Crisis and Consciousness
How we misidentify with our problems
Our Beloved Family:
There’s a saying in self-improvement circles that goes something like, “What you think of me is none of my business.” It serves as a reminder that on our path of spiritual growth throughout life, we shouldn’t be looking to people and things in the external world to validate our sense of worth and who we are. Our life experience is created largely from the emotions and choices that arise out of what we think of ourselves. If that idea or image is based heavily on the opinions of others or the outcome of certain situations, then we disempower ourselves to a great degree and give up our ability to consciously create our lives to other forces that we allow to control us. I always thought my self-image was secure from outside influence until I was recently challenged by just such a situation.
I had completed the final edit of my most recent book, The Clarity Cleanse: 12 steps to finding renewed energy, spiritual fulfillment and emotional healing, and was seeking endorsements from people I knew that the publisher could use in marketing and to print on the back cover. Amid the glowing recommendations of friends and business associates, I was shocked at one endorsement in particular. It referred to me and the book in such bland terms that it rendered it basically useless, just empty calories and generic description that could have been applied to anyone else. What made matters worse was that it came from someone I’d mentored for years and with whom I’d assumed I had a strong relationship.
At alternating moments during the test, he asked me to think about something I loved, such as my children, and then switch to focusing on my feelings of betrayal and anger. The results showed that my emotional upset activated the same parts of the brain that deal with the fight-or-flight mechanism.
I immediately became upset feeling betrayed, neglected and insulted. At times, I was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy. This was a person of great standing in their profession, and their opinion of me mattered a great deal. Initially, I didn’t realize how much their opinion of me influenced what I thought of myself.
In the following days, I struggled with my consuming emotions and how I might respond to this person. It was on a hiking trip where I was sharing my feelings with a doctor friend when he suggested that I come to his office for a functional MRI scan. He said it would be interesting to see which parts of my brain were most active during my upset and that it might give us some insight as to how I could better deal with the situation. At alternating moments during the test, he asked me to think about something I loved, such as my children, and then switch to focusing on my feelings of betrayal and anger. The results showed that my emotional upset activated the same parts of the brain that deal with the fight-or-flight mechanism. For days on end, I had been putting myself through the same emotional and physical rigors as if I was being chased by someone with a knife! Looking at those contrasting brain images was a wake-up call for me. I knew I had to create clarity for myself about the situation by engaging in the 12 steps I’d just written about in my new book and had used for more than 20 years to cope with and process many other challenges in my life.
It’s strange how things we haven’t thought about in years, memories we long thought we’d forgotten, can pop back into our minds at random times. That’s exactly what happened to me on the drive home from my friend’s office. Suddenly, I was recalling visiting my aunt who lived in a small rural village. On that occasion, I vividly remembered seeing her pick up her live chickens, one at a time, and rub pepper on their feathered breasts. The whole scene looked preposterous to me, as the chickens squawked, fought and tried to break free of my aunt’s grip. I asked her why she was seasoning chickens that were still alive, and she laughed. She replied that the pepper had properties that agitated the chickens and raised their libido so they’d be more willing to allow the rooster to fertilize their eggs. As a result, she’d get more chicks that season.
Challenges are something we have, not what we are. Making that distinction is crucial to creating clarity in the midst of our problems.
I couldn’t help but make the connection how, like the chickens, I was allowing an exogenous stimulus, or an influence outside of myself, to get me all peppered up and agitated too. While I couldn’t control everything that was going on outside myself, I knew I could control my reaction to it. To find peace, I had to create a situation where I was able to contain the painful experience I was having, to allow myself the dignity of my own emotional process to go through it, without attaching my identity or self-worth to the situation at the same time. I had to be able to have the experience without becoming the experience itself or losing myself inside of it. It was important to remind myself that although this situation was happening to me, it wasn’t me, nor did it have anything to do with any part of who I was or knew myself to be.
