This has probably been one of the most difficult and rewarding techniques in my life. So often, we are a slave to our own minds. Destructive thinking, defeatist thinking, anxious thinking, all these ways of looking at the world have a detrimental effect on every aspect of our lives. We make choices we shouldn’t because we don’t think we deserve better. We make choices out of fear, to avoid possibilities that are only within our own mind. We stop ourselves taking chances because our brains insist on parading a litany of what could go wrong in front of us. We get stuck in patterns of bad thinking, negative and damaging, without even realising they are patterns and that we have a choice.
Because we do. The brain can be trained and the fact that we have these patterns of thinking is evidence of that. Nobody thinks they’re a bad, horrible person who deserves nothing good in life without being told that by external sources, over and over. And the worst part of that kind of training is that, after a while, we take over and tell ourselves the horrible things. We don’t even need the external training anymore, we take over and train ourselves both to be abusive and to take the abuse. It’s a terrible pattern that has resulted in a lot of suffering, in a lot of different ways.
Unfortunately, it’s also an easy pattern to fall into. Being cruel is always easier than being kind and that applies externally as well as internally. I know that’s a controversial thing to say, but I don’t see any way to prove it wrong. Children are cruel. One of the primary duties of a parent is to teach their children how to share, how to be gentle, to not tease others no matter how different they might seem. As adults, it’s always easier to give into the crowd and gossip when you know it’s unkind, to scream at your partner when you’re angry rather than discuss and solve the problem. Humans automatically default to the easiest way to be and more often than not, that’s a cruel way to be.
This isn’t me saying that humans are evil at their core or anything like that. That would presuppose the existence of god and I don’t believe in any of that stuff. What this idea is based on, is the idea that we are animals with bigger brains. Animals are cruel. I only have to watch my cat torturing a mouse she caught to know that. All animals are cruel, but they are unknowingly cruel. They don’t always have the capacity to understand that they are causing pain. We do. Our bigger brains have made it possible for us to understand and feel the pain we cause and that might just be our saving quality one day. But that still means that our default is to do whatever we think is necessary to get what we need without care for the feelings of others.
I’m really off track here, but what it comes down to is that kindness can be learned. Kindness to ourselves and kindness to others. Some people need more help with that than others. For whatever reasons, whatever history drives them, their path to controlling their minds and changing the old patterns can be long and hard. They take the cruel road to getting what they want and need because they truly can’t see any other way. Their brain won’t let them. But that can be changed. And, to be honest, I think it should be one of the primary goals of every human being on the planet.
That’s too naïve, I know. There is a huge number of people who are homeless, or starving or threatened by war and the idea that they should take time out and do personal development is ridiculous. But for people in the western countries, people who are living ordinary lives in the suburbs or cities where they are safe and have food and have issues with their minds attacking them on a regular basis, it’s completely within their power to change these destructive patterns.
Whatever it takes. For some people, meditation helps. I don’t like meditation, it makes my head feel weird, but people swear by it. There is help out there in the form of counsellors, different therapies, self-help techniques…. Whatever it takes. For me, the first step was awareness. It was listening to my brain and telling it to shut up when it started picking on me. It was a slow process. Brains don’t like to change and sometimes it can still feel as if I am slipping backwards into the old patterns. But I keep working on it.
Awareness and experience. For me, those two things have been paramount in changing the patterns of how I think. Seeing the bad patterns and being strict with my brain and forcing myself to have experiences that directly contradict what my brain is telling me. Making the decision my fear tells me to stay away from and seeing that the result is not nearly as bad as I feared. Taking small steps down a new path to convince my brain that I am capable of walking that path and to give me ammunition for the bigger steps ahead. Try. Experience. Gather evidence to prove that you’re smart and capable and that your fear is not always right. Live your life as if you are not afraid, and are confident in yourself and what you can do.
And look back one day and realise that you truly are.