created equal are the two sides of the same coin. They have had appalling consequences, from the untouchables in India to slavery and racism in the United States, to the suppression of women, to the mistreatment of children, to the belief that God favors one's group, and to royalty and aristocracy, which still poison social relations in England.

Egotism seems to be the norm in Western culture. Almost all lucky people think that they deserve their good luck. Our culture assumes that self-importance has its value in that it encourages striving and accomplishment. Consider the possibility that this is not true. Queen Victoria, for example, was an egotist, but Darwin was humble. Which accomplished more? Fortunately, there have been others, such as Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, and many others, both contemporary and in the past, who have given credit for their accomplishments to Nature/life.

When you give Nature/life its due, you experience a change of heart. Instead of insisting on your own way regardless of others, you see both yourself and others as creations of Nature/life. It is not so important to justify yourself, since it is Nature that is the creator - we can only take what we get. You are not so afraid of being in the wrong or of making a mistake. Bad memories learn to rest in the past. The nature of your life comes to be seen as connected with something bigger - creation itself. What you personally possess is not critical to your self-image. You can ask, Who are you? and answer, you are a living organism, a self, functioning in the present.

You don't have to excuse yourself anymore. Whatever you are, however you are, it's natural. You might wish that something weren't so, but it is. You might wish that something were so, but it isn't. You can acknowledge reality. Don't deny it. There is no need to feel embarrassed by anything natural, be it a handicap, a faux pas, or a mistake.

It is a comfort to see life in a broader context. As Albert Einsten wrote, "The conviction that a law of necessity governs human activities introduces into our conception of man - and life - a mildness, a reverence, and an excellence such as would be unattainable without this conviction." Back to top

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

hostility/hatred/anger from abuse

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowedge your anger: anger . . . anger . . . etc.

You are equal. You have a right to express yourself without penalty.

I praise individuality and my own individuality. I stand up for myself. I am no longer a victim.

What might have been appropriate at one time is no longer appropriate. I must move on. This emotion is disturbing my peace.

I am okay. It is the scorners who are not okay.



When a person gets angry, he or she is feeling controlled or else is feeling unable to control someone else. Angry households are households where people are trying to control one another. In these households, unity is the goal - it is important, they think, to present a common front. Peaceful households are households where the individuality of each person is respected. In these households, diversity is the goal - each person is encouraged to develop according to his or her own nature/life. There are disagreements in every family every day. If, at the end of a discussion, there is still disagreement, it is always possible to say, "You have a right to your opinion" or "We can agree to disagree."

There is no way to keep evil out of Nature/life. People are going to be selfish and cruel. They are going to try to take advantage of you. Despite all your efforts, you cannot be completely successful in turning away evil. Evildoing is in Nature/life, and evildoers are in Nature/life.

It is inevitable that there is pain from living in the real world. Every person is going to be saddened by loss, shocked by disaster, dismayed by perfidy, offended by meanness, confused by meaninglessness, and wearied by responsibility. A perfectly awful feeling is a consequence of normal living. If we were to eliminate normal responses to terrible events, we would be automatons, without feelings.

Furthermore, a feeling such as hostility is a normal response. When someone intrudes on you, you feel angry. This feeling occurs regardless of whether you are in the right or in the wrong.

When a person acknowledges his or her place in the context of normal human responses, a change in attitude occurs. Instead of thinking, "How awful I am," you can think, "This is human nature. I see it. From it I learn something about the nature of my life and of human life. Things have occurred, and my nature has responded. I face the consequences of living and acting in the real world." Even when thoughts are inappropriate to everyday living, you can still say, "I face the consequences. I see these thoughts as consequences of terrible past events. I am troubled by thoughts maintained by my human nature. Even though they are no longer appropriate, I see them as an attempt by human nature/life to solve problems, however unsatisfactorily."

You can also face the consequences of the effects of your negative feelings on other people. A feeling such as hostility is not popular with other people, and it sometimes causes other people to withdraw from or to reject a person. Even though you try to cover it up, other people see through your pretense - always, body language tells on us. You can say to yourself, "I face the consequences of my bad feelings on my interpersonal relationships, now and in the past."

