Saturday, April 29, 2017

Listening to Life

Life itself tells us everything we need to know.

Through conditioning all of us bring perspectives to which we selectively attend, biases, habits of thought, and behavioral reflexes, born of the dynamics in which we developed. Many, if not most, of these probably work well at times, in terms of facilitating our needs to cope with and adapt to life's slings and arrows. This is generally why we persist in them over a long period of time.

But, inevitably, they will fail. This happens when into our lives comes novel or stressful situations we have never faced before. These may be dramatic, such as getting very sick, fired, arrested, or divorced. But mostly these are rather ordinary except that they are new to us. Facing loneliness, forming and, more importantly, maintaining new relationships, choosing a major or career, managing both freedom and responsibility, and separation from sources of support are all examples of the ordinary with which college students in particular often struggle.

Often we will turn to tried and true responding to these circumstances. If this responding matches the current situation and is effective, things will tend to go smoothly and life goes on. When the opposite is true, disruptions will occur and reflect back to us, like ripples in the pond after we cast the stone. Except that many times these ripples become waves, even the occasional tsunami. Those around us and the systems in which we live will simply let us know that what we are doing isn't working. Negative energy will return to us in the form of undesirable outcomes. A break up. Failing grades or suspensions. Conduct hearings. Rehab or jail. Rejection or isolation from others. And symptoms, plenty of symptoms. Mood, cognitive, and behavioral dis-orders are expected outcomes for failing defenses, coping styles, and habitual responding patterns.

In response to such outcomes we may set off in a search for understanding what happened. We may seek complex, erudite answers in the cosmos, or from clergy and mental health professionals themselves. A fancy explanation in the form of a diagnosis, over which we have no apparent control or responsibility can be lovely in terms of explanatory power. Don't get me wrong, this may in fact be relevant for some. But this Occam's Razor applies to all: listen to what life is telling you, and adjust accordingly.

Humans are social creatures and we all function in systems and contexts. Understanding that placing negative energy into our context, through acts of omission or commission, causes equal and opposite reactions is central to good mental health. This is a simple and enduring truth the awareness of which, if we are tuned in well, can reduce or prevent a significant amount of stress and life problems.

All we have to do is listen.