Personal growth involves periods of instability, anxiety and unrest, which signal the need for change. Yet, we are in a time that is uncomfortable with change. We are interpreting anxiety and depression as symptoms in desperate need of immediate medication and relief. What if we were to see these normal emotions as adaptive responses and signals from our body and spirit that there may be a need for change? If we are not uncomfortable, we stay in relationships and situations that are no longer working for us. We may not address issues within these situations that need to be addressed for the health and happiness of all involved. In therapy, much of what we do is look at the things that make us uncomfortable, bring them into the open to be talked about and develop a strategy for change.
Many people choose to calm this anxiety by engaging in addictive behavior; however, personal growth is stunted by addictive behaviors. No matter how compulsively we try to shut out the signals, if we are unhappy the symptoms will reappear. It appears there is a deep unhappiness in our culture fuels and supports addiction. There could be no forward movement by a person or a people without looking at this challenge. America is a truly remarkable experiment where people, who might otherwise be battling over ideology, live side- by- side and participate in a greater vision of personal freedom; a creative, inventive, diverse society. Wherever many people come together, there must be consensus on how to govern and take care of people. Ideologically, the country has swung from one side to another, having a hard time finding the middle. As industrialization and technology continued to develop, we sometimes lose track of the individual breakthroughs that birthed their invention. In graduate school, I happened upon a used copy of When Society Becomes the Addict by Anne Wilson Schaef. It provided a missing piece to my understanding of addiction as a symptom of the emptiness many people felt with industrialization. Going through the expected motions of school and work to meet an external standard of success can create a gap between self and society: a deep, inner dissatisfaction. Drugs, alcohol and compulsive behavior can temporarily quiet the anxiety and dull the sense of dissatisfaction. A society that separates people from self-satisfaction and fulfillment, is a society that may encourage addiction. Participation in mind- numbing activities is advertised and promoted as “growing up”: the ultimate statement of personal choice and freedom. Higher education and college often include the image of all night partying. The disconnection from self and the sometimes disastrous results of one’s behavior are rarely addressed. It is accepted as a rite of passage. People are often unaware of when their relaxation activities began to dominate their thoughts and lives. The disconnection from self is simultaneously reinforced and temporarily relieved with the use of drugs, alcohol and a variety of self- defeating behaviors. But how do we reconnect? That is the question.
In earlier times, work was directly connected to natural cycles and survival. You could see the direct benefit of your efforts and there was time for rest: time to think. The tasks were arduous, but there was a deeper connection to the work. Today, everything had become 24/7 always on and always available. There was little connection between the work you do and the food you eat or the shelter of your home. Family times are hurried and haphazard. Children are shuffled from one activity to another in the quest to provide greater enrichment but sacrificed the magic and timelessness of their childhood. What may be missing as we gear our children for success, is the sense of personal connection and responsibility for choices. Technology may move us further faster and connect us to far- away lands, but it may also move us further away from our natural rhythms and from honoring the source of all things. It is astonishing to me how often I see people out for dinner together, each on a separate cell phone or a driving 65 mph and talking on a cell phone , totally disconnected to the moment, themselves or the other persons immediately around them. Our challenge is to reconnect people to the moment, to encourage values that respect the natural cycle of things and foster a sense of community. I am not supporting the abdication of technology and a return to living off the land. The answer may lie in the question of balance.
Perhaps, we need to encourage parents to once again tell their children to “get outside, it’s a beautiful day.” Perhaps, we too can pull up a chair and sit in the fresh air for a moment. Perhaps, it is ok to experience the warmth of the sun, coolness of the rain and to be a bit uncomfortable while observing the miracle of nature around us. If we focus on the connection between people and the earth, we can create a prosperous healthier society; so, many people will not feel isolated or excluded from the bounty. We will not be pushed through hoops and expected to do, be and feel certain things that are contradictory to who we are and how we understand our place in the world. With the advances in neuroscience we have found that the cells that carry emotion and the brain centers that process emotion are involved with thought and action throughout our being. We must continue on our search for understanding the interconnections of mind and emotion and move away from isolating emotion from thought: honor the emotion, identify the thought, and choose our actions. We must engage our abilities to recognize anxiety and unhappiness and delve into their core rather than move to relieve all discomfort. Rather than moving away from ourselves into an altered state of consciousness with drugs, compulsive behaviors or virtual realties, we must engage the remarkable mechanism of our mind and body to become involved in life affirming practices recognizing our discomfort as a welcome signal from our spirit that we may need to move grow and change.
Simple steps for reconnection and change may include
Looking at the issue that is troubling you
Seeing what values and expectations you have attached to the troubling issue
Identify the triggers or catalysts to the negative situation
Deciding whether your situation can be changed with a different, more positive response
When a trigger arises, give yourself a moment to pause and consider your response.
Try choosing to react in a positive, less stressful manner.
Practice makes perfect.
In order to support your positive changes, it is essential to feel good about yourself and ability to change. Things may have been tough for a long time, but each moment brings the possibility for a new beginning. Be gentle with yourself. Eat well, exercise and try to include at least 15-30 minutes of meditation or time for silence at the beginning of your day and before you sleep. Focus on the positive changes that you make and forgive yourself for any things you think you should be doing better. Know that with practice all things are possible. Namaste.