Whatever it is that you are, for better or worse, is an expression of Nature/life. Your thoughts and feelings arise from somewhere inside the mind - they are phenomena of Nature/life. You are a vessel for the expression of Nature. "When I dream, the universe dreams." All the credit for any accomplishment should be given to Nature/life. Self-importance is a delusion. With the Buddhists you can say, "Not I, but life in me."

When you learn an attitude of acceptance, you stop agonizing over reality. There is a story of Xerxes, an ancient Persian king, whose fleet of ships was lost in a storm. In anger Xerxes took a whip and whipped the stormy waves. Unlike Xerxes, a person can stop agonizing over reality, moving his or her mind away from the repetitiousness of unwanted emotion and over to a higher ground, where he or she moves with life, not against it.

You are okay. It is the scorners who are not okay. Be a leader (in your own mind) of the unfortunates. Back to top

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

intrusive, unwanted memories

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowledge your intrusive memories: remembering . . . remembering . . . etc

You are agonizing. You are obsessing. You are worrying..

Object to this bad habit: Mercy! Stop! Enough!

Only the facts remain.

Self-friendliness is my firewall.

 

Momma cartoon



The fact that the present has duration (when it is seen as more than only a moving edge) makes it possible for the person to correct some bad situations. For example, if you make a mistake while typing, you can correct it. If you hurt someone, you can apologize or make amends. If you fail, you can learn from your failings. If you are insulted, you can respond. Occurrences, then, are not totally unchangeable. Some can be adjusted in your favor.

Since this is true, we human beings hold in the meaningful present much of the past that we wish that we could undo. Since we can operate in the present, making decisions moment by moment, we think, mistakenly, that we can fix up all past trauma, humiliations, failures, and rejections. We relive again and again many terrible happenings, keeping them as part of the present. We are under the delusion that we can remake the past, just as we can make the present, when, in fact, the past is irreversible. Outside of the mind, only the facts remain.

We are poor at recognizing when it is time to let the past die. Student piano players, for example, who make a mistake while playing, often stop the music, go back to correct the mistake, and then proceed. In reality, they have not corrected the mistake. Rather, they have played the notes correctly after having played them incorrectly, and in the process they have departed from the beat, and the music sounds worse than if they had allowed the mistake to stand.

An unwelcome thought/image/memory is a reflection of the real episode. It is a function of the continuity of time to keep it in the mind as a part of the present. Although the tying together of the past with the future is found throughout existence, in human beings it is the mind that is the seat of unwanted holdovers from the past. It is a remarkable feature of human life, unlike other life, that ideas and feelings in the mind can be addressed. The burden of past trauma, humiliations, failures, and rejections can be lightened. The idea that feelings are irremediably connected to past events can be seen to be a delusion. It is the mind that connects feelings to memories of past events. The occurrence that is now in the past is no longer existent. What exists is something in the mind. You can address it: "That feeling is a thing. It is only itself. The past is irreversible. Outside of the mind, only the facts remain. Worrying can't change them."

To overcome worrying about the past, a new understanding of the past can be adopted by using these words: "I am keeping the past alive in the ‘meaningful' present. I see what I am doing. The past cannot be changed. It is irreversible. Outside of the mind, only the facts remain. I am safe inside my skin. I am self-contained, independent, and separate. I am in charge of my consciousness. I am at the center of existence. I, as a good caregiver to myself, pay attention to myself." You can say to yourself, "I stop inflicting pain on you. I soothe and comfort you. I protect and defend you. I care for you. I want you not to feel vulnerable, victimized, and guilty. I want you not to suffer this way with worry. I want you to feel good, not terrible."

You can remind yourself that reality can be tolerated: "I tolerate reality. What I tolerate is often terrible. However, I am in Nature/life, not apart from it. I acknowledge that life is the way it is, not the way I wish it were." Back to top

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

insulted/rejected/humiliated/alienated/lacking support/failure relating with other people

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowledge your situation: alienation, loss . . . alienation, loss . . . etc.

