by Barnes Boffey, EdD.; Director of Training, Aloha Foundation… www.alohafoundation.org
For many people, the recent election has provided a test of their capacity to stay centered and happy, especially given what they may see is a dire future ahead. There are, conversely, many who are ecstatically happy as they bathe in the belief that our next president will help them get what they want. In either case, this election has created more stress and contentiousness than any I can remember in my 49 years of voting.
It also means that many people who have been used to feeling powerful and in the “right,” may be feeling disconnected with their communities, their work colleagues and their fellow citizens. Many are feeling like “strangers in a strange land,” unable to connect with those around them and experiencing a true sense of being aliens in their communities. Primary responses to this have been angering, depressing, pessimism, and projecting deep emotions on events that have not happened yet. That coupled with the thought, “How could these idiots be thinking what they did?” leads to feeling very out of balance and in many cases, severely lonely.
The challenge seems obvious, “How can I maintain my center and a positive sense of being when I feel severely out of balance in the world around me?” Not surprisingly, this means we have to be ever more intentional about our actions in maintaining our mental health and happiness. It also gives us a chance to understand how Internal Control Psychology can be the foundation of this process. In the beginning, taking control of our emotional well-being means we have to remember a few foundational principles, as well as asking some very important questions of ourselves and others.
The primary foundational principle we might be well to remember is that overall our metal health is determined by our ability to be loving, powerful, playful and free in whatever situation we find ourselves. If we cannot do that, we will be out of balance and likely blame the external situation for our unhappiness. It is easy to be loving in a situation where we feel supported and valued; it is much harder in a situation where we feel judged, alone and out of step with those around us. The same is true about being powerful, playful and free. If the world presents conditions in which we can easily be these things, it is easier to choose to create these emotions from the inside out. If we perceive our world as full of stupid people, or as a place where we can’t laugh because of how bad things are, or a place where we feel trapped as we see options shrinking in the future, we have to work much harder at following these psycho/spiritual instructions.
To be loving, powerful, playful and free regardless of the world around us, we have to bring to bear imagination, skills and courage. In order to live in any environment, disparate or not, we must have accurate blueprints (pictures) of what it would look like if we were being loving, powerful, playful and free. We must move from the principle/values level to a more specific description of the actions, thoughts and emotions that we would be using if we were effectively following our instructions in that specific situation. Generalities are not helpful.
For example, if we have a relative whose political beliefs differ dramatically from our own, our initial choice of behavior may be anger, incredulity, judgment and disgust. We may feel these are totally appropriate given the situation, but if our goal is mental health and happiness, being “right” or focusing only on getting that relative to change their mind will be ineffective. Our first step in gaining balance must be creating a new blueprint which illustrates and defines for us what we would be doing, thinking, and feeling if we were being loving, powerful, playful and free at the same time that our relative continues to be who they are, not who we want them to be. This is the imagination piece.
How do we imagine a new vision of ourselves being in balance when we believe the world outside us is “wrong,” or crazy or unacceptable? This is very hard because we often don’t want to let go of our current way of processing things, and we probably won’t until the pain and ineffectiveness become bad enough to consider letting go, or until we realize that in maintaining our anger, judgment, and rigid behavior, we are becoming the very kind of person we have railed against.
The first step, imagination, means developing a vision of a balanced and happy self. We need a blueprint before we can create a behavior. Being happy does not occur in difficult situations without a new level of intentionality in creating these blueprints. It means asking the question, “If I were balanced and happy, how would I be feeling in this situation?” The answer to that question will determine where we head next.
Let’s say for example, that our answer is “I’d be feeling strong, compassionate and detached (rather than infuriated, manipulated, out of control and judgmental). From there we have to create the thinking and actions that would accompany those feelings, and then act on those thoughts and actions whether we feel like it or not. One of the hardest parts in this stage is that we may be very attached to our ineffective behaviors; it feels unfair to us that we have to change when others are wrong. We may want to hold onto our “rightness,” and see how long we can get away with ignoring our basic instructions.
One thought that makes happiness almost unattainable goes something like this: “I need others to act in the ways I want them to act in order for me to feel the way I want to feel.” This way lies unhappiness. The road to true inner balance can only be attained in thinking, “I have the ability to create the emotions I desire in my life in spite of the actions of others. I don’t need to have others change for me to be happy.”
Next time: Part Two: Imagination, Skills and Courage