In my previous article I introduced one idea—one idea that can free me from most of my suffering. This idea is that meaning is made up. An event occurs, or someone says something to me . . . and then I make meaning of that event, or the words that were spoken. I make meaning based on all sorts of factors, but mostly based on my memories.
My previous experiences shape my current reality
And, I limit myself with my previous experiences, because I define myself with outdated ideas that developed when I was young and vulnerable and learned lessons from people who were limiting themselves. For example, when I was young I determined that I was scared, that I needed to use sarcasm to protect myself, that I shouldn’t express sadness for fear that I would look weak. I then built my life around these early ideas by finding experiences to validate my beliefs.
As I grow into adulthood I convince myself that my beliefs are true and right. But they aren’t. They are just ideas that I constructed. And what started out as five or ten ideas grew into an entire web of ideas in which I now live. I see the world through my web of ideas and beliefs.
If I go to therapy, most therapists will validate my beliefs. They may help me reevaluate some of my beliefs, this is at the heart of many therapies, but mostly they will inadvertently validate my beliefs because we will spend so much time talking about them. But they are made up. They are not real. Should we spend so much time talking about them?
It is not true that I am scared. It is not true that using sarcasm to keep people at a distance will serve to protect me. It is not true that I am safer when I act invulnerable. These are all made up—made up in an attempt to alleviate my anxiety. But made up nonetheless.
Do I really need to be courageous?
Being courageous will help me face difficult situations—this is a commonly held belief. But it is not true that I need to be courageous to face difficult situations. Actually, I have come to believe that I limit myself with this belief, because as soon as I think I need to be courageous I have framed whatever the situation is as adversarial. Framing it in that way is likely to make it that way.
For me, a healthier belief is that I don’t need to be courageous because I am safe—99% of the time there is nothing truly threatening me. Of course, this belief is made up too. But, here’s the point. If all of our beliefs and ideas and interpretations are made up, why not make them up in ways that are helpful and allow us to relax and connect and be compassionate and kind?
Learn to make meaning in ways that serve you
That’s the point—learn to make meaning in ways that serve you, that help you live the life you want to live.
This brings me to my newest therapeutic concept/technique, which I have assigned the formal name of Poofing. To Poof! is to intentionally shift consciousness by releasing thoughts, thus creating immediate relief.
The telephone rings, I answer it, it is a telemarketer, I start to focus on the idea that this person is bothering me, interrupting me and I begin to upset myself. I can follow that train of thought or I can Poof! that train of thought. Why would I want to upset myself over this momentary interruption in my day? I do have a choice. I can go Poof!
In a more serious situation, my partner and I make plans to spend time together on the weekend, but when the weekend arrives she doesn’t feel like doing anything. I can focus on how our marriage has become stale and boring, which will lead me into despair and a tendency to disconnect from my partner, or I can Poof! that way of making meaning. As soon as I Poof! that way of making meaning I have brought myself back to the present moment and it is in this moment that all sorts of choices open up.
I’ve learned many therapeutic processes over the years and I’ve developed a few of my own—and although this one has a jocular name, Poofing is as profound, maybe more profound than anything I’ve ever come across. It is not right for everyone in every situation. I think of this as a process best suited for people who already have a rather high degree of self awareness. Therefore, more mucking around in your story may not be necessary or terribly useful. Instead, by learning to Poof! I have been able to free up a great deal of my energy, because instead of using my energy to relive the drama of my traumas, I’m using my energy to deliberately make meaning in ways that are constructive.
I am the master of my fate
If “I am the master of my fate . . . the captain of my soul”* doesn’t it make sense to choose my own meaning?
The choice that I am talking about is largely a matter of choosing what to emphasize and what to de-emphasize. When I am in relationship with someone I deeply love, if that person has a momentary lapse—maybe they aren’t listening to me the way I like to be listened to—I can focus on the lapse or I can focus on my desire to connect. I can focus on the lack or I can focus on the love.
The one caveat I have with regard to Poofing is that I do not want to repress myself. I do not want to simply pretend that I don’t trouble or bother myself with something if I actually do trouble or bother myself. So, when I Poof!, I must then pay attention to whether or not I have really released my emotional charge. If so, my Poof! was successful. If not, I may try again, but after Poofing twice, if I have not released my emotional charge then I assume that I need to delve into my emotional charge and pursue a different course of action.
Sometimes I can Poof! myself. I can release my thoughts. Other times, I need to change the meaning of an event by engaging with a person and coming to a deeper understanding of why they did what they did. Or, I need for them to change their behavior. In these cases, Poofing is not enough, there is something unresolved that I must address.
However, I will share with you that since I have been doing this practice—Poofing on average about ten times per day—I have been the happiest and most relaxed at any time in my life.
* A line from the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley