“The way we experience the world around us is a direct reflection of the world within us.”
– Gabrielle Bernstein
“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley
“The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.“
– William Makepeace Thackeray
Picture someone looking into a mirror. If that person’s reflection showed that his or her collar was turned up or hair was mussed, you wouldn’t expect that person to reach into the reflection to adjust the image. Only a severely mentally handicapped person, a small child, or possibly someone who had never seen a mirror before would even try. Yet that’s exactly what we are trained to do. Rather than reaching away from the mirror to adjust ourselves, using what we see as a guide, we are taught to reach out into the world, away from ourselves, to try to adjust what we see.
Unsurprisingly, that doesn’t work very well. Yet we feel stress when we have difficulty making that happen, which can add to stress we’re already feeling.
This may seem like a silly thought experiment but I have found that it is often true that “the fault… is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”. Certainly we would benefit from considering the possibility that we need to adjust ourselves. I think it should be standard in our cultural bag of tricks. It should always be a consideration.
I have found that when something repeats again and again, especially in different circumstances or times, it is an indication that I should look to myself for the cause instead of into the world. When I am stressed in a certain way over and over, it is a hint that I am the one creating it. I am the only constant factor, after all. The people change – I have even found the same personalities in different situations with different people – but the same pressures show up again and again. What is the more likely explanation when that happens – different people in different situations all leading to the same patterns, or the one common factor?
I have found that when I feel the same stress over and over, rather than trying to adjust each situation, I need only adjust myself. This may seem like a sign of weakness but consider that only a strong person has the ability to change. A weak person can’t shift because s/he is too fragile, too brittle, or simply not able to change. It takes strength to heal, courage to honestly and simply face up to and own your shortcomings. Ironically, by facing and owning your shortcomings, you have gone at least three quarters of the way to overcoming them and eliminating them from your life completely. And once you have truly healed yourself, amazingly, the personalities associated with your former stress stop showing up.
In a different vein, sometimes adjusting your own attitude is the only option left open. Sadly, this is increasingly the case in modern society when machines are programmed to value profit over people and basic humanity is ignored – when the situation has been tailored to channel behavior and responsible parties absent themselves. Beyond the stress that you might feel because your actions are being controlled, the impersonal nature of the situation itself can cause added stress.
Usually such things occur because once they’ve set them up, people have left things to run on automatic. Stress can result when you feel that your humanity is not considered important and you are being treated like a machine component. However there is often little that you can do (especially alone) to change the situation. You can nevertheless reduce the stress you feel by changing your attitude by, for example, understanding what is wanted by those who determined the system’s behavior and making allowances for that.
For instance, many people have adopted a cynical, defeatist attitude about phone support. They can tell that the other person is following a script and unable to respond directly. Sometimes it’s clear to me that I know more than the “expert” on the support line. When I have had complex problems that have required me to call tech support multiple times, I have sometimes had to repeat the whole history of support to get to the next step.
By letting go of personal frustration, I have been able to go through such histories with speed, grace, and finesse. I’ve been able to work with the support person instead of butting heads with him or her. Thus, I’ve been able to get what I want more quickly and in good humor. I’ve even gone on to develop a rapport with the support person.
Another common example is taxes. Often people stress over taxes because they define the taxing body’s actions as appropriating funds that rightfully belong to them. Leaving aside the fact that those taxes are used to provide services like smooth, fast transportation, communication, and information retrieval that those same people rely on, mental judo can be performed by, for example, changing the question from what is right (and what ought to be) to simply what is.
To wit, if your tax bracket is 30%, that means that out of $10 of total income, $3 goes to tax and $7 is your personal income. That means that if your personal income doesn’t match the lifestyle you need/want, you have the option of increasing your personal income or changing your goals. If you choose to increase your personal income, you need to increase your total income.
This is one way to look at things – one possibility. Please note the different language and how your feeling has changed. Nothing about the situation is outwardly different but it has a wholly different character. You have the ability to change how you frame things completely.