Life is difficult
There is a simple reason why most people choose to not be present in their lives. It’s because being present sucks—if you don’t like your job, don’t get along with your partner or don’t feel good in your body—and therefore you’d rather be someplace else.
I remember many years ago when I was making myself miserable. I was doing work I didn’t fully enjoy. I was confused about my marriage at the time, to my first wife. I experienced a lot of tension with my family of origin. So I went on a weeklong meditation retreat in northern Vermont. The purpose of the retreat was to learn to be present. The more present I became the more unhappy I felt. By the end of the week all I wanted to do was start a fire in the meditation hall and see all those Buddhists pushing and shoving one another to get out the exit door.
The meditation retreat was my unconscious attempt to spiritually bypass the issues in my life. I didn’t know how to deal with my day-to-day challenges, so I tried to cover them up with high minded ideals and a spiritual blanket. It didn’t work.
So what can I do when the current realities of my life are such that I would rather not be present? I think that there are two general ways to approach this situation.
Reality Therapy is One Approach
The first is what I call reality therapy. It involves directly addressing the things that feel wrong or off. This was the path I chose. It involved breaking free from my family of origin, getting divorced, quitting my job and starting a new career. The journey was both hard and rewarding.
As my life steadily got better, the idea of being present became more attractive to me. Now I’m at a place in my life that I would describe as delicious. Being present in my current circumstances is mostly pleasurable. And recently I hear myself advocating to my clients the value of being present.
But I realize, being present isn’t always enjoyable. One solution, as I just mentioned, is reality therapy—making corrective adjustments in your life. But I think that there is an alternative approach that no one told me about, and I wish that someone had. This alternative approach requires me to understand that my life is the way it is because of the way I make meaning—my subjective interpretation is what creates my experience of my life, both the good and the bad.
If I don’t fully grok this—that I’m responsible for the meaning I make—then I’m likely to believe that other people are making me unhappy, or treating me unfairly, or not sufficiently appreciating me, or holding me back in some way. Maybe I feel burdened by the job I have and the responsibility to support my family. Maybe I feel resentful of my family of origin because I get ensnared in dysfunctional dynamics. Maybe I feel trapped in my marriage.
Fair enough . . . all legitimate feelings. But if I don’t understand that I am the one who has interpreted the events in my life in such a way to make me feel as I do—burdened, resentful, ensnared, trapped—then when I go to extricate myself from the situations in which I’m unhappy, I will do so aggressively or guiltily—or both.
I will be aggressive toward the people I depended on to make me feel okay—because they failed—and I will feel guilty about leaving those people who depend on me for their emotional well-being. To avoid these feelings—aggression and guilt—I may choose not to extricate myself. I may just do nothing, continuing to feel burdened, resentful, ensnared and trapped until my life becomes unbearable.
Changing the Way You Create Reality is Another Approach
However, if I really understand that I am the one who is making meaning of all the events in my life, then I bring about a radical shift in my consciousness. I no longer feel like a victim. I no longer feel trapped. I recognize that I have made deals—with myself and other people—that are not serving me well. And I can change those deals.
This is what I wish I had known so many years ago when I was making myself miserable. Had I known this, I could have made the changes I needed to make in a much more graceful and mature way.
You see, I can change the deals I have made with other people and I can do so without being aggressive and without feeling guilty. This is possible after I realize that I am the one that is making up the meaning. Because after I take this level of responsibility for my own life I am no longer holding others responsible for my well-being and I am no longer assuming responsibility for the well-being of other adults.
All I need to do is two things.
- First, I need to acknowledge that my life is exactly as it is because of the ways I make meaning.
- Second, I need to learn new ways to make meaning of the events in my life.
Whenever I talk about this subject people always ask, “What do you mean when you say ‘change the way we make meaning’?” I’ll give you a few examples.
Some of the ways that people make meaning include:
- Reliving the past and anticipating the future, but spending little time in the present.
- Judging people’s behaviors as being being “right” or “wrong.”
- Blaming other people for how we feel.
- Using a cause-effect explanation to justify why we behave the way we do. “I did X because you did Y.”
When I make meaning in these ways I limit myself because I am not present, I live in fear of being viewed as “wrong,” I give my power away to other people, and I use my stories to justify my immature behaviors instead of taking responsibility for myself.
Live Conscious offers a unique solution. First, we learn to speak in such a way that we are constantly reminding ourselves that we are the ones who are making meaning of the events in our lives. This is incredibly freeing and empowering. Second, we learn to speak so that we are present, living without fear of being made wrong, owning our feelings, and instead of telling stories to justify our immature behaviors we learn to ask for what we want.
The difference in my life has been remarkable. Had I learned this all those many years ago—instead of going on a meditation retreat—my journey would have been much easier, and there would have been less pain for me and others I loved.