Monday, 24 December 2012

Pain, Suffering and Laundry

It's a character flaw on my part; the minute someone says to me " should really..." my heels dig in and I generally do the opposite. I was like this as a child and as a grown woman, I've only got better at doing the opposite of what I "should" be doing. It doesn't matter if the advice is good, accurate, well meaning or initial reaction is intractability. I just don't do what I'm told.

Like all 'flaws', it's a useful response. It means that I sanity check advice first. I don't blindly follow any one or doctrine. I critique the advice I'm given...and then I do the opposite anyway. My stubbornness makes me difficult to bully, bowing into peer pressure doesn't happen. I've learnt to trust that immediate response.

Since I last posted on my thoughts on Positive Mental Attitude and whether I 'should' have one, I've continued to think about it. One of the things that struck me comes from a Buddhist saying: 

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional

Why is pain inevitable? It's a harsh and bitter to pill to swallow. No one wants to be in pain. I look to biology for this: what is pain? Pain is a sensation. At it's core, that's all it is. A sensation. It happens for a very good and logical reason, it's a feedback system between our  mind, body and environment that is meant to keep us safe and well. There is a medical condition called Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA), it's a rare and a debilitating condition where the sufferers are not able to feel pain, heat or cold. Sufferers can't tell when they've been injured, so can walk around on broken limbs, develop infections they were completely unaware of; some can't even control their bladders or bowels. They experience no feedback from their bodies at all.

So physical pain, although it's uncomfortable, is a necessary survival mechanism.

Emotional pain, I believe is also a necessary survival mechanism. The ability to feel a whole range of emotions in reaction to a situation or circumstance is emotionally healthy. To feel grief, anger, disappointment, grumpy, low...all of these things point to the healthy functioning of our emotional feedback system. They are pointing out that something isn't working, your attention is required. It can be neither comfortable or pleasant to sit with these emotions. They are painful.

But you know what? That's okay. Here's the thing, it's supposed to hurt. It's supposed to hurt when you say goodbye to someone you love. It's okay to be angry because you've been let down or betrayed. It's okay to be disappointed because something didn't work out.

Feel the emotions for what they are. Emotions. 

Suffering comes from being stuck in those emotions. Suffering comes from the stories that are created out of the pain. The internal dialogues that continually undermine. In Buddhist terms, it's about attachment. I like that idea. 

I think of my emotions being something like a washing line, strung out in my garden on a warm sunny day. The stories I tell myself about a situation or what I'm feeling are the clothes I hang up to dry on the line. I can do a dark wash and hang negative thoughts, or a white wash - hanging the light things to reflect the sunshine; or I could just do the laundry, let the clothes dry without judging how they look, put them away and enjoy the garden.

What is the appropriate response when dealing with physical pain? Attending to the cause, removing it if possible and healing the injury. Why should the appropriate response be any different to emotional pain? 

*   *   *

Not a terribly seasonal post I know, but that's where my thinking was going and I wanted to write it down. 

The last quarter of 2012 has not been easy. Flow turned to stagnation, in both my work and emotional spheres. This has led to me re-thinking much of what I learnt doing NLP and living in it's aftermath. It's clear to me that I have more to learn. I will not abandon this blog, I will continue to think about Life, the Universe and Everything and post my musings here. I hope you continue to find it useful. 

My wish for you all over the festive season, if indeed you are celebrating it, is that you and yours are happy, safe and well. May 2013 bring you prosperity, good luck, opportunities, love and fun.


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Going with The Flow

There's been a bit of a debate that raged over in an NLP Facebook page that I frequent. I threw my tuppence worth in and then took a step back. I was somewhat surprised by the vehemence of the argument, but then over the Internet, people will argue their opinions on red onions with the stridency of a fundamentalist religious believer. When it got to that stage, I took a step back and considered the bones of the argument itself.

It was about Positive Mental Attitude.

How about that eh? Who'd have thought people would get all hot under the collar from that?

NLP purists argue that it's your attitude that dictates your reality. Your attitude creates the filters through which you experience life. In other words, if you're an optimist good things are there for you and conversely, if you're a pessimist, Life will give you lemons.

To a certain extent, I think there's a lot of weight to the positive argument. Depending on your filter, you'll see opportunity or difficulty. NLP has quite a few good strategies and techniques to get yourself into a positive state, to give you control over your thinking and emotions. These strategies and techniques are incredibly useful.

I did my NLP training a couple of years ago and since then, my internal experience of Life has been far more enriched and considered. The biggest thing it has given me, is awareness. 

The thing is, I'm not an NLP purist. If you ask me about specific techniques and strategies, I'll have to stop and think about it. I can do it, but it might take me a moment or two. For me, NLP is about flexibility and attitude. 

I spent two months during a summer two years ago, with my father before he died. It was perhaps one of the most profound experiences I've had and it rocked me to the very core. When I returned to my life in Norwich, I went to see someone, who suggested that I'd experienced "challenges". Ladies and Gentlemen, it's a testament to my self-control that I didn't pick up the metal folding chair I was sat on, and beat the man to death with it. Challenges? Really?

It was the trivialising of that profound experience which fuelled my rage. And yes, it was rage. Perhaps a little bit over the top, you might say. Perhaps. I got off the chair and haven't seen him since.

NLP, ultimately is about easing suffering. It's about: not making a bad situation worse.

The problem I have with the strident defenders of Positive Mental Attitude is that they argue that there is no such thing as a "bad situation", it's only "a challenge" that you're failing because of a poor attitude. If you change your state, no problem.

Part of my resistance to the paradigm of Positive Mental Attitude comes from the fact I'm a writer and a Pagan. As a writer I am driven to communicate Life's experiences; as a Pagan, the natural world informs my spirituality. My own experiences include: joy, love, laughter, friendship and also, grief, disappointment, pain. I have suffered. My Life is a rich mix of these things. If I was happy, happy, happy all the time, would my life be as rich?

NLP has meant I experience the lows without fear. In fact, there are days when I positively enjoy my moodiness. I relish my grumpiness. I experience these moods knowing I'm not stuck in them. They pass like the rain in winter.

Nature is a great teacher and many of my Facebook posts reflect the metaphors Nature and Science contributes to life. 

You see, if we are the sapling, we need the sun and rain to flourish. The wind to blow off the leaves and the deadwood. The change in seasons to bring periods of rest and growth. NLP has given me more flexibility. Why would I need it, if there wasn't a stiff wind to bend with?

The stiff wind, the low moments, are all part of Life. For me there is power in these experiences. They are the teachers. Great insight comes from them. Insight, I could not have gained with the highs.

Being able to say to those around me: I'm having a really hard time right now, gave the people around me, the opportunity to give me the comfort I needed. I try to return the favour, sometimes more successfully than others, but I do try. There is a great joy in being able to comfort. It reminds us we are not alone. Sharing compassion and love are rich experiences in themselves.

The Work of Byron Katie and Buddhism continue to inform my learnings. I think of myself as a student of Life, not a teacher. This blog is about sharing my thoughts on my experiences, with a hope that you, my readers might find it a trigger for your own thoughts. I don't have answers, I only have more questions.