I’m on my annual sabbatical, so I wanted to use the month to give space for what I consider to be “emerging voices” within the inside-out community to, well, emerge!
Seduce, persuade, condition, influence, convert, win over, entice, brainwash, force, intimidate, bully, goad, incite, indoctrinate, encourage, disappoint, motivate, tempt, enrage, inspire, trigger, press buttons, excite, frighten, reassure, convince, delight…
So many words to describe how something or someone can change a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
We’ve all experienced this for ourselves and seen it in others.
Devastation and fear at terrorist acts.
An apple device in half of all American homes.
Bullying in schools or work.
Fighting over a bargain TV on Black Friday.
Street celebrations after a World Cup win.
Anger at politicians.
Generations of teenage girls swooning at Elvis, Ringo, Justin…
It’s obvious isn’t it? There are things in the world that make us think, feel and do.
And yet there is an ever-growing mental health revolution that is based on the fact that nothing in the outside world has the power to change our inner state.
It doesn’t matter how many words there are to describe this apparent power. It doesn’t matter how obvious it looks that a compliment, a sunny day, my favourite song are making me happy and an insult, rain and the neighbours music blaring out are annoying me.
It is just not possible for anything in the outside world to change my inner world.
And the evidence for this is staring us in the face.
Let’s consider a goal scored in a match.
Some people ecstatic.
Some people devastated.
Some people who should be ecstatic are secretly a bit pissed off because all their mates have tickets to the next round and they don’t.
Some people who should be devastated are actually overjoyed because they placed a large bet on their team to lose and now they can get a new car.
Some people who couldn’t care less.
There is nothing, no hormone, no energetic current, no vibration, no pheromone that comes from the goal into the mind of the individual to make them experience an emotion (thanks Aaron Turner for that sentence). If it was the goal that caused the emotions then everyone around the world would experience exactly the same thing – either universal misery or universal celebrations. There is no actual cause and effect here whatsoever.
The relationship to the goal therefore is coming 100% from the person.
So if that is true then how does it account for mass thought, mass emotion, mass behaviour?
Why did pretty much everyone I spoke to this morning say something along the lines of ‘What a beautiful day. It makes such a difference when the sun is shining.’? Why did the UK go into national grief when Princess Diana died? Why did it seem like the whole world gasped in amazement watching Usain Bolt in Beijing?
If it is coming from me, then how come similar thinking and emotions seem to be coming from many other people at the same time?
It is all because of the pacts of life.
When we go to the movie, we make a pact with it. We say, “Movie, I am going to give myself over to you for 1.5 hours. In return you will take me on a rollercoaster of emotion so that I forget literally everything else and I will come out saying ‘good film’. If I find my mind wandering over to what crap acting this is or where shall we go for dinner after this then you will have let me down’.
And it is exactly the same with everything else. With every aspect of life. I make a pact with certain aspects of my life. I put myself in a state of belief that it is possible for this thing or this person to affect how I feel, what I think, how I behave. Then I put myself in place to experience it. I open myself up. I hand myself over. And to have the benefit of the full experience, I completely forget about the pact.
The fans and players in the stadium crying when their team loses the match or yelling in delight when it wins have made a pact with football.
Person: ‘Football, I am giving myself over to you for this moment/my entire life. I am going to believe that you have the power to elate and devastate me.’
Football: “Person, thank you for handing yourself over to me. In return, when your mental energy is high you will see something great and encouraging about your team or the game and when it is low you will get to blame me. It will look like it has nothing to do with you.’
Football and Person shake hands and off they go.
All the other people, the ones not watching the match, not even knowing it is on, not 100% sure what football actually is, have not made that pact. They don’t have the pact so they see through to the fact that someone’s experience of football is everything to do with the person and nothing to do with football.
They might have other pacts though. Pacts with ballroom dancing or cricket or a forthcoming marathon or stamp collecting. They might have a pact with food or their spouse or terrorism or shopping or spiders or violence or their weight or alcohol or the weather or their income or sex or how clean their house is or their boss or their children or their pain or their pain killers or their car or the state of the roads or their state of mind or immigrants or the mirror or the bathroom scales or poverty or public speaking or their morning coffee or confidence or their looks or germs or who is running the country or literally anything else.
The extent to which we believe the person or thing can make me happy or sad, the apparent ‘impact’ is a result of how fully we have entered into a pact with a certain aspect of life at that moment in time.
The pact can determine what we think about, what we notice, where we go, what we care about, what we get angry about, what we defend, who we like, who we don’t. It will mean that even when the person or thing isn’t present we can still experience the emotions when we think about them. As our mental energy ebbs and flows, gets high or low we rifle through our catalogue of pacts to find a reason for what we are experiencing and it doesn’t matter whether it is in front of us, in the past, in the future or whatever.
It looks so much as though our feelings are coming from out there, that the reason we are acting as we do is because of something out there.
But it is all coming from us. The persuasion, influencing, converting, seducing, forcing, intimidating, bullying, inciting, encouraging, disappointing, motivating, tempting, enraging, delight, reassuring… It is all from us because of this treaty of ours. We are persuading ourselves. Tempting ourselves. Reassuring ourselves. Seducing ourselves. It is all coming from us, from the pacts we have made. It is just a requirement of the pact that it looks like it is coming from outside.
When we realise this, several things happen:
We can enjoy, engage with, honour our own pacts without being held hostage by them. I can follow my team around the world and not start a fight if they get relegated. I can delight in my children without needing them to be a certain way for me to be OK. I can love having a tidy home, a nice car, plenty of food without panicking if a glass of wine is spilled, my car is scratched, the cupboard is bare. I can adore my job and be sad if I lose it while knowing deep down that with or without that job I am fine.
When a pact is no longer enjoyable or interesting we can change the pact without needing to change anything outside us. If money seems to be causing me nothing but stress I can call time on the pact. I can create some space to get real with my relationship with it, to see that it is no different from all the millions of other things I don’t have a pact with that don’t bother me, to see that because of my pact all this stress is coming from me. I can do the same with everything else.
We can honour other people’s pacts. We can see that the reason people care so much about crazy things is because they have made a pact with something, just as we have, only ours are different. We don’t need to take that pact away from them, convince them it is wrong or tell them that ours is better. We can listen to them talk about their pact. We can even join them in it and have fun on their roller coaster for a while if we like.
And all the time that we are doing this, we are entering into a whole new pact, not with the aspects that appear and disappear but with life itself….
Person: “Life, I know that it will continue to look like there are things that can affect me and that’s cool. I realise that is part of the gift. How about a new pact though? Just the one. How about this? I show up in the world knowing, deep down, that everything I experience is coming from me. And if I do that, how about, in return, you treat me to an experience of love, connection, peacefulness, creativity, joy, beauty, inspiration and amazement that is beyond my wildest dreams. How about that?”
Life: “Person, you’re on. Let’s do this.”
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In part one, I shared a simple truth about human beings that flies in the face of a lot of self-help ideologies and neo-cognitive therapies:
We aren’t in control of our thoughts and feelings. Today, I want to point to what may seem an even odder piece of good news…