I realised something not very long ago. It wasn’t a comfortable realisation, but the kind of observation that can only come from being very mindful of and paying close attention to your own actions, reactions and motivations. Which is something that, over time and with varying degrees of success (and otherwise), I have tried ever more to be.
It stems, I realised, from the fact that I meet life with the the expectation that people won’t care very much about my happiness. Until very recently, this has been an unquestioned assumption, and upon reflection it couldn’t really be more wrong.
But with some investigation, it isn’t terribly hard to understand. It comes from decades of experience and conditioning from those most closely related to me. Which, in itself, is not a blame statement. We are all the result of our upbringing, however we experienced it. And I am only too aware that even siblings can experience their home life, their families, parents, schools, wildly differently. Nonetheless, what we are left to work with is the result of our own experience. We cannot work from anyone else’s. Nor is there any point in becoming distressed by someone else’s reality. It is their journey, just as much as yours is your own. Parents react to different children differently, just as different children react to the same parents differently. It is part of our remit, our hard-wiring, our Path.
The way I understand it is this: our conditioning, from childhood, ‘trains’ us to interact in certain ways, in response to the circumstances, functional or otherwise, in which we find ourselves learning about the world. And again, I’ll stress, different children will be trained in different ways by a similar set of circumstances, because so much also depends on the way we are made individually. If you have a high threshold for pain, or for pleasure, you will tolerate more of either than someone with a lower threshold. The same, of course, goes for integrity. Or dishonesty. Anything, really.
We carry those methods of interaction that we have learned into the wider world, and, unchallenged, they dