Nuance, Beliefs, Circularity, and Choice

We step out of the patterns of our lives by first noticing them, and then shifting out behaviour. Nothing changes until you do!


Nuance, Beliefs, Circularity, and Choice

It’s a hard lesson—what you believe to be “so,” or want to be “so,” often isn’t.

This is “so” because we refuse to see the difference between fact an opinion. Darbella has to following as her e‑mail signature:

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.

Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

And this goes both ways.

What I do with everything I see and hear is my opinion, my perspective. It’s neither true, no a fact.

We tend, in general, to have a primary belief system that was shoved down our throats. For our own good, of course. It’s usually about as subtle as a Mack truck. It’s a system of absolutes. “All women are … “No son of mine … ” “Work until you drop.” “Some day, my prince[ess] will come…”

Then, we add our own, which are based upon our primary belief system. “No one ever listens to me … ” “Every time we talk, you always … ” “No one loves me, everyone abandons me…” Or another odd one I’m seeing a lot lately: “I’m destined for greatness!”—spoken by people who are waiting for greatness to appear by magic—they are not doing great things.

Such rules take on a life of their own

big questions

In other words, they become self-fulfilling prophesies. We assume that our opinions and perspectives are true, and then we defend them by fitting all the data into what we expect to find. in other words, we bend reality (ongoing events) to fit the fantasy (our internal stories.)

Yet: Things are not as they are. Things are as YOU are.

I wrote about this inone of my books. I worked for a while with a 28 year old client. She grew up with a hyper-critical father, who remained controlling and critical, and treated his daughter like a child. As a result, her default story is that she is an unloved failure, destined for endless trauma.

At the first session, she told me that she had walked away, with nothing more than whiplash, from two car crashes in twelve months. Both crashes destroyed the cars. She then said, “After the first accident, I thought, ‘Boy, God is out to kill me, but he missed.’ After the second one, I KNEW he was trying to get me. He’s just got lousy aim.”

Every session, she’d walk in and announce that she’d had a lousy week. She would then go on to describe an incident that took place the day before, usually a fight with her father, in which he has criticized her. I find it interesting:

  • that she is still amazed when her father criticizes her, as that’s what he almost always does, and
  • that she thinks that a fight with her father the day before means she had a lousy WEEK.

Now, of course, what’s going on here is a projection of her internal self-view onto the world she sees. She described herself, graphically, as a failure, a dope—a poor excuse for a human being. She not only spoke this to herself internally—she said it aloud to whomever would listen.

Her life, her “story,” had a peculiar “spin.” She assumed that the universe was conspiring to “get” her. Even God was out to get her. As she perceived it.

Like most people, she’s bending the world to match her preconceived notions.

She was studying to be a nurse. One day, after leaving a session, she was driving home and came upon a bad auto crash. She pulled over, grabbed a medical kit from her car, and ran to the car.

The driver was dead. The passenger badly injured, in a crushed back seat. She wiggled into the car, and stopped him from bleeding to death. She then turned him over to the paramedics. Called her dad, craving praise.

Dad: “You idiot! You could have killed him, and they’d sue you! When will you ever learn!”

She called me and told me what had happened.

I said: “I don’t get it.” You’re a young woman who is healthy, shoes on the right feet, and you just saved a stranger’s life. And you did it with a supposedly bad back.”

You also has a dad who loves to criticize. All that happened when you talked to your dad was that he did what he always does. You can continue to buy into his crappy story, or you can notice what just happened, and think about what you are setting in motion for yourself.”

I suggested that she look at how she was seeing things—what judgements she was making. In short, I asked her to begin taking responsibility for her own world view.

A look of shock crossed her face. She said,

If I buy what you are saying, I’ll have to change everything I believe, everything I’ve been taught, all the rules I’ve been given.”

I said, “How happy are you with your life?” She replied, “I’m miserable.”

I said, “You are who you are, and your life is what it is because of your beliefs. There’s nothing defective about you. You might want to consider changing what you believe.”

The parable-nature of this story (…and he turned away, sorrowfully…) played out a month later: her father persuaded her that her bad back, and “being a dope” precluded such a vocation–this after she had 2 semesters at the top of her class… and she also left therapy. She said, “What you are saying makes sense, but not for me. I’m not willing to change–I just want a dad who loves me. You want me to be self-responsible, and I can’t.”

In the end, what we actually see of life is a perfect mirror of what we already believe (preconceived notions.)

In my E‑book,Living Life in Growing Orbits, I present 52 weeks of lessons, along with daily exercises. The very first is “Rock.”

