And Find The Treasure In Your Darkest (Mental) Caves
It’s January. A month full of hope and best intentions for the year ahead. Many of us long to effect some measure of positive change, be happier or more successful in various areas of our lives, careers or businesses.
Yet, there are always aspects of our lives that never seem to get considered for self-improvement. In fact, we have some parts of ourselves that year after year get no attention whatsoever. As a result, time and time again, these forgotten areas of our lives can rise up like old dragons and undermine our best intentions for moving forward.
What I am talking about are some of our automatic beliefs, personality traits and behaviors that we either ignore or simply do not see. They regularly cause us grief as they are always popping up to the surface of our lives when we don’t expect it. They come in many ways including: unexpected over-reactions, feelings of anger, shame, insecurity, inferiority or superiority, or just negative thoughts that seem to hang around like they were made of Velcro. They can also present themselves as fixed belief systems that we defend too vigorously. But perhaps the far most common presentation is simply a constant, background mood of mild anxiety or discomfort that can make us feel separate and vulnerable.
These automatic contracting behaviors go by many names. Carl Jung discussed them in terms of our “shadow” and “sub-personality”. The yogis and sages of India call them vasanas or samskaras. In other traditions they go by other names, and all traditions recognize that you simply cannot change, heal or transcend what you don’t acknowledge. Mythologist Joseph Campbell used to say that it is these darker parts in us, our metaphoric caves that we are most afraid of entering, where our greatest treasure is found.
Campbell is pointing out that if we find the courage to confront and deal with our vasanas, we can reap a tremendous reward.
What to do?
Modern psychology provides many useful tools to explore and defuse vasanas. Generally, just being on the lookout for these behaviors is a great start. When they do show up, rather than just acting out or avoiding them, relax and invite them into your awareness. Start to notice the associated bodily sensations. How is your breath or posture? Feeling tight anywhere? Noticing any accompanying physical symptoms can often give you a little advanced warning that an old reaction is on its way. And even a few seconds of prior warning can really help.
Then, simply cultivate the habit of taking the time to get curious and explore whatever thoughts and feeling are showing up. Ask questions such as: What am I telling myself? What is the assumption behind this feeling/thought/behavior? Are they completely true? Do these thoughts serve me? Do these thoughts come from love and wisdom, or fear? This scrutiny begins a process of bringing vasanas out of the shadows and opening them up for revision or discarding. Most vasanas do not survive the light of awareness for long.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
– Gospel of Thomas
The Deeper Teaching
However, long before psychologists began to study this problem, various sages and saints and ancient wise ones of certain traditions, particularly those in India, spent a good 2500 years exploring the intricacies of attention, consciousness and the human mind. They were skeptical of the merits of using the mind to do all the work needed to be done on the mind. They viewed the mind as an able servant but, (due to its innate tendency towards fear, resistance, desire and self-interest), a recipe for suffering if left in control of everything.
Rather, they discovered that if you simply loosen your identification with your current thoughts and emotions, you can begin to observe them. If you do that, you will recognize that there is always a constant stream of thoughts and emotions, often of dubious veracity, over which you have little control. Further, these mental events are made of nothing, fleeting, and have no inherent power other than what you ascribe to them.
As you become more suspicious of all the gratuitous mental activity, you can begin to simply watch thoughts and emotions enter onto the stage of your awareness, do their brief little dance – and then move on without feeling the need to engage them all or feed them with attention or belief. (Ultimately, you might even notice that without the constant intervention of thought, there never really was a separate inner observer/subject that needed to be defended.)
So What Is The Big Treasure?
When you practice being far more selective as to which thoughts and emotions you engage, you discover you can always choose to simply rest in, or identify with, basic awareness no matter what is happening. Any time spent here will translate into a reduction in your daily mental drama, more peace of mind, and far more energy. You will notice an up-welling of contentment and connection. It will feel like your heart is opening, wide. You will stop sweating the small stuff, trust life more, and experience greater love, freedom, joy, clarity, and energy.
It is quite a treasure, and one you can use to pursue your most meaningful and rewarding work in the new year, free from the old limits that may have been holding you back for too long.
“Where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our existence; where we had thought to be alone,……
we shall be with all the world.”
– Joseph Campbell
Information And Resources For My Fellow Coaches
New (Free) Video Series On Marketing Tips For Coaches
I have started a new video series of marketing tips for newer coaches titled, “Steve’s Marketing Minutes.” If you want to check out the first 2 videos, in which I talk about the need to start early with your business development, and a few key opportunities and challenges inherent in marketing coaching, simply go to my Facebook Page at BusinessAndLifeCoaching. If you want to catch the rest of the series as soon as they become available, simply “Like” my Facebook Page. In this series I will be discussing many of the common challenges coaches face in building a successful practice, and I will be sharing tips and a few proven strategies to help you avoid the bigger potholes, and move forward faster.
Want To Work Together To Attract More Clients This Year?
“This journey was unmistakably the best thing I could have done for myself and my coaching business.”
If you are a coach, and find yourself still struggling to attract enough ideal clients, please know I have opened registration on the 2016 edition of my affordable group marketing program for coaches. This long running program has seen over 500 coaches get the individualized support they need, proceed at their own pace, overcome their unique challenges and find a road to greater commercial success. It is a combination of 1 to 1 work with me, large group calls, and small group calls to support you in finding an authentic and personal way to greater success as a coach. I have run this program for 10 years now, and I get consistent feedback of the significant difference it makes. To read about it and see the many more testimonials of past participants, please go here Affordable Marketing For Coaches.
“If you are serious about building a sustainable practice, this is the program for you.“
Needing More ICF Mentoring Hours?
For those of you needing to accumulate additional Mentor hours for your next ICF credential, I have put together an affordable program that is a combination of small group calls and individual mentoring with me. The program meets existing ICF guidelines and shares a deeper teaching on the core coaching competencies. In the course content I draw extensively from positive and developmental psychology, neuroscience, mindfulness, myth and the great spiritual traditions. A program will be starting soon, if you are interested check it out at Affordable Mentoring For Coaches.
* Photo courtesy of Tuomas Lehtinen and freedgitalphotos.net