The mind is an incredible thing. Psychology tells me it is multi-layered, that it contains filters through which we sieve our perceptions and experiences and it certainly feels like that. There are disorders of mind with labels like depression, multiple personalities, anxiety, schizophrenia. I have to pay respects to the complexity of mind.
To come out of the victim-sleep of one who is thrust about by emotions as though they come from somewhere other than one’s self – and really, WHERE else would that be? – is to initially confront the fact of my emotional choices frequently. Years ago, when I first initiated this process, I had limited or no self-realisation. I had the concept of it, I felt I knew what it was and where, however hindsight showed me I was right… but also wrong.
Nothing replaces gnosis, which means knowing, experience. This meant that although there is power in choosing how I feel and respond, it is very easy to slip into a kind of denial, or aversion, of unwanted feelings which is different to letting go of them, different to the awesome discovery of the truth of them and then having them fade naturally.
A person is subject to denial only when she is still completely in the mind. In this way, it certainly is a “choice” how I feel because choosing is a function of mind. A function of mind which has tremendous value, and saved my life once. But it is limited.
What is denial? Denial is choosing a different story. It is turning my back on a story and a feeling out of aversion; it is not a letting-go.
The story is what creates the emotion. Emotion does not exist on its own. This is part of the “create your own reality” we hear knocked about by modern gurus. Choosing a different story may, for some length of time, allow me to focus on a different emotion. That has value of only a limited scope, a kind of emergency stop gap. Most people use it as a permanent way of emotion avoidance and this only sets them up for an eventual fall. It is like performing continual little denials, glossing over things, putting on a happy face, getting by – it all takes so much energy.
Seven years ago I had post-natal depression, bordering on psychosis. I was suicidal and unable to fully function and had a new baby to care for at the same time. Such is the insult of PND, we can’t even wallow in our grief and anxiety like other depression allows. A psych prescribed medication but I refused and instead researched and read self-help and spiritual awakening books (none of which helped at the time).
After a year or so, I started having panic attacks. Out of nowhere this horrendous doom and terror would creep over me – I could be walking down the street or making a tea and WHAM. I would sweat, my ordinarily rock steady body would start shaking, I would pant, and start looking around for an escape, a literal or emotional escape, anything to stop it. Twenty-four hours a day I could actually feel my adrenals working, literally just under my rib cage, drip feeding me with stress chemicals. It felt completely beyond my control, I felt prisoner to this whole sordid ordeal with no parole in sight.
I was sent to a week-long silence retreat and it saved my life, in more ways than just literally. There was one outstanding reason for this: it was where I received my introduction to choice. Even with my limited self-realisation I implemented this massive mental shift into the self-mastery of choice. It was part of the retreat, this lesson in choice, it wasn’t any kind of divine hand that came down with a scroll or anything. It had just never occurred to me that I was choosing how I felt. And honestly? Given a different time and place, I may have been highly offended at the suggestion because HECK, I was SUFFERING dammit, WHY would I CHOOSE to feel this way??! Etcetera and so forth.
Had I been closed, skeptical, cynical or the many other things that have held me back in the past, I would have argued with the idea, and walked away still suffering. Instead, I stopped the story, the thoughts, I just STOPPED for a minute, long enough that I was hit with a massive shift in awareness… and I made a different choice.
I came away from that experience changed in some small but permanent way. My depression, which was severe on the clinical scale, was gone, completely gone, and in its wake only an understanding of such pain and suffering (which has been a very useful understanding).
Of course I forgot how to choose for the most part after that. Fell back to sleep, you could say. I dropped back into victim mode but this time in an ordinary everyday way, not a psychotic way.
Ultimately, thinking about the mind is like looking at your own eye. Without some kind of reflective aspect, using the obstacle to navigate the obstacle has inherent and obvious flaws. It has been only while resting in the truth of my being that I have been able to see the whole universe, and my self, splayed out before me with any clarity.
If denial is turning my back on a fear then letting go is embracing it.