I have recently discovered that I am a master of deception. Self–deception primarily.
I finally realized this about myself after waking up for the 100th night in a row, wracked with anxiety and stress from multiple known and unknown sources that I have become incredibly skilled at ignoring my emotions.
When it comes to my thoughts, I can generally deal with them healthily after years of working as a coach and inner guide. After all, thoughts are just stories that can be changed right?
Emotions however, are much trickier beasts to deal with. They rarely follow instructions (at least not initially) and much like young children, have an impetus in our bodies all of their own volition. So what do you do with difficult people who won’t listen to reason? We ignore them. We pretend they don’t exist. We rarely stop and acknowledge what they are doing and even less frequently, pay attention to the messages that their violent and disruptive energy is trying to tell us.
In our society, we are geared up in so many ways to numb ourselves from the range of challenging or ‘negative’ emotions that run riot in our personal and collective psyche’s on a daily basis. We have become ‘bliss seekers’, running towards anything that feels good and distracts us from the discomfort and dis-ease that this behaviour ultimately creates in the long term.
I have spent several years now working in various forms of ‘sustainability’ and responsible business practice. I have spent weeks and months at a time, discussing the relative merits and positive impacts that changes in behaviour can have on our planet, people and profit margins; yet at the end of the day, any action that is taken often has a limited lifespan or is conveniently forgotten when short term priorities (often finance related) change. Aside from being depressing and making me consider repeatedly the kinds of clients that I work with, this habitual behaviour pattern eventually made me turn my mirror inwards, in an attempt to understand why positive, life-affirming change often doesn’t stick.
The most common excuses I run into when we look at transformation that has failed or stalled in some way are –
- The old story is too strong. The overall system of short-termism, greed and separation is too strongly embedded into our personal and collective way of thinking and acting. Its immune system fights anything that tries to disrupt or change it for the better of all.
- Our language is wrong. The story of ‘sustainability’ and responsibility is often laden with guilt and shame for past actions and choices. This makes most people avoid this topic and revert to the very numbing mechanisms that distract us from making any changes to our habits.
- What can I do that will make any difference? In the grand scheme of things, any change that I / We might make is a drop in the ocean of destruction. So therefore, why would we spend all our time, energy and resources fighting something that is inevitable?
Yes, all of these ‘excuses’ hold within them a seed of truth. And yet as I often find myself saying, every story has a grain of truth and yet is partial. The partiality comes in when we consider the underlying assumption that change is easy or fast. Again, a shade of the bliss seeking behaviour of our modern society reflects itself here when we want to walk away from a process that we find emotionally challenging and difficult to see how it will eventually play out on our personal, communal and global stage.
Perhaps it’s my archaeologist background. Or perhaps, it’s because I was born into this life as ‘an insatiable optimist’? Either way, I believe that in order to grow and change, we need something in our way to push against. The Rebel needs the very thing they are standing up to, in order to disrupt an out of balance system. The Sustainability practitioner needs an inherently unsustainable system within which to strive for balance, fairness and health.
And me? I need my difficult emotions that wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me that I need to keep going. To tell me that everything is NOT alright in the my world / the world and that there are people, places and projects that need my positivity in the face of adversity to help them show up again and again too.
What if we choose to dive into our ‘difficult’ and rebellious emotions and see them as triggers to remind ourselves who we are and what we stand for?
What if, instead of running away from them or numbing their voice out, we chose to stop, sit there in the middle of our emotional turmoil and listen? I mean really listen to their wisdom?
What if, our emotions are the very things that will save us from our own ignorance and denial?