Assumptions and Authenticity
From 3rd November 2014, from my travel blog 'Searching for Smiles'
"It doesn't stay away. The cycle of thoughts, and the challenges that accompany them, bringing (what I describe as) that sinking feeling...it doesn't stay away, no matter what I do.
It never ceases to amaze me how writing about how things really are can unexpectedly make me feel better. That's just my personal experience (I guess the facebook-fakery crowd must get different results, otherwise they wouldn't do that). It feels like I'm only being my authentic self when I'm communicating out about the okay-ness of the darker feelings in life. It's the bright source of my faith and hope to NOT keep this to myself; I currently believe that if everyone shared the whole spectrum of their experience, felt confident that opening up about how they feel would be met safely and with acceptance and consideration rather than fear disguised as judgement, then the world could be a better and more balanced place. I think this is a big shift from where we're at now! I know what lots of people's opinions are on all sorts of things, but I usually don't know how they actually feel.
You might read that and think I'm wrong, maybe that it's a bad idea to share feelings, or that I'm being negative, or that "it'll never happen", or maybe that you think it already happens enough and nothing needs questioning. My own experience guides me and tells me that my world is brighter when I manage to be open and am met with the same openness and deep honesty... and the world is made up of lots of people who have the same basic needs as me. So if I can improve my world by being open about my fears and sadnesses, and people I meet can improve their and my worlds by being open, then can't more and more people do it too, and wouldn't that by default improve the whole world?! But I think we need a new language. As people in general we need to learn a different response: true empathy, listening and showing that we've understood. Not pity, not trying to fix, not 'reacting' and not assuming responsibility or blame for other people's feelings, but truly taking responsibility for our own. 'Nonviolent Communication' (Marshall B. Rosenberg) is interesting me a lot.
I'm not saying it's easy to make this change. As I write this I wonder who's interested any more, while my journey doesn't involve picturesque exotic landscapes crossing cultural boundaries. There is doubt in my mind as to whether there's appetite for hearing what I'm saying. I keep assuming that you're going to label me as 'depressive' and 'different' from you, whoever you are, you who is fine and has your life all permanently enjoyable and full of peace and gratitude, wanting for nothing. But I'm writing it anyway, for me, because I can't claim any responsibility for the reaction (or lack of) that occurs within you as you read this, but by writing and sharing it I feel more authentic, and that feels right to me, that's my responsibility. :-)
So, the sinking feeling. I didn't say "it doesn't go away": It does. I've had some great fun so far volunteering for a few months, delicious joyful moments, (importantly) shared with other people. I've had calm, contented, happy moments; the progress I've made against depression means I experience a load of amazing stuff about my life. I've also had more sad, frustrated, painful or scary moments. ("Yeah, so do we all!" my mind's voice tells me you're thinking!) My point is that what I learn all the time is how conditioned I am to rejecting these moments, to wishing them away, shsh, stop it, be ok! But I really learn how these feelings are all part of life, they come back, they're necessary, things to value and marvel at and learn from even through tears, and their value to me is increased when the thoughts are shared: I benefit from hearing other people's truths, and they show me that they benefit from hearing mine. But it's quite rare. Rare that I see people truly looking inside themselves and acknowledging all their feelings and sharing that with honour and responsibility, with no shame or filter or blame, and being received in the same spirit. When I encounter it, I'm trying to sit up and pay attention. I'm trying to listen to understand, when I feel able (which is not all the time), and I keep learning how that's a difficult but deeply worthy and do-able skill. I'm feeling grateful to have found a volunteering place, for now, where it's all encouraged.
Someone said to me that if we all focussed on sharing our difficult feelings all the time, no-one would do anything and it's not feasible. I definitely see the point (have thought it myself sometimes) but my theory is this: that if we were in the habit of gently dealing with our own feelings properly as they arose, they might actually take up LESS time because they wouldn't fester and become monstrous, they might no longer stop us from achieving things or truly peacefully enjoying ourselves! There's no point in denying that those feelings happen; they do, and aren't they a hugely influential part of each person's own life? I see a lot of people spending their time trying to make money or distract themselves and a lot less time on accepting and facing their true feelings, or giving someone else a chance for their feelings to be really heard. Many people seem to have their 'stuff' going on, and it seems to have very similar themes at heart, but it's all kept secret from each other. It can be better than this!
