AwareNow: Issue 28: The Mental Edition

Page 178

“By branding certain feelings as taboo, we judge and start to scare ourselves when we fall short of our own fabricated expectations.” As this is such a common issue, even with the most high-achieving clients, I thought it may be worth giving you a flavour of what we usually end up discussing about it.

Imagine a time early in your life – a time when you were newly born – a time before you had any ideas of beliefs about the world. At this point in your life you were a psychologically blank canvas. You were made of pure noticing. Things would happen and as they happened you made sense of them as best you could. Thoughts and feelings would arise. As the natural ‘thought weather’ happens we start to notice patterns in what we think or feeling. And we draw conclusions, often in error. We form an opinion in the moment. We judge our experience. And this is how we learn – it’s a way of making sense of what’s going on by experimentation. A = good, B = bad. I like this feeling. I don’t like this feeling. I want more of this and less of that. In this very moment we have just created a meaning. From this thought onward, we then get the idea that there are certain states of mind that are ‘target’ states and others that are avoid states. An either-or frame is born. We tell ourselves ‘being motivated is good’. Or ‘confidence feels better’. ‘Anxiety is bad’. ‘I can’t handle this feeling’. From these collections of judgements we start to piece together a map of the world. This is our map of how life ‘should’ be and how we ‘should’ feel. To compound matters we also absorb, model and are actively taught such beliefs from teachers, parents and society. So now what we have is two layers. We still have the organic, pure noticing we were born with, but over the top of this is a modified, manipulated filtering of experience. A fake layer of opinions and an emotional rule book we believe we are meant to follow.

Typically, this is the point at which a musician will come to me and tell me they are struggling with performance anxiety, or that they are ‘getting in their own way’ somehow. When they say this, what they are actually describing are not merely the physical sensations of a single anxious moment, but rather their conditioned physiological responses to their own thinking about those sensations. They not only feel anxious but they also feel wrong to be feeling that way. Or they feel scared that they won’t be able to handle feeling that feeling. Or they believe that the manifestation of a particular feeling means they are somehow not ‘cut out’ for a career in music. So they try to fight or supress the taboo feeling by trying in vain to control their emotions. They subconsciously start holding their breath, bracing themselves physically or trying to ‘think positive’. They frantically look for tools and techniques to try and contain it all. And yet what they are feeling fights back. When they discover that it can’t reliably be micromanaged in quite the way their rule book tells them it should, they then get anxious about this too.

Maybe ‘anxiety’ isn’t your problem, but nevertheless I encourage you to stop and re-read the last couple of paragraphs and investigate how this ‘resistance to what is’, manifests in your life. We’re all doing this somewhere, in some way, in our lives. If it helps, change the word anxiety for one that’s your taboo emotion. Shame. Guilt. Stress. Anger. Impostor syndrome. Or whatever yours is. The list of emotions that we resist is long.

Do you see what’s been created here? What we used to experience at birth as simply the innocent, neutral, psychological ‘weather system’, has been somehow evolved into a pass-fail frame for our emotional weather. By branding certain feelings as taboo, we judge and start to scare ourselves when we fall short of our own fabricated expectations. 178 AWARENOW / THE MENTAL EDITION