Perhaps the most prevalent cause of human misery is the belief that by changing some detail of our external life, we will change our experience. A friend told me once about a study that monitored people’s level of happiness over a number of years and through various life changes. In some cases, the life changes were extreme. One individual was diagnosed with a terminal illness. Another won millions in a lottery. Relationships came and went, fortunes changed in all manner of ways. Surprisingly, what the study revealed was that, after an adjustment period, people’s level of happiness returned to where it had been in the first place! For example, while winning the lottery temporarily made the person happier than they were before, in short order their level of happiness returned to its customary rank. The same was true of people diagnosed with terminal illness. While they were initially devastated by the news, once they accepted the idea, they were in fact no less happy than they had been before! If an individual described themselves as being happy at a level of, let’s say, 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, they might experience a temporary rise or fall in that number after that life-changing event, but before long, their level of happiness returned to its original position.
So, if not our circumstances, then what is it that generates our happiness or lack thereof? In truth, how we feel has far less to do with what we experience outwardly than with a subtle, yet more essential aspect of ourselves called Consciousness.
And yet, instead of living our lives from that place of balance, a driving force of our nature as human beings is the impulse to push, pull, struggle and strain in our desire to alter our circumstances, based upon the false belief that an external change will somehow improve our reality. In fact, what we are really looking for in all our struggling is a feeling. It may be the feeling of power and control, or the feeling of safety and security, or the feeling of abundance, or joy or love, but it’s always a feeling that we seek, yet changing our circumstances will not result in our ability to maintain whatever the sought-after feeling might be.
An excellent example of the belief that changing external circumstances will change our internal reality is in the arena of relationships. I know many people who are convinced that if they could simply get out of the relationship they’re in and get into another relationship with someone “better,” their lives will improve. Many, it would appear, believe that their happiness or unhappiness rests with their partner. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Our partners are merely mirrors, reflecting back to us some aspect of ourselves – frequently, an aspect that we would prefer to disown!
While it can be argued that being in relationship with an abusive partner is a cause of suffering, it is important to realize that it was an aspect of ourselves that attracted the abusive partner to us in the first place. In order to make any change in our relationship, we must first take ownership of the corresponding part of our nature – that part of ourselves that believes we deserve punishment instead of love. If we fail to acknowledge and take responsibility for this region of our being, then this dark part of our nature will continue to navigate our lives from the shadows and we will live forever in its thrall, finding ourselves in a continuous loop of abusive relationships. The individual who remains unconscious in this way, will find him/herself trading one abusive partner for another, over and over again. Initially, the replacement individual seems like a vast improvement. Over time, however, the new person comes to feel more or less like the old one as the disowned pattern of self-punishment makes its presence known.
Life is not an external reality. It is an internal experience reflecting our internal consciousness, which changes and evolves as we change and evolve (or, in some cases, stagnates as we stagnate). To change our reality, we need to change the way we are relating to our reality. Here is a powerful exercise for transforming our lives: From this moment forward, let’s imagine that every, single circumstance, every, single action, and every single feeling in our lives is 100% our own responsibility. This means that there is nothing to complain about and no one to blame. For example, if my partner says something that I judge as “unkind,” I will immediately release that judgment and observe my own feelings. If I find myself angry or hurt, it is important for me to remind myself that I, and I alone, am responsible for those feelings. My partner’s words are not the cause! The words are merely igniting pain I have been carrying inside myself all along, and bringing to the level of my awareness an aspect of the suffering I hold within.
In fact, I can take this exercise to an even higher level by expressing gratitude to my partner and to Life for the opportunity of clearing this indwelling suffering. By allowing myself to feel gratitude for the experience of anger, hurt, sadness, fear, or whatever the wound may be, I open the channel for the release of those energies. In addition, gratitude is in and of itself a quite different frequency, and will create a quite different, life experience. When I allow myself to feel grateful, instead of shutting down my heart through the belief that someone has done something to me, I can allow my heart to open more fully as I witness the gift within the experience. An open heart, in turn, generates the frequency of love, rather than that of self-protection or fear. Furthermore, love attracts love.
Owning all of my feelings and experiences removes any possibility of victim-consciousness – the belief that it is someone or something outside of myself that is creating my experience. Gradually, I come face to face with the truth that I am completely free to create my own reality. What an empowering notion!
And yet, self-empowerment comes with a price. Initially, there will be resistance to this new way of thinking and being. It is much easier to continue to play the role of victim than to assume full responsibility! We live in a society of victims, trained by parents and educators to see ourselves as victims. It takes conscious, courageous intention and determination to rid oneself of this toxic thinking. But self-empowerment can only happen when I am willing to do the work – which means living without judgment, without excuses, and without blame.
Imagine what would happen if I accepted that every imbalance in my body is an imbalance in my consciousness, that every circumstance and relationship is a reflection of my beliefs about life and about myself! I could truly begin to heal myself at a deep level and begin to create the life of my dreams. Healing is a process, and adopting this new attitude can feel overwhelming at first, but it is the beginning of true liberation.