At first glance, it looks like the world around us determines how we feel.
It looks like: Your cat runs away = you feel sad. If your cat hadn’t run away = you’d feel better.
And that’s probably true about the cat. I mean, it’s not true for everyone, always, across the board. But in general, when people’s cats run away, they are likely to feel sad.
But seeing that there is a relationship there is very different than believing that your cat running away created your sadness. Your cat didn’t directly cause your feelings. It doesn’t work that way.
It’s unbelievably helpful to take a closer look at how things do work for everyone, always, across the board. What’s true of all people is what’s interesting and helpful. When you can see what’s always true across the board, you come to see a basic principle about human beings that will naturally help you in life.
Below is a question and answer exchange between myself and a participant in my Break Your Habit course. She definitely sees something about the inside-out nature of life…and yet she’s not seeing it as deeply as she could, so I try to take her further.
I hope this helps take your understanding further too.
I loved Monday’s video, “The Soundtrack of your Mind”… it makes sense, and I do truly believe that we are only ever feeling our own thinking in the moment.
So if we are feeling stressed or anxious about something it is because of our own personal thinking about the situation…but it still seems to me that if that particular ‘stressful’ situation did not happen, then I wouldn’t be having those stressful thoughts & therefore stressful feelings. I appreciate that we all have separate realities and interpret things differently (depending on our mood, beliefs, conditioning etc.) but it still appears to me that it is the outside circumstances that are causing my feelings. If that ‘stressful’ situation did not happen then I wouldn’t be feeling stressed, right??
This is such a great question and a great place to look–I think a lot of people have trouble really seeing around exactly what you’re saying. I know I was stuck not seeing this clearly for a long time.
In any given moment, you’re probably right–if some situation didn’t happen, you might feel differently. But that’s very different than saying that the situation causes your feelings.
Let’s use the example of someone losing their job. You lose your job, you have some thoughts about that (not happy ones), and you feel that thinking. You’re feeling the thinking—always and only—not the fact that you lost your job. We know this because even in the midst of having no job, your thinking and feelings are always changing. I see this so clearly when I talk with people who are really upset.
This happened several times last week: a client is going through something super tough and in talking about it, they start crying. A lot. Sobbing, can’t breathe, you know the drill. Then, (and this is amazing to watch as an observer who knows without a doubt that they are innately healthy and will get through this), you see their breathing return to normal, their crying slow down. Then they go into a place that looks so peaceful. It’s amazing to witness. Almost every single time after they are in the middle of a huge thought-storm, you see the calm come over them as the thoughts pass. Usually within a few minutes of the peak of their sobbing, they let out a big sigh or a laugh. It’s very predictable and cool to watch. You can see their thinking (and the emotions created by that thinking) rise, rise, rise, peak, stay there for a bit, then come down, down, down, full circle. We’re all going through those cycles of thought and emotion all the time. They don’t all lead to a peak where we’re sobbing or laughing hysterically, but our thinking is always cycling and so our feelings are always cycling along with it. This cycle is what you get because you are human with a functioning brain—it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on in the world around you.
No matter what the outer circumstances are, we’re always experiencing only what’s passing through our minds. So, back to losing your job…sure, if you hadn’t lost your job that particular day you might not be filled with so many worried thoughts. But that’s very different than saying that losing your job causes worry. In the day you lose your job, you likely also have moments of peace. You might have moments of excitement about what’s next, even if only to return to terror about losing your job. You likely also laugh at some point, or smile at some point. Does that mean losing your job causes laughter and smiling? Does losing your job cause excitement? No. The experience is independent of the circumstance.
When you look to the outside and say “if that hadn’t happened I wouldn’t feel ___”, you’re not only looking at it inaccurately, you’re putting yourself in a very powerless place where you’re a victim of what happens outside of you. This is how people come to feel so anxious in life…when it looks like what happens out there causes how we feel, how could you not feel anxious?!? We have to tiptoe through life making sure not to step into anything that will “make” us feel bad, and trying to be in the way of things that will “make” us happy.
But as you see the separation of inside experience and outside experience, you feel safe. The worst thing that can happen is a thought, and thoughts are always moving and changing. Even in crappy circumstances, we will all have moments of peace, and even in ideal circumstances we all worry. See if you can loosen up your thinking about this and get a feel for everything being created from the inside out. Yes, our minds will think “about” things and spin stories that make life look outside-in. It’s truly just an illusion though; a trick of the mind.