Going Down Under
Okay, as promised, we are going to talk about how we begin to get down below the internalized external values about self, other and life, to find out what else is under there. Be reminded first that the reason we would need to even consider doing this is not so that we can become wild, uncivilized brutes who are willing to go to any lengths to have our own way. Nor is it because we need to trample on the stanchions of traditions or create the destruction of civilization as we know it.
It is because morals mean that we obey, obligate and dutifully give ourselves to the cause often without exploring what is going on inside of us first. And it is also because being true to our own deepest essence could just possibly turn out to be more profoundly compassionate than any moral could ever contrive.
So, you find yourself in a moral dilemma. You could do the so-called “wrong” thing, or the so-called “right” thing, or you could look inside to explore and assess what you are feeling and thinking. It may take a little effort, but if you can suspend morality just temporarily, and challenge yourself to really sit with your feelings and thoughts without judging them to be either good or bad, you can learn a tremendous amount about yourself.
What are you feeling about this situation? Really feeling. Not what should you be feeling, but what are you feeling. You might need to get a pen and piece of paper and write down all the things you should do and all the things you should be thinking or feeling. Don’t stop until you feel that you’ve gotten to all of the shoulds. Now put that in a chair labeled The Should Chair. And since you’ve dispensed with that you are now free to really be with your feelings.
Make a list of those feelings. Describe each one as carefully as you can. Now your thoughts. Are you having judgmental thoughts? Time to go back to the drawing board. Write them down, all of them. And put them in your Should Chair. Now, what is left to think about? What is left is going to matter. Take the thoughts and feelings that are left after the shoulds are out of the way, and explore them as if you were having an adventure.
You know actors talk frequently about what it’s like to portray a villain when in their everyday lives they are fairly upright folks. In order to do this well they have to suspend their morality and just be the character they are portraying. Some even go so far, as with the method actor, to live as if s/he were the villain even off-set. In this way they really get into the character and feel that they can do a better job of suspending anything that isn’t the character.
It’s a little like that. You are suspending that part of you that is constantly categorizing all of life into one of those two plastic containers labeled good or bad. And you are accessing another part of yourself that ranges the inner terrain without borders and shoulds and oughts and morals. As you are doing this you may find that you want to preface your assessments about your feelings or thoughts with something like “this is terrible but….” That self-judgment is very probably restraining some of the deeper aspects of your feelings behind the terrible wall. Go back and try to feel that feeling again without putting any disclaimers on it. Now what do you feel.
You can now see how many times that internal judge wants to intervene to keep out feelings and thoughts that don’t seem to belong. And yet without knowledge of those feelings and thoughts we are likely to act them out without our own permission. Then when someone points them out to us, we will fall on a continuum between outright denial and extreme shame for our behaviors. Neither is going to help us know what’s really going on inside and, though we’ve traditionally been taught that shame prohibits action, it doesn’t really. It only puts that action in a stall pattern, which means it will out later when we’re not paying attention.
Your feelings and thoughts are being expressed in some form, with or without your conscious permission, and they are doing it without delivering the message they came to give. We think that if we can conform our minds to some kind of code, these feelings and thoughts will never become behaviors. Not so. They just become behaviors we don’t know we are doing.
But when you suspend the codes and get in touch with the feelings then you can begin to dialogue with the feelings, so that they give you more and more information. So, if you are angry and normally would suppress that anger based on the code, but this time you look at it and listen to it as if it had something important to say, it can deliver a message to you about your life choices that offer you significant guidance. By listening and dialoguing in this way, you are less likely to go knock someone’s block off—which, in fact, you are more likely to do if you repress it so that it comes out later unconsciously—but you will see that your anger is telling you something about what you are choosing.
So, if I’m mad at Frank because he schmoozes with the boss every day instead of doing his job and I end up carrying his load, I might learn that not only does Frank remind me of my brother who was my father’s favorite, but I might also learn that I’m really angry because he’s adding more tasks to my lists of abhorred tasks. Now, I’ve learned that I have unresolved issues about my brother and father, and I’ve also learned that I really don’t like my job and perhaps should consider changing it. All this major life stuff, just because I suspended morality long enough to see what was really there.
The big deal here is that we learn to hold the tension between the thought/feeling and the action long enough to discern the message. And we’ll talk more about that next time.