You Either Do it, or You Don’t
So, I’m thinking that training as a psychotherapist is not a bad model for learning to exercise self-mastery.
What I’m thinking is that doing an academic counselling degree has two components: textbook and experiential. Things are apparently different now, but back when I was a student in the early 80s, you showed up at your practicum location, and within a day or so, they handed you your first couple of clients.
In other words, you learned by doing.
And this is the key to this series of articles. Nothing in your life changes until what you are doing changes.
I often hear lists of excuses for not doing things differently. It’s always a variant of, “I can’t do (whatever) until I’m sure I’ll do it right.” I’m surprised how often this is said with a straight face.
I did a communication exercise once at a workshop with a woman who used the model quite well.
She said, “I’ve been taking communication courses for 5 years, so I can learn how to communicate with my son.” She indicated that she hadn’t actually tried it with him, but was getting closer.
I suggested she stop taking courses and actually communicate with her son, as she was doing a great job with me.
She was amazed.
The Myth of: It ‘Should’ be Easy!
The flip side of this, which happens a lot these days, due to the emphasis on easy and quick, is that many people expect (seemingly paradoxically) that ‘getting it’ should be easy.
The other day, a person seeking therapy told me she’d tried other approaches and now wanted the ‘quick fix.’ I suggested that she actually implement some of the ‘slow fixes’ she’d learned, but never applied.
I remember working with a client, briefly, who wanted to get a Masters in counselling without first having to go through the bother of a BA. She’d been working at a Women’s Shelter, and decided that the University should take her 5 years experience and that she was 45 into account, skip the whole, tedious BA thing, and let her start an accelerated MA. She was highly offended that they didn’t see it that way.
This approach might be thought of as instant enlightenment, without the work.
The Self Mastery Connection
That’s why I talked about self mastery last article. Many are the excuses for anything but.
Others blame upbringing or present circumstances.
I’ve actually had people tell me that my relationship with Darbella looks easy, and therefore it must have to do with both of us being experts and special people. I laugh.
Last weekend we were in Montreal, visiting a friend. On the way home, we stopped at a Rest Stop, and I decided to use a stall for ‘morning ablutions.’ I walked in, and looked on top of the toilet paper dispenser.
“Willpower is my Selfhood.”
Now, I’m a synchronicity and irony kind of guy, but that one was really interesting. The language is a bit kludgy, but I grok where he is coming from. I might put it, “Self mastery is self-less” and I’d likely be meaning the same thing.
The Buddha said some variant of, “All that you are is a product of what you have thought.” He meant that how we think determines our self-identity and our view of the world. It’s not the ‘right’ view, but rather how we frame our reality. Once we get the joke that the frame is warped by our perceptions, we can have a laugh and let it go.
The letting go, however, is an action. Let’s say you’re afraid to try something. Typically, you maintain this stance by remembering all the other times you were afraid of something, similar and dissimilar. In other words, you try to rationalize staying stuck in fear by referencing other times you were afraid. Seems reasonable, right?
Well, it is, if what you want to do is stay stuck in fear.
The alternative is not to plunge ahead with reckless abandon (although that can be fun and I am often a fan of it.) The alternative is to acknowledge the fear (“Hi again, fear!”) while stating what you will do. And then doing it.
Thus, the Buddha might say, “All that you are is what you are doing.”
Next issue, we’ll look at self mastery through acting, without excuse.
In the mean time, listen to the stories you repeat, endlessly, that are specifically designed to keep you stuck, hurting, and a victim of your own stories. Notice the attraction of endlessly delaying changing your words and behaviours (you can’t change your thoughts, but you can stop believing them.) Notice your desperate search for the magic cure that will ‘fix you, once and for all.’
Drop the delays and get on with acting in the direction you choose to go. Practice what you are learning, all the time. Notice you are getting better at it, with practice.
Then, have a breath and sense the power of self-mastery.