It’s so easy to lose ourselves in the emotions of our problems and misidentify with them. Challenges are something we have, not what we are. Making that distinction is crucial to creating clarity in the midst of our problems, but it can be a difficult task when our language and culture often lend themselves to confusing the issue. In many languages, the syntax of having something versus being something is much more distinct than it is in English. For example, in Spanish “Tengo hambre” means, “I’m hungry”, but the literal translation is, “I have hunger”. In English, we say, “I am hungry”. This is a small but important distinction that subconsciously programs us to take on our experiences in such a way that we perceive them as part of who we are. We cannot differentiate between ourselves and the event. This becomes even more significant when we think of contrasting statements such as I have sadness or I am sadness; I have rejection or I am rejection. Because we often don’t have the language to express our emotional situation accurately, we misidentify with it and can’t process it properly.
The biggest problem with misidentifying with our problems and seeing them as who we are instead of a separate situation that we have for the moment is that it places us in an emotional holding pattern. We get so stuck on the same thoughts that generate the same emotions that we become addicted to that which drive the same behaviors and choices. It locks us into a negative emotional set point or attitude that becomes our new normal, and we don’t even realize it. Like an airplane that keeps circling the airport and can’t land, we can’t come down from our charged emotional state to create a space for clarity where resolution can begin. Instead, we set up a viscous cycle that keeps us running in circles, unconsciously perpetuating the same kinds of problems that never allow our lives to get any better or move forward.
In many cases, these unresolved emotional issues consume us physically too, altering our body chemistry to create a pre-critical terrain that makes us vulnerable to diseases like cancer and autoimmune issues.
Of course, the danger of going in circles is that just like an airplane that’s caught in a holding pattern with no opportunity to get grounded, the fuel eventually gets used up and it comes crashing down to earth. In the same way, the unchecked avalanche of thoughts and emotions that come with some of life’s problems will use us up, too. Before we know it, we’re looking back on decades that have been consumed by our sorrow, resentment, shame, guilt or addiction that’s prevented us from really being able to engage in life. In many cases, these unresolved emotional issues consume us physically too, altering our body chemistry to create a pre-critical terrain that makes us vulnerable to diseases like cancer and autoimmune issues.
The Persian poet, Rumi, wrote a piece called The Guest House. In it, he talks about how various situations and their related emotions will come to visit us throughout life like joy, anger, resentment and sadness. Our job is to welcome them in as they arrive, resisting none, because while one rests in the bedroom, another is already coming down the sidewalk, ready to replace him so we can visit over cake and coffee in the living room. We would never confuse ourselves with our friends and family members that come to visit us in our real homes. Why then would we misidentify with the thoughts and feelings that arise from our troubles that come to visit us in our psycho-spiritual guest house, our consciousness? In reality, we are neither the situation nor the thoughts and feelings that arise from them, but the house or space that welcomes them in to stay for a short time until the next visitor arrives when our circumstances change yet again.
This is why I chose the picture of an empty cup for the cover of The Clarity Cleanse. Achieving clarity in the midst of a crisis requires becoming a holding space that can contain the problem while not entangling its identity with it. The cup holds the tea but is not the tea itself. It’s only from this perspective that we can begin the necessary work of resolving the matter at hand.
Creating clarity in the midst of crisis is about learning to break emotional holding patterns and make the mental space necessary for real thinking, realizing, healing and living to occur within it.
With regard to the book endorsement that had disappointed me, part of my healing involved contacting my friend and sharing my feelings. I mentioned that I would not be forwarding it to the publisher because I felt it had no bearing on me or any part of my work. It was essential for me to make this distinction and to speak my truth in this way during our conversation.
Creating clarity in the midst of crisis is about learning to break emotional holding patterns and make the mental space necessary for real thinking, realizing, healing and living to occur within it. No one taught me the process contained in The Clarity Cleanse. Its principles and techniques grew organically out of my own struggle as a way to cope with and understand the significant challenges that have occurred throughout my life. I certainly couldn’t have made it through those times if I’d allowed every crisis that came along to pepper me up and leave me in an unconscious, agitated state of mind. In fact, some of them would have sent me to an early grave.
In the coming new year, let us set ourselves free from the constant resolutions we make to lose weight, make more money or anything else that acts as a distraction from resolving the deeper issues in our lives that prevent us from moving forward. Let us commit to achieving clarity in a way that gives us a greater understanding of ourselves and command over our lives so that we can contain both the joys and sorrows of 2018 in equal measure and be blessed by all of them.
Continue reading about an intimate journey of self-discovery and reveal the role your mind and emotions play in your health.
Light & Love in the Month Ahead,
Dr. Habib Sadeghi