The other day, whilst alone picking up windfall apples, surrounded by greenness and birdsong in a grey sky, I felt gloomy but became suddenly very aware of my being free; that I have no debt and enough money for my immediate (frugal!) needs, and no obligations to do anything more than the pleasant volunteering work that I'm currently choosing in return for places to sleep, food in my tummy and new experiences and knowledge. In that moment, intellectually I was reminded that I was wonderfully free, but I didn't feel free: Simultaneously a thought came up where I was instinctively comparing myself to another traveller friend who has more money than I do, and another thought comparing myself to more traveller friends who have someone with whom to share their freedom, and I remained gloomy, now hearing thoughts where I was judging myself for not feeling grateful for my freedom! (Crazy brain.)
What was I assuming? I assumed that the gloominess (inside my own head, that only I am experiencing) is bad! That I'm 'supposed' to 'snap out of it'! Er, according to whom?! I assumed that I'm the only person feeling gloominess. As soon as I became conscious of that assumption, I knew how absurd it was...! I assumed that I wouldn't feel this way if I had the companionship that I often feel is missing in my life. But in fact it's amazingly rare for ALL our human needs to be met at any one time, so even if this particular need of mine were met, my brain could easily soon focus on needing something else. (Maybe reading this you're assuming that you wouldn't feel gloomy if you were in my shoes rather than in your own circumstances...) I assumed, in the moment, that nobody would want to know about all this. I assume, in the moment, that people don't love me and won't love me because I think in these ways. I assume, in the moment, that I've 'forgotten everything I've learned' and will remain and descend in miserableness from this point onwards.
All those assumptions and unrequested thoughts feel more real in the moment than my gratitude and my freedom. I know they're not actually more real. All of this is conditioning, it's a way that our human brains can work, for some complicated evolutionary and cultural reasons. My ongoing work has been to increase my awareness of this conditioning and step back from it. It helps. I'm now taking it one step further, beginning to try to consciously practice gratitude in the hope that one day it will outweigh assumption, or at least begin to level the balance! It's all very very hard work!
Those assumptions are just the tip of the iceberg of assumptions we all make every day, big or small, and awareness of them makes a big difference. A couple of months ago I was thinking how everything is up in the air; I can choose so much, I have lots of life experience yet there's infinitely more that I need to learn, I have no parameters within which to work, no anchored starting point (place, person, project)... and that blank white sheet I've created for myself at this point in life is the scariest thing I've ever, ever had to face. That fear sometimes weakens me, brings me to my knees again, and depressive thoughts sometimes slip back into my brain again. But no wonder! I have no particular role model or anyone who is truly 'in my life' with whom I can share ideas or direction on this uncertain path of life away from the mainstream blinkered money-machine system, yet it seems to be the only path my heart wants to choose. When I realise that I've been unaware of that perspective and have been assuming that I 'should' feel confident finding a whole new way of life, I feel relief. :-)
So no, the sinking feeling doesn't stay away, so if you experience that too, you have company. But I continue to work on accepting and exploring that, and when I do, well, it goes away more quickly, and stays away longer, and the truly joyful moments are undefeated and seem to effortlessly muscle their way back in. There is always hope...
"We make intellectual journeys and experience all the hills and valleys that we might expect upon a physical journey. We make emotional journeys and may at times find ourselves bent double seeking breath, exhausted and doubting our resolve. We make physical journeys and amongst the heights of mountains find our thinking stimulated and enriched with powerful insights that move us forward. The best journeys for me are those that dance the four great powers of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual together - spun and woven as one cloth." Tim Macartney, Finding Earth Finding Soul