Rock beliefs are foundational beliefs—the very first things we were taught by our “tribe(s).” In the “Rock” chapter, I suggest that our first “job” is to unpack the beliefs that form our self-view and world view. This is often a painful process, as we begin to strip away the veneer of “truth” that others have given to the concepts that we use to define ourselves and how we view the world.

We need to explore the rules we may not even know we operate under. Many of the rules we live by were inserted by others in an attempt to control us or socialize us according to what others thought was “right.” If we don’t look at what we believe and see if what we believe makes sense for us now, in terms of our own contentment, we are doomed to live out someone else’s life plan for us. And be totally miserable in the process.

Things are not as they are. Things are as YOU are. Whom, then, do you CHOOSE to be?

I have a client, who, among other things, believes that “All men are the same,” especially when it comes to physical contact. (Although when she hangs around with me, she’ll say, “All men are pigs. Except you, of course.” I assume she means the pig part … )

Her belief goes back to an amalgam of her father’s hands off approach (no hugs) and the early and evident onset of puberty, with boys groping her from age 12 on. Now, at age 34, when her boss shakes her hand, squeezes her forearm and wishes her a Merry Christmas, she’s sure he wants more. Her belief, then, is this: men should never touch; if they do touch, they always want sex.

Subtle. Like a Mack Truck.

While it’s nice to have a bank of memories so that we know, for example, not to lean our hands on the red coil on an electric range, there really are no reliable “all the time” rules regarding our interpersonal relationships.

What’s going on in our relationships, as we communicate, as we interact with each other and the world, is often in the nuance. The glance. The tone. The glimmer.

For example, we assume that when someone uses the tone of voice another used, and the other person was angry, then the present user is angry too. We may miss the telegram she is holding, the start of a tear in her eye, the catch in her voice. All we hear is the shouted, “Leave me alone!!!”

And then we find our that the telegram announced that her grandmother died.

What I am talking about is not simple, obvious, nor plain.

It’s vapour. It’s nuance. Grab for it, think you own it, and it is gone.

Thus, this walk is about paying attention all the time, to everything. To the big picture, but especially to the hints. The subtleties. The nuance.

I often watch the body language of those I’m with. The way the person is breathing, walking, standing, holding themselves, speaks volumes. I also spend a lot of time asking people what they mean by what they say or do, as I only know what saying or doing something means to me. Again, the truth is in the nuance.

The more one knows, the more one comprehends,
the more one realizes that everything turns in a circle.
~~~ Goethe


Often, what brings people in for counselling is just the opposite of this sense of circularity. Clients come because life has finally become too full of seemingly unrelated trials and traumas.

For most, life seems to be an endless series of obstacles, each unique and unconnected to what has gone before.

Most marital difficulties, for example, are often described this way—as a shopping list of disapproved of behaviours perpetrated by the spouse.

Such a linear approach to life happens because we choose to see each of the sticking points in our lives as being unrelated. Instead, a better question is, can I learn to see the patterns, and then choose to behave differently?

The events of our life follow patterns.

Life is about remembering whom we are and what we’ve forgotten. The lessons we get help us remember. The lessons we need to learn repeat and repeat. All that changes are the details, the players. The base issue remains the same. Forever.

Until we notice. And choose to do something different. Each and every time.

As soon as we notice how we are stuck, what our personal pattern is, we see that far from living a life where each problematic issue or relationship is different, we are actually caught repeating the same behaviour in different ways, with different people.

When we notice that, we begin to see that we are actually revisiting the same issue over and over again. We begin to find wisdom when we realize that if we keep reacting to what we confront in the same way, we’ll ALWAYS get the same results. We’ll be caught, forever, in the same loop.

Is there a way out? But of course!

In practical terms, when we see our pattern coming around again, we can choose to do things differently. As soon as we do, the situation changes. We move through it, learn from it, take the lesson with us. We will then loop around, experiencing other, similar, challenging things. As we come back to the old issue, and it will rear its head again, but we will approach it differently. With grace. With understanding.

And we will remember that to escape (this time!), we must actually change what we are doing.

If you will examine your life carefully, you will see your own repeating patterns. You will notice that, far from having a ton of issues, you have one or two that play out in many situations. And your life will suddenly appear to be a circle, as opposed to an endless line of unrelated events.

From there, you can begin to look for alternative ways of being and seeing.

As you find them, rather than just thinking about them, you can apply them in your life. The situation will then seem to change, but what has changed is YOU. And your life will appear to be a spiral. Around and around. Learning, adding, growing, transcending, including. And then you will see that there are infinite possibilities, and getting stuck is a choice.

And why, oh why, would we ever choose to be stuck?

Make Contact!

So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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