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How to End Knee-Jerk Responses to Life

Updated on February 25, 2020
ValKaras profile image

Val is a life-long practically oriented student of effective emotional and attitudinal responses to the many challenges of life.

You cannot control the behavior of others, but you can always choose how to respond to it.

-- Roy T. Bennett

It Takes Someone to Give It a Suchness

Our experiencing in life situations is either spontaneous or deliberate, which means either it's chosen unconsciously and without our exercising our preferences in the matter -- or it is chosen with a conscious intent, in which case we are interpreting the situation using our updated standards and criteria.

Since most of the people are switched to their automatic mode of functioning most of the time, the question is how really useful are those programs and parameters which are based on reasoning from our past conditioning all the way back to our childhood.

Also, could we possibly benefit by deliberately chosen, new models of experiencing? This is what the following article is all about.

Now, have you ever met a couple who, by their appearance seemed to be a total mismatch? Actually so much so that you heard some whispers around asking: "What could she have possibly seen in him?"

Maybe some others responded wisely, by asserting that nothing is necessarily one way or the other, until we give it an interpretation depending on our own tastes, That's what makes the world turn, as it insists on a principle of variety, not on uniformity, which gives everything a dynamism, urging us to keep updating and refining our models of experiencing and functioning.

Life means motion, whereas a standstill spells stagnation, and it may be nowhere as true as with our choices of experiencing.

What kind of life we are having ultimately depends on how much we are deliberately giving a suchness to everything, and how much we just allow it to be a part of our played-in automatisms.

In other words, do we choose our future, starting from this very moment on, or we are letting it be merely a copy of our past.

The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

-- W.B Yates

Perceiving vs. Interpreting

Whether we choose to think that life sucks, or that it's a glorious and divine story told by gods - we are always "right". It's never a matter of "rightness/wrongness" but a matter of what feels better.

Of course, we are not talking about the factual reality where we should stick to what appears to be the objective perception, but rather about our interpretation of it, which is always up for grabs.

If it's raining, we don't deceive ourselves that it's sunny, but it's entirely up to us to see it as a "gloomy day" or a perfect opportunity to catch up with our chores that have been waiting for our attention for a while, or finally make that long distance call to a friend or a family member.

So, that's where we exercise our deliberate intent to experience the rain as we choose. If we don't, then our automatic pilot will compute for us what a rainy day "usually means to the most of the people", and that's what will be our experience of that rain. Perception will still be the same - one of a rain falling - but it's our interpretation which gives the very taste to our life.

The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.

-- Mahatma Gandhi

What a Power We Have!

I used to have a friend who was in a habit of turning mostly everything into a joke. In his case, however, it was a defensive mechanism at work, as humor was helping his secretly sensitive nature to cope with unfavorable circumstances and situations.

But, if he had done it just to give a spice to his life, it would have been a beautiful example of deliberate experiencing. Professional comedians and sitcoms script-writers are making a great use of that ability, and as we know, it can turn just about anything serious into a laughing matter - like people that are handicapped, stupid, ugly, blind, dead, kings, beggars, saints and gods, heaven and hell, you name it, a humorist can deliberately make it funny.

On the flip side, we can equally turn life into a soap opera, tragedy, strife, a garden variety of adversities, bad luck, and you name it. Needless to say, there are by far more people who use deliberate experience for this kind of life definitions and descriptions - when it's not their automatic experiencing dictated by their life scrip program possibly running in the family for some generations.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

-- Oscar Wilde

Choosing Sunny Side of the Street For a Deliberate Experience

To use first some extreme examples, let's think for a moment of those societies where the religious tradition makes a joyful experience out of someone's dear one passing away. Namely, it's their firm belief that the person is "now at a better place", and they are happy for them.

Which makes it totally opposite from our own, western cultural tradition of grieving, with possible lengthy sense of sudden emptiness and depression. The event is factually the same -- but significance that we are giving it makes the whole big difference.

Or, take the cases of mothers whose grieving gets greatly subdued by pride, when their son "dies for the country" in some remote combat across the globe. Now, change her interpretation of it, as a merely a "political whim of a temporary significance by the current administration -- and not condoned by the opposition" -- and she may end up bitter and resentful on top of grieving over that tragic and unnecessary loss of her son.

Switching now to a less dramatic example, think of a mother whose kids are regularly flying off the handle, making her wish that they go for a while to some camping with scouts, or something.

And, as her wish has come true, now see her, after a few days of her long desired peace and quiet, stand by the road a whole hour earlier than the bus is due to bring them back.

What happened with that image of her being a part of that Extra strength Tylenol commercial with kids being the proverbial "pain in the neck"? What happened with that wish to have some peace? After all, they are bound to continue their noisy routine -- and yet, her missing them makes the whole difference in how she is perceiving her kids now.

Well, it's all about changing our interpretation, and we can do it deliberately while not being "less realistic" in the process. Look, choosing to walk on the sunny side of the street makes that side just as "real" as the one that's in shade.

Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.

-- Charlotte Bronte

Grudges and All that "Forgiving" Nonsense

I have to admit, I could never quite understand when people would say something like :"I can forgive, but I can't forget". To me it's the same thing, except that now we are "officially" getting over it and moving on with the relationship not bringing it up anymore.

Just being quiet about it doesn't change much, as long as we remember the incident in question the same way. That's where deliberate experiencing shines. Having both psychological and moral aspect of the incident in mind, we could take a stand like "I don't approve of what he said, but he is not a bad man and I don't know what made him say it at that spur of the moment".

Sometimes people have a bad day, they may be going through a rough period in life, or they just can't shake off the image of their mother-in-law from their mind. Just kidding - and this was deliberate.

When it's about forgiving, it also helps to remind ourselves that we are not some candidates to be proclaimed as saints after we die. By using this line of thinking we may start re-qualifying our memory of the incident in question and its original emotional background, at which point "forgiving" doesn't really matter anymore.

Intention is one of the most powerful forces there is. What you mean when you do a thing will always determine the outcome.

-- Brenna Yovanoff

Enriched by Deliberate Experience

Deliberate, or "intentional" experiencing, if you like the word better, is the first tool in developing an attitude that nurtures our heart, mind, and body. It's a frame of mind that sticks around in all of our daily responding to demands and opportunities of deriving some fun from life situations.

It also gives us an enormous sense of having a power over our life, along with that flexibility necessary to shift smoothly through the variety of life experiencing. It is not a replacement for our automatic pilot and its programs many of which are serving us well, but rather it overlooks its offerings and chooses either from them, or from a fresh model of experiencing.

So we can amplify a learned, automatic behavior, or dim it down. Like in times of having fun we can insist on liberating ourselves from all inhibitions, leaving memories of work and family issues at home when we go to a party, dimming them down in our mind in favor of playfulness.

There is much freedom involved in deliberate experiences, as we don't feel stuck at a response that's prescribed by collective norms and the sense of the "appropriate" generated by them. We can choose our own way of interpreting life. And that's all that personal sovereignty is really about.

In Epilog

So, folks, maybe you could try to give a fresh taste to life by not sticking to your habitual ways of experiencing things as something that's carved in stone and an unchangeable aspect of your personality.

Go a little more flexible about your "principles", make amendments, update your old worldview with something that intuitively makes a better sense, and feels better. In the theatre of your mind you can be the producer, director, and hero, all in one - and don't hesitate to fire your script-writer if his stories don't contain enough laughter, play, music, humor, that stuff that makes life worth living. I hope this article provided a little of an inspiration to do that.

© 2015 Vladimir Karas

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