Predictably, the English football team’s performance last night did not meet the expectations of many, despite being apparently low. Sarah Benamer is today’s guest blogger examining our expectations, thankfully not discussing football. Here she is with a thoughtful approach to our relationship with self, others and money.
In times of uncertainty human beings tend to respond (often through necessity) from a defensive place, from their most insecure internal structures. In this place we forget about quality of life in favour of survival mode, a place of reaction and just ‘getting by’ rather than engaging bodily, emotionally, and thoughtfully. We often feel that we are alone and that life is living us rather than the other way around.
The strong desire that every human being has to attach and belong takes us to the heart of what it means to be vulnerable, to feel like a child again, and is highly susceptible to suggestion or manipulation when we feel insecure. This is evident on our ballot papers in the presence of the more nationalist political parties, which tell us that we can feel better, and be stronger through collaborating to exclude rather than tackling the feelings of vulnerability associated with living in a period of rapid change. This epoch of great uncertainty in our work, environment and even the way we relate seems to be leaving many of us behaving as if we are under siege; financially, practically, and personally; ultimately disconnected from ourselves and our communities.
These demands of 21st century living are not going to go away and opting out is not feasible for most, so I am wondering how we free ourselves from the rigidity of survival of the fittest to experience our lives more fully without needing to marginalize others or ourselves? How do we keep ourselves orientated towards quality of life?
Earlier this year whilst travelling in Asia I was reminded of how our expectations and desires must essentially be shaped by our culture and circumstance. Watching someone wash or brush their teeth in river water in proximity to the largest mobile phone factory in the world gave me pause to reflect. I thought about my irritation at the sporadic nature of the boiler in my shower back in the UK. Frustration at clean, drinkable water not fulfilling the brief of the ‘H’ on the tap. What a princess! I thought about the outlook of the workers in that locality, and the differing prospects that their children might have. I pondered how many generations it might take to forget and to experience the successes of ones forefathers as disappointments in our own lives?
My expectations and disappointments like those of all of us have been shaped by my context, a western consumerist milieu that structures my emotional experience. So how can I/we short-circuit this to find our way back to quality of life? To compare ourselves to others across the world from a privileged viewpoint is patronizing and inevitably does little but describe the status quo. Comparison and competition with others (and in deference to The World Cup by this I do not mean in sport!) disenfranchises us from the very essence of who we are. It also sets up the very ‘them and us’ dynamic that at its least is lonely and at its worst becomes bigotry and hatred.
In her recent book ‘Thrive’ Arianna Huffington writes of ‘The Third Metric’ of coming to appreciate different measures than wealth and power in shaping our sense of ourselves and our happiness, not least of which is physical wellbeing and sleep. In this (albeit from a very privileged place) she now rejects the ‘have it all’ dogma, recognizing that there is always a price to be paid. Brene Brown speaks compellingly of embracing our vulnerability and forgetting who we are supposed to be in favour of who we are. I am deliberating about something that takes from the psychotherapeutic tradition of self knowledge, of taking time to reflect, moment to moment whatever our circumstance. Of remembering all that we are and all that we hope to be, of connection to our bodies and locating ourselves in our moment and place in time with understanding and compassion. It is in reminding ourselves of these very personal details – our individuality, history, beliefs, desires and aspirations that I suspect we might find empowerment to quality of life.
In the words of the late Maya Angelou…“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We are often our harshest critics and under pressure lose sight of what makes us who we are in favour of feeling ‘less than’. So as you approach your summer holiday, start the hellish school run or tackle a particularly busy or challenging time in work can you carve out a place for reflection and choice rather than the ultimatum of survival mode? Can you remember where you come from; the choices that you made that brought you to this point, or the regrets that can perhaps inform you in your future? Can you stay with what it feels like to be you? I say this not from the point of knowing, but as one who is still searching.
Sarah Benamer: The Intimacy Clinic