The Insidiousness of Shoulds

I was thinking about “Shoulds” a bit since it came up in conversation the other day with a friend, as well as in a different way earlier today.

As I was driving this morning, my mind went to a place of saying that life should be a certain way, or should not be a certain way. I noticed it, since one of my core beliefs is that life shouldn’t be this way or that, it just is. Meaning, that fundamentally, I don’t think that there is a intelligent life force that dictates what will or will not happen to me or you, rather, that things just happen due to the interconnectivity of everything.

So in my current life model, there is no should of what SHOULD be happening in my life or to me, and in turn, there is no place for me to be disappointed in the lack of these things. Rather, there is WHAT IS, and I can either choose to appreciate that or focus on the WHAT ISN’T.

What I came to realize is that if I am a person who has shoulds in his life; I should do this or I should do that, I’m basically saying that I should make life something other than it already is. And once I am open to doing that, I am also open to suggesting that life SHOULD otherwise be different than it already is. I don’t really think I can have one should without the other. It’s a uniform life perspective, either there are shoulds in the world, or there aren’t.

Curtailing shoulds in more about living with what is. In the case of an inner feeling of “I should do this” it’s about respecting where I actually am vs where I think I should be. So to the exterior feeling of “My life should be this way” is fiction that I’m not living my life as it is, rather waiting for life to be a different way.

The nice thing is that now I know that anytime I think about a SHOULD, it can be a trigger to think more about the disconnect between where I am, and where things actually are, so I can reflect and perhaps change myself or my situation in a more productive way – or perhaps just find peace with what is more quickly.

The Inner Voice and the Inner Motivating Voice

I realized today that there are really two inner voices. The louder voice is the one that rattles through my head with statements like:

Why did x happen?

What could I have done to prevent x from happening?

What can I do to achieve x?

Much of this thought content is focused on relationships, social reflections, or acheivement.

What I now realize is that behind each of these voices, there is another voice that is constantly at work. I always knew that this voice existed, since I could tap into it with exercises like Focusing or journaling, but what I am now realizing is that it is just as much a constant voice as my Inner Voice, it’s just not quite a loud.

I’ll call it my Inner Motivating Voice. This is the voice that is sitting there quietly, and motivating all of the planning and ruminating that my Inner Voice is doing. This Inner Motivating Voice is always there, and we can tap into it, but backwards engineering the Inner Voice, and asking why we are concerning ourselves with whatever we find ourselves thinking about.

Like I said earlier, what is new here to me is not that this Inner Motivating Voice exists, but a dawning realization that this is the backdrop behind all of my thinking overall – and it is a steady state of thoughts.

More importantly, while I thought that what tired me out about thinking was the Inner Voice, the reality is that I have been blaming the wrong voice the whole time. What tires me, is the Inner Motivating Voice, which is always calling for protection from this or that, or desires for this or that.

Alcohol seems to dull our ability to hear this Inner Motivating Voice, which in turn quiets the Inner Voice, I would expect. This is why we are less inhibited, or less anxious, when we drink. We can’t quite hear that warning from within.

But really the important thing I am learning is that this voice is constantly chattering away, weighing me down with it’s unrelenting noise. And I have spent a long time trying to quiet the wrong voice, and placing blame on the wrong voice, with limited results. Now I know why.

I think this is such an important discovery, because these Inner Motivating Voices can be better quieted/self-calmed by listening to them, and answering the question that they are asking us. It’s an exercise in fixing the source of the problem, rather than dealing with the impacts of the problem. Many of these underlying fears and protective needs are based on false assumptions, so once we can help ourselves recognize and see the truth for what it really is, the Inner Motivating Voice can step back and relax and let go of it’s tight grip on our psyche.

From a meditation perspective, I can also focus on sitting calmly with this Inner Motivating Voice. I find that breathing with it, allows it to calm down. And it is this aware voice that benefits most from being brought to presence.

Today is a big day for me.

Happiness Postscript

My book on happiness back in 2013 was insightful. 

I went back and reread part of it, and while there are certainly holes in the logic that I now see, I do understand the path I took, and think someone could follow along and gain from a recalibration of how they think about things, which will increase their happiness.

I ended the book, though, back where I began. Searching again for Happiness.

Of course, I now know that much of this mental work is like a upward spiral, where each level of awareness raises me higher as I wrap back around to the same question I started with.  Yes, the question is the same, but the understanding and assumptions that underlie the question are next level, and allows for a jumping off point to the future at a much higher level of thought.

However, at it’s essence, I found myself back at a steady state of disillusion with life.  And it is this disillusion that pushed me forward the past few years to think more about the question.  

This is really just an update to what I found. 

In its essence, the discovery was that as long as I am living in my mind, happiness was somewhat sketchy. I could improve the happiness of life but I was still in the confines of the mind. The mind reflects backwards or plans for the future.  That is its natural state.  And sometimes the mind is less scared or more relaxed than other times.

What I learned is that the only way out, was through. To stop all the thinking, rumination, and protective planning, and exit the container of the mind, and rather focus on awareness of the present moment. No thinking, just feeling.

Practically, what this means was to move to a more constant state of awareness.  A state of being aware of my surroundings, and where I am right in each moment.  Besides being exceptionally grounding, it also allowed me to see the canvas on which I was writing my thoughts better.  And in doing so, I was able to recognize the negative bend I naturally chose to give them.   

