Books like ‘ The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle, have broken me and served as a source of immense pain. I read them at a time of profound trauma and desperation, looking for a sliver of hope and though the principles in these self-help books are good-natured, they are extremely harmful to someone who hasn’t gained enough emotional awareness and healing to be able to discriminate. These books would basically instruct me to pull myself up by the boot strings, to avoid sinking by simply swimming, by shunning negative thoughts by pure willpower. And I tried so hard. I trusted these authors and their knowledge, so I gave myself to the instructions wholeheartedly and I put all my eggs in one basket by thinking that this book would be it. After I’m done reading these 200 odd pages, I’d be done with this pain. That’s what these authors basically say; I’m an expert, listen to how I found profound wisdom, follow my instructions and for the low price of $14.99 you’ll be healed.
You’ll be healed. Passive voice.
Not, here’s how you can heal yourself.
Needless to say, I failed miserably. Or rather they failed me by being selective in what they taught. I understand they do so to make a name for themselves and a brand to generate money, so if they simply give away the things that helped them, that would make them lose out.
Two things happened:
1. I tried so very hard to apply the practices and instructions which was akin to carrying out surgery on myself after reading a book on it. I was dealing with very serious mental disorders; chronic PTSD,anxiety,major depression, bipolar II – and some of the trauma that contributed to these ailments happened before puberty, so they were very complex and very sensitive. This was not a work for self-help, I needed professional help and medication. I had no idea. I was 18 or 19 at the time and I was driven by a need to do something. And although I eventually managed to find the right route, I can only imagine how many are stuck. There aren’t disclaimers or warnings to provide a leeway for second chances; if someone finds it incredibly difficult to apply these generic and simplistic three-step instructions, at least they could save a part of themselves by using the disclaimer as a cop-out. I stirred emotional pain and I only made it worse. It was like I tried to run on a broken foot.
2. Because I had put all my hope in one book, one can only imagine how devastated and shattered I was to reach the back cover feeling worse than I did before I started reading the book. My feelings of incompetence and worthlessness was tacitly confirmed by the book. It purported to have worked for countless of people, so the fault must lay within me. It felt like my life was a catch-22. I was stuck and to be unstuck I had to get unstuck. Makes no sense right? It plunged me deeper into a dark abyss of depression and suicidal thoughts. I had no hope left to live for.
Thankfully, I’d bounce back on the very verge and try again. And fail. And become devastated. And bounce back once again and again…and here I am writing this, 7 years later. I honestly don’t know how I got out. Alhamdulillaah
Turns out, I’m not the only person who noticed this huge farce; Mark Manson wrote an incredibly relieving piece on the self-help industry and what’s fundamentally wrong with it;
The premise of self-help is this; You feel bad. You should feel happy. Negative feelings are bad. Positive feelings are happiness. Here’s how to make negative feelings go away.Forever. And ever.
Yes, really. We view ‘negative’ feelings as inherently bad and something to be eliminated, but by adopting this polarized approach, we’re missing the point completely. We assume that the problem lies in the uncomfortable effects of negativity, but in reality the negative feelings are markers for an underlying problem; they are symptoms and not the disorder, if I may say so, itself. So, however uncomfortable it is to accept, the only way is through.
Negative feelings are essentially emotional pain and like physical pain, it signals that something’s amiss and needs your attention. This is where mindfulness comes in.
Don’t think about the past. Don’t think about the future. ONLY think about the now. While you’re at it, why don’t you tell me to not die by thinking about not dying. Or how about saving a drowning person by saying; don’t sink! Swim!
As is apparent from my biting sarcasm, I’ve had trouble getting my head around understanding mindfulness. I feel it’s a promising concept, but the plethora of definitions out there, some contradictory, don’t help at all. So, I decided to go down my own path and find out for myself just what mindfulness is and why we should be present in the, well, present.
I found the imperative question that is not being asked is; Why are we focused on the future/past/social media/cat videos/partying/addictions, basically on everything but the thing that requires our attention at any given moment? And why do some manage to be mindful more so than others?
When something is troubling us and we fail to find an answer to alleviate the pain, we take to escapism to save ourselves. It’s a vital defense mechanism aimed at keeping our sanity intact. So we become distracted, or addicted, or performance and success-obsessed. Anything to flee the scary feelings we fail to decipher. This has many layers to it, but to gain mindfulness, you’d have to reverse the process by finding out what commands your attention and what’s chasing you away. It’s only by removing this obstacle and overcoming the fear in tolerating distressful emotions that one can make their way back to the core; to the present.
If you observe children, you’ll discern that their naïvety and cheerfulness comes from the mindfulness in their souls. They have no worries and the entire world is a big playground. This is assuming they have secure attachment to their parents and are brought up in a safe and loving environment. In the cases where a child is made to suffer through emotional abuse or neglect, or even physical abuse, the stark contrast in the child’s demeanour from that of the healthy child betrays a sense that something’s wrong . They are withdrawn or they are violent and cruel; their mindfulness has been displaced by a disruption to their world as they knew it, and by knowing terror far too young.
Likewise, if you’ve ever been in a state of flow or immersed in something you’re truly passionate about, you find time and space fading as you are consumed by the activity at hand. You are alert and emotionally aware, at that point. You are in your skin and soul, not wandering about like you’re lost or running from something.
When you’re emotionally aware, you are detached from your thoughts and the events that occur around you, and you do so from the comfort of being in yourself, feeling safe within your being.You accept all facets of yourself.
As you might guess, it’s a life-long journey within towards becoming mindful. But it’s a journey you’ll find the benefits of immediately.
Q• U •O •T •E• S
“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
― C.G. Jung
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
― Ralph Ellison
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
― C.G. Jung
“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy’s fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure–your perfection–is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.”
― Elizabeth Gilbert
“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
― Michel de Montaigne
“At the center of your being
you have the answer;
you know who you are
and you know what you want.”
― Lao Tzu
“The person in life that you will always be with the most, is yourself. Because even when you are with others, you are still with yourself, too! When you wake up in the morning, you are with yourself, laying in bed at night you are with yourself, walking down the street in the sunlight you are with yourself.What kind of person do you want to walk down the street with? What kind of person do you want to wake up in the morning with? What kind of person do you want to see at the end of the day before you fall asleep? Because that person is yourself, and it’s your responsibility to be that person you want to be with. I know I want to spend my life with a person who knows how to let things go, who’s not full of hate, who’s able to smile and be carefree. So that’s who I have to be.”
― C. JoyBell C.
“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.”
― Marianne Williamson
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
― Pema Chödrön,
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
― Carl R. Rogers
“Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself….His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and to live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.”
― Hermann Hesse
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”
— Anne Lamott