Mind Games

“Mind Games” by tharealMrGreen | CC BY-ND 2.0

How we come to play mind games

We learn

When we were very young, we had no mind games. Life just flowed through as is. There was no past or future, only the present. We watched in wonder as ants marched across the sidewalk or a shiny object or smiling face appeared. We were fascinated. We experienced the joy of a flower, drank our milk with gusto, and hurled cereal onto the floor. We lit up with delight at the simplest thing. There was exploration, discovery, joy, pain, discomfort, dismay. We just flowed with it all.

As we grew, everything changed. The flow that brought us wonder and joy became conditioned and was reinforced by parents and society. Our direct experience became corrupted. The wonderous “ant” became a concept, which developed into the “problem” when we had to keep them out of the house. (But I’m getting ahead of the process.)

We adopt early strategies

We needed to keep our little selves safe. We needed to develop adaptive ways to function within the environment in which we found ourselves. For example, as a young child, I came to believe that I was not safe. I couldn’t trust life. I came to believe that I was not lovable. My parents were into their own ego bubbles, with little awareness of me or my needs.

These early, unconscious, beliefs led me to develop unconscious strategies:

  • I made myself invisible, kept quiet, and stayed in the background. I had to keep an eagle eye out for what was going on or else I could get hurt.
  • I took stock of people before I engaged. I had to test them out to see if I could trust them to stick by me.
  • I worked hard. I took care of myself since no one else was going to be there for me. I learned to play these mind games to judge the world — and ultimately myself.

In essence, we’ve each created our own little world, our own little bubble of reality. However, this early information is an outdated, distorted, view of the world. The problem is that it continues to color our interpretation of how things need to be for us to feel ok. Unfortunately, this is the lens through which most of us continue to look, and so….

We judge

We judge things—everything, people, places, attitudes, opinions. We are master judgers. Our mind is continually interpreting whatever comes into our surroundings. What does the mind think? Does it like that color, that meal, that tree, that person? Is our nose too big? Are we too fat, or skinny? Did we behave all right at the party? What do we think about the folks next door, our community, our country? How do we feel about our partner, our children—yesterday or in this moment? How do we feel about ourselves? It just goes on and on.

To help me realize how often I analyze and judge, I invented an imaginary neutrality meter. Instantly, in a blink of the eye, I can notice where my needle is pointing. Straight up means neutral. To the right is positive. To the left is negative. (My husband can make the needle go maximum left or right.) This silly little meter catches me time and time again. When I’m complaining, criticizing, or blaming, the needle goes left. When I’m content, or coming from my center, it goes to the right.

Why does all this matter? It matters because we’ve learned to become victims of our own minds. I know this sounds awful, but just think about how often we become victims of our own feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. We’ve learned to react to what others say. We react to what we see on the news. We react to what we think of ourselves. And….

We suffer

I’ll give you a personal example. This morning, for the third day in a row, I woke up with a grumpy attitude. Something weird is going on. The more I look into this, the more disgruntled I become. Then it hit me, right now, underneath everything, I am feeling hate! My mind grabs on to this idea and quickly branches into criticism and self-sabotage. I hate my routine behavior. I hate the robotic behavior of other people. I’m supposed to be a loving and compassionate human being, but here I am filled with this hate! I am a phony, a failure. I’ll be honest, in this moment, I hate the very “self” that I’ve created for myself. Ugh. Treason.

We learn more

I find Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you, and read with great interest:

We all come into this world with a 360-degree soul, which is brave and cowardly, brilliant and stupid, gentle and murderous, caring and selfish, graceful and clumsy, and so on into infinity…if you aren’t aware of your hatreds, your name-calling, your pettiness, you won’t be able to discover ways in which your psyche has been diminished…you won’t be able to integrate the suppressed and lost parts of your whole, 360-degree self and you’ll miss the profound movements your psyche is trying to make.

What profound movements is my psyche trying to make? My old strategies may have been brilliant in my young life, but they certainly are not helping me now. I realize I have unconsciously created judgments of what I think an ideal spiritual life should be. And I wasn’t living up to them. (This seems crazy because I believe I can’t possibly know what’s to come, any more than a child can know what it’s going to be like as an adult.) There is a wide gap between what I’m feeling right now (hateful and miserable) and what I’d like to be feeling (loving and compassionate). I realize that, when I identify with my mind, then something is not right. It feels like something is missing. I’m tired of these mind games. I’m giving up on this whole mess. Then, out the blue, a question floats in…

What’s awesome about this moment right now?

WHAT? Right now, when I’m in misery? But the question stops me in my tracks. What is actually awesome right now? Hmm…It’s the fact that this question just floated into my head. It’s like I received a particular call on my cell phone. It’s the fact that I can stop in this moment. Bam. I can step above, or beside, my current experience. This is the Gift! I can slow down. I can consciously witness where I am. I hold this space and wait to see what happens.

Even though this hate feels like a call from hell, I can love and accept the part of myself that feels hate. Wait, I’m not going to accept this call. It’s from an old program and I’m sick of it. This is a spam call. I didn’t sign up for this message. Been there, done that. Screw you. I’m, blocking this call right now. (I love this new technology!) I’m sending a text to hate, “Thank you for another life lesson.”

Note: this experience reflects some of what I’ve learned from Henk J.M. Schram and his Crack Your Egg program. I highly recommend this program.

What about you?

What early strategies did you adopt to get through life?

How do your strategies still color your judgment, affect your life? How do they call in suffering?

When you contemplate your world right now, what’s awesome about the moment in which you find yourself?