I smell the air.

I impose my own philosophy on myself. I depend on myself. I offer myself comfort, self-reassurance, and support.



Insults are so powerful because they strike at the very core of a person's happiness - belonging. They make an outsider of the person.

Happiness holds a special place in the evolution of human feelings. It came about for a purpose. Since, in tribal life, the group was necessary for survival, a feeling was necessary to glue the group together. This feeling is happiness. It is the feeling of belonging. Anxiety is its opposite - the feeling of being excluded, pushed away, or pushed out. In our day happiness is still the feeling of belonging. The outsider's anxiety motivates him or her to seek happiness, which is achieved by membership, wherein lie protection and support and, consequently, survival. Nature strongly motivates us to stay within the mainstream.

The happiness of being an insider and the anxiety of being an outsider are just as strong today as they were when almost everyone belonged to a primitive tribe, and so tribal membership is just as important today as it ever was.

People risk anxiety by leaving their group. Their risk is especially great if the group is strong. The strongest groups - tribes - are those in which acceptance is based on who the person is rather than on what he or she believes or contributes. In the middle between strong and weak are groups based on belief, such as political groups (unless inherited) and newly found religious groups. Groups that are weaker are those based on performance rather than on who the person is, such as many American workplace groups and athletic teams.

Sometimes, people who are outsiders tolerate the unhappiness of being outside because of some lonely effort for the greater good, or else they just don't respect any group to which they might belong. They look for support among friends. Such people have to recognize what they are forfeiting and act accordingly.

It is within the power of every person to try out new thoughts in his or her mind. When you are under attack by negative thoughts, do not wait passively for some good idea to occur to you. Rather, deliberately say to yourself something such as, "I impose my own philosophy on myself. I depend on myself. I offer myself comfort, self-reassurance, and support" or, addressing the bad mood/feeling directly, "Who are you, and what is your purpose?" repeated many times. By thinking the opposing words or thoughts, you entertain or allow the possibility of thinking differently, of being different.

These are the words of support:

You are equal.
You belong.
You are good enough.
You are forgiven. You can begin anew.
I am on your side.
I turn toward you. I care for you. I love you.

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BAD HABIT OF MIND

anxiety/depression/despair

ANTIDOTES

First, acknowledge your state of mind: anxiety . . . depressed . . . etc.

 

Mindful breathing: I breathe and listen to myself exhale into my hands. (Mindful breathing overrides suffering.)

I don't know what to do next, but my body knows. My body is a genius.

I don't know what to do next, but my mind knows. My mind is a genius.

Life only avails, not the having lived.

I exist, in the context of space and time.

Self-kindness, self-mercy . . . (repeated many times in the mind)



To be a whole person again, you can move away from ignoring or repudiating your bad feelings and move into a position of being receptive to change. From this position you are compassionate - you recognize that you are more than your bad feelings. Implicit in this attitude lie the words, "I am with you. I do not turn away from you. I acknowledge you. I recognize your bad feelings. My compassion recognizes that you are more than you think you are. Who you are and who you have been have been produced by the processes of Nature/life. I do not repudiate or desert any of you. I do not turn my back on you. I do not try to will you out of existence. I acknowledge your existence, each part of your body and each part of your mind. A person is going to feel the full range of human feelings, including fear, shame, hostility, and guiltiness. A person cannot be human without experiencing them. Therefore, I face my negative thoughts. We live together."

This talk is like a holy person’s addressing a leper: "I see your sores and crippling, but I am not repelled. I do not flee from you. Rather, I attend to you, knowing that the nobility of humanity is in you, just as it is in every other man and woman."

Facing your interior life, you can say in your mind, "Your mind is attacking you. Face what is happening. Your bad feelings are in you, a part of you. Acknowledge them."

When a person is outside any protective social group, he or she is in a dangerous position. It is the same position that an outcast from a tribe is in - the person is vulnerable to wild animals, unfriendly tribes, and the elements. In such a position, not only are you afraid, but you have been rejected and thus feel ashamed, since the very nature of shame is the experience of being excluded. In such a vulnerable position you are assaulted by a multitude of fears. Almost any danger assumes exaggerated proportions. In this case, it is difficult to name each fear and each feeling of shame, since there are so many. However, you can at least recognize your vulnerability and acknowledge that you are experiencing the tortures of a powerless outsider. In such a case of confusion, you can say: "You are attacking yourself. You are obsessing. You are feeling vulnerable and not capable” or “You are experiencing yourself subjectively. You are feeling self-conscious” or, addressing the source of attack directly, "Who are you, and what is your purpose?" Speaking to yourself in this way is recognition that there are other resources in one's mind. The mind entertains the possibility that there is more to you than your panic and despair.

Saying “I don’t know what to do next, but my body knows. My body is a genius” repeatedly enlists the services of the person’s inner nature/life. Consciously, we might not know what to do, but it is possible that deeper in one’s nature/life there are answers.

The body knows a great deal. Physically, we can see it all the time. For example, when a person suffers a burn, healing agents travel to the site and begin the repair process. Skin cells divide to make new skin, which encircles the burn. Little by little, the healing agents coordinate their work to make the injury smaller and smaller, until, finally, the injury disappears, and the skin is totally repaired. Mentally, also, the body knows a great deal. When you are in despair, not knowing how to handle your problems, you can say, “I don’t know what to do next, but my mind knows. My mind is a genius.” Addressingy your own pool of originations, your life, you can say, “I’m in a pickle. Please help me out.”

When you are receptive to change, you are a learner. You look to yourself to discover who you are and to discover life itself, lifting your sight above the negative thoughts, which for now you determine to live with.

Implicit in this learning attitude are the words, "I know there is more to learn. I persist. I keep looking to the expressions of human nature/life in myself, regardless of their unfriendliness. I marvel at the processes of Nature/life occurring in myself. I marvel at my complexity. I cannot know all of it, but I can know more of it. Even my most negative thoughts are expressions of the processes of Nature/life."

"I know that within you there are reserves of self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and self-mercy. I do not reject you. I look beyond your negative thoughts to what may be hidden but is never lost: love, kindness, generosity, fairness, and minute-by-minute creativity. Even though you choke up when you speak, I find you interesting. Though you are ignorant, I believe in you. Though you are stupid, I respect you. Though you are wrong, I want you. Though you pretend to be what you are not, I recognize your creative nature. You are a history, ideas, values, feelings, and intentions."

One would think that a person wouldn't have to work so hard at righting one’s own wrong against himself or herself. One would think that the self-defender would come charging forth at every threat to self-respect. However, this is not the case. In the words of Erasmus, "Man's mind is so formed that it is far more susceptible to falsehood than to truth." In people that feel vulnerable, harsh judgments against oneself seem to be strong and kindly judgments weak. The reason for this is that kindliness is not naturally triumphant. It has to be achieved. The mind entertains harsh judgments just as readily as kindly ones. To people that feel vulnerable, harsh judgments seem to be superior to kindly ones. Cowering before the seeming superiority of the judge, you feel that you have no right to self-compassion, self-mercy, and self-forgiveness. A necessary condition, therefore, for overcoming negative thoughts is entertaining the possibility that you do, after all, deserve good treatment from yourself. A person can say, "Every human being deserves to live in the present creatively without the obstruction of shame and guiltiness. I take a position in opposition to the shame and guiltiness that stand in the way of my enjoyment of the present. I persist in asserting my values of self-compassion, self-mercy, and self-forgiveness. Terrible events are past, and all that remains of them are reflections in the mind. It is a delusion that terrible events are real, still occurring. I exist, in the context of space and time."Back
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For a more complete treatment of these ideas, see Commonplace, Ordinary, Everyday Life - Choosing Good Nature  

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