As humans, we like to imagine we have a certain degree of control over our own lives. But, are we actually more suggestible than we’d like to imagine?
When I meditate, I use one specific semi-guided meditation from Joseph Goldstein in the 10% Happier App (which I highly recommend). In the meditation, about a third of the way through the session, Joseph says,
Become aware of different sensations in the body as they become predominant and call your attention away from the breath. Perhaps places of tightness or tension, or pressure, or warmth or coolness. Perhaps it’s an itching sensation or a tingling sensation. At that time, open to these bodily sensations. Opening to them, feeling them, being aware of how they change.
Recently, I noticed that whenever Joseph says this, my brain starts looking for a sensation to find – and it often finds one. Even if there’s wasn’t one there five seconds before.
I don’t know for sure if the sensation was there before the cue and I only noticed it when the meditation called attention to it or if my brain completely invented it on command. But, my money is on the latter.
And, this teeny, tiny bodily sensation got me thinking about how we frame questions and answers about our lives.
My basic hypothesis is that, if you go looking for something, you’ll find it.
If I asked you “tell me one thing you don’t like about your job right now”, I’d bet you’d come up with at least one thing, if not more. Even if it was just a tiny thing, it would make it’s way into your consciousness because I planted the seed. Maybe you actually love your job and you find it incredibly rewarding. But, you still might find things to say you don’t like about it because I prompted you.
My point is, if you go looking for something to be discontented and unhappy about, your brain will be more than happy to connect those dots for you. Brains are super helpful like that.
Can the same be said for positive things? I’m not sure. I find it quite challenging to find the positives in things even though most people would consider me a happy person. I don’t want to go so far as to say that we are programmed to focus on the negative (although it is an evolutionary advantage to be able to accurately spot threats and dangers). But, I know it’s a much easier path for me to go down than finding the positive.
I also believe that most people’s (aka all people’s) lives are flawed in some way. And, I actually find those flaws quite beautiful, in their own way. No one’s life is 100% perfect, 100% of the time, no matter what their Instagram feed says. But, I do wonder how much of our angst and suffering is actually our own doing. I in no way mean people are to blame for their own lives. There are deep, systemic patterns and processes that are at fault in most of today’s injustices. I just mean, how often are we making our own day-to-day lives harder because we let our minds wander to the negative end of the pool?
If you go looking for something wrong with your job, your relationship, your body, your bank account – you’ll find it. Maybe you’ll completely invent it out of thin air like I apparently invent sensations during meditation. Or, maybe going down your mental rabbit hole is all you need to uncover something that is actually there.
The latter isn’t problematic. If you have a genuine issue in an area of your life that needs to be rectified, let the rabbit hole start the resolution process.
Inventing problems where there aren’t any – now that’s a different story.
In a minimalist context, I’ve seen this manifest in myself as an internally created pressure to own the least amount of ‘stuff’ as possible. But, is it actually a problem that I own 20 pairs of shoes? (I don’t, but just go with me on this). No, of course, it’s not.
Stuff on its own is never the problem. It’s just stuff. It only becomes problematic when it gets in the way of you living your best life, whatever that looks like for you. That’s why I think it’s important to integrate your own motives in your narrative when you begin decluttering your life. Are you telling yourself that you can only own X number of items of clothing because some book/blog/website said so? Or, do you want to whittle down your wardrobe because you want to reduce stress in the morning when you’re getting ready and actually want to enjoy the clothes you do own?
The latter is clearly YOUR choice. You made that decision on your own terms, in your own time, and in a way that makes the most sense for you. The former is influenced by some external force that may or may not understand your daily reality. That’s not to say you can’t learn things from other minimalists, but their minimalist journey will never be yours.
There will always be external influences in your life (both positive and negative) that impact our decisions, both consciously and unconsciously. I think the best we can do is be highly aware of our own decisions and why we are making them.
My meditation practice has served as an important lesson for the rest of my life. I don’t want to think I’m so suggestible that a voice in an app can say the word “itch”, and then I feel an itch.
It makes me wonder if I’m playing ‘follow the leader’ in other areas of my life. I certainly hope not.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Do you think we have infinite control over our lives? Let me know in the comments!
Image Credit: Tiny Ambitions