This is likely both nature and nurture, but most importantly I now realize it is a choice.  The question then becomes, how can I flip this default thinking to something more positive.  And this is my current work and discovery.

Who said?

A big storm ravaged my neighborhood a few days back, and the streets around me are riddled with downed trees. Driving to the doctor this AM, I felt like I was in a fabricated maze, with me the rat trying to find it’s way to the cheese. And not having any luck finding a way out.

As the frustration welled within me, I was able to step back and ask myself, “Who said that because I’m not getting my way, I need to be frustrated and annoyed?” I don’t think I ever have asked that question to myself before questioning this fundamental assumption.

Rather, I have always just assumed that when I don’t get what I want, frustration is the appropriate outcome. However, as I have worked on more consistent happiness, I realized that, in fact, I was making a choice, and this choice was dragging me down to an emotional state that I don’t want to dwell in.

Driving along, I was able to break the mental grip that this assumption had on me. Of course, it didn’t immediately change my perspective, but with a little time, the frustration dissipated a little, and I am hopeful that next time I am not getting my way, I’ll be quicker to remember that I can just approach this with a more neutral or detached response, or perhaps just laugh at how finicky life is, and appreciate what I do have.

I do think that I learned something new about how I think, though. That my default belief is that if I am doing something, then I am equally attached to everything that I take on, and they are all equally important. And as we know, that is certainly not true. Some things do seem more important that others, and I need to differentiate those few important things, and certainly not get emotionally attached to the things that are not important.

Further, if I am honest, few things in my life are now really that important (and likely never were). Even those things that I think are key to my happiness, have equally interesting outcomes should I choose a different path – or if the path I am on is cut off due to my lack of control.

The basic takeaway I want to bring along is that I hope that next time things don’t go my way, I have the clarity of mind, to recognize that it is happening and to ask myself if I want to get frustrated or allow it to be. Put another way, I should ask myself which is less painful, the frustration that I will feel if I remain attached to the outcome or the actual lack of the outcome itself? And then I will remind myself that frustration also doesn’t need to be the response, rather, it can just be a focus on all those amazing things that I do have in my life right then and there as this minor inconvenience sits there: look at things in the macro and not the micro.

Most importantly, though, I will question the assumption that I need to feel frustrated at my lack of control, in the first place. Someone taught me that once upon a time, and I feel like it no longer serves me.

An Email on Happiness from Don Joseph Goewey

Don Joseph Goewey emailed me this yesterday, and I thought it was too important not to share with the world. I edited his thoughts a little, but hopefully not too much. If you appreciate his thoughts, you will also enjoy the book Awareness by Anthony Demello or his Happiness Podcast.

“Happiness is your natural state; no one gives it to you and no one takes it from you.  It’s a set of false belief that ruins happiness. When you drop those false beliefs, happiness arises all by itself. 

Your society and your culture taught you to believe that you would not be happy without certain persons and certain things. Just take a look around you. Everywhere you look, people have built their lives on the unquestioned belief that without money, power, success, approval, a good reputation, romance, friendship, spirituality, or God, they cannot be happy.

Once you swallowed this belief, you naturally developed an attachment to some person or thing you were convinced that, without, you could not be happy. Then followed your efforts to acquire your precious thing or person, to cling to it once it was acquired, and to fight off every possibility of losing it. This finally led you to abject emotional dependence so that the object of your attachment had the power to thrill you when you attained it, to make you anxious lest you be deprived of it, and make you miserable when you lost it. Once your attachment had you in its grip, you began to strive with every waking minute of your life to rearrange the world around you so that you could attain and maintain the objects of your attachment.

This is an exhausting task. It leaves you little energy for the business of living and enjoying life fully. It is also an impossible task in an ever-changing world that you simply are not able to control. So, instead of living a life of serenity and fulfillment, you are doomed to a life of frustration, anxiety, worry, insecurity, suspense, and tension. For a few fleeting moments, the world does indeed yield to your efforts and rearranges itself to suit your desires. Then you experience a flash of pleasure and become happy, briefly. But it isn’t happiness at all because it is accompanied by the underlying fear that at any moment this world of things and people that you have painstakingly put in place will slip out of your control and let you down. And sooner or later, it will.

Stop for a moment and contemplate in horror the endless list of attachments that you have become a prisoner to. Think of concrete things and persons, not abstractions. It is helpful for each of us to identify our particular combination.

An attachment is not a fact. It is a belief, a fantasy, in your head, acquired through programming. If that fantasy did not exist inside your head, you would not be attached. You would love things and people, and you would enjoy them thoroughly, but on a nonattachment basis. As a matter of fact, is there any other way to really enjoy something?

When you have made a list of all of your attachments, to each person or thing that comes to mind, say: ‘I am not really attached to you at all. I am merely deluding myself into the belief that without you I will not be happy.’ Do this honestly and see the change that comes about within you. Say: ‘I am not really attached to you at all. I have merely cheated myself into the belief that without you I will not be happy.’

When you’re ready to exchange your illusions for reality, when you’re ready to exchange your dreams for facts, that’s when life finally becomes meaningful. That’s where life becomes beautiful. Can you imagine how liberating it is to never be disillusioned again, to never be disappointed again? You’ll never feel let down again. Never feel rejected. Want to wake up? You want happiness? You want freedom? Here it is: Drop your false ideas.”