We all have multiple personalities: They are the Committee in the Head!!
Have you noticed that things can be going well in your life; and suddenly you feel like you are totally lost?
Have you worked on not reacting to a difficult person in your life, and began to believe that mindfulness has really changed you from a reactive to a reflective person – then – suddenly out of the blue: you are screaming at your difficult person ?
These common experiences have nothing personal about them. Yet we do take them personally…The truth is that our minds are complex. Our needs are multiple and sometimes conflicting. It takes time for new patterns to reach and rewire old patterns of brain activity. We may have the intention of cultivating patience and non reactivity, yet our conditioning runs deep. Conditioning has laid down neural pathways that have been firing in a certain pattern for years, and now they have literally become habitual. This is the way the brain works. It has to be efficient, so “schemas” are created to come up and present themselves as solutions to recurring problems..
Schemas are routines or ways of perceiving the world that save time, energy and reduce uncertainty in our lives. In addition to their usefulness in reducing uncertainty and stress, old schemas can manifest as “going on auto-pilot mode” of living. Some autopilot modes are about going unconscious concerning what is going on inside/ outside of this body. Other times familiar contexts create triggers of reactivity.
For example, when I am really hungry, I have NO patience. I can be grumpy and unfriendly and even aggressive until I get something to eat to rebalance some kind of hypoglycemia. I realize now, after years of meditation and reflection, that I have felt guilty and ashamed about this for years. Only with compassionate non-identification has it been possible for me to step back and accept how my metabolism presents itself.
That does not mean that I take no responsibility. I am not off the hook from taking care of this sudden onset hypoglycemia. I am just off the hook of taking it so personally. So I still have to plan my day so that I take good enough care of myself not to get so hungry that I am in danger of doing / saying something rash and unskillful, and then have to regret it and – that in itself exposes me to more self criticism and self doubt and embarrassment. And, so you can see, here is the “wheel of suffering (samsara) “ as it plays out over and over. When we become aware, we have the opportunity of freedom. Only with awareness can I become freed up from the automatic reactivity, but I still have to take some action to take care of the issue. The remedy, if it is wise and timely and done with compassion, has to be applied to complete the circle of mindful self care.
So, what about those sudden shifts in mood, emotional tone, sensations and thoughts?
Our minds and its moods are often contradictory, and so living with ourselves can be, as one mindfulness student in the U.K. described, like living with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The dwarfs , conflictual characters, all strong personalities embodying some of our tendencies are trying to live in harmony. Of course fights ensue and sometimes nothing can get done because of the lack of co-operation. These are our internal battles. There are Grumpy, and Bashful, Happy and Sneezy and so on. Along comes sweet Snow White who tries to oversee this chaotic household. She sees the different emotions/ motivations and interests, but does not try and argue. She does not always achieve harmony, but she never uses coercion, does not ban anyone, accepts all viewpoints, is overall respectful of their differences. Her strength is to be able to contain the diversity and channel all the energies. Her courage and persistence , good humour and compassion work together to “hold” the energies in a compassionate caring presence. Then of course, our differing mind states have to co-operate, like the Dwarfs, to enable life to unfold harmoniously.
My often quickly changing mood states can leave me feeling like I was disintegrating, rather like a photograph of me cut into pieces, and each piece coming life . Rather like the broom in Walt Disney’s version of Fantasia with Mickey Mouse. When we reflect on the complexity of our lives, our motivations and plans, we see that we want so many different experiences. So, in essence, we are of many different minds. I know I want peace and tranquility, yet I yearn for being in the midst of things that interest me. I yearn to have the time to write poetry, yet I over program myself so that the solitude needed for that becomes impossible. Awareness clarifies what choices need to be made to move forward. But am I ready to make the difficult choices? Maybe it is normal to not want to give anything up. There is a recognition that change won’t happen without resistance. Giving up certain ways of being in my life is hugely challenging for me. Probably most of us have a delicate balancing act which we perform daily among all of our desires, different conceptions of who we are and who we would like to be. We all harbor the capacity to shift and embody moods, attitudes and opinions that are in contradiction with each other.
This multiple mind phenomenon is the reason we ask that question at the beginning of commiting to something new or when we need to let go a non functional, but familiar way we have been been dealing with stuff in life: “What do I really, really want?” Because we are of many minds, we have many choices; what valued routine, or way of being with ourselves needs to be surrendered in order to follow through with our deepest desires? Some try very hard to change their basic nature and contort themselves to fit some imagined ideal. Idealized self is especially doomed when it takes the form of “I can do it all!”
Inside, many of us have a Driver who insists we have to do “Just one more thing, and one more..” All these conflicting ideas can drive us crazy -like an invasion of flies. This is why we train the mind to take up a middle road path and stay on it in all seasons, in good times and difficult.
When I am able to let go my ideal self, it becomes possible for me to allow my personality to just be as it is. I know that accepting my basic personality leads me to setting more workable goals without pushing the world uphill. With self acceptance and some compassion, letting go some choices becomes easier. I hope to be driven by the wish to keep learning and discover where my real potential can lead me. When I doggedly try to wipe out basic tendencies, I know I feel disheartened, hopeless, maybe even a bit ashamed for just being who I am after all these years. The great Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said: “You are perfect just as you are; and there is always room for improvement.”
Enjoy this video: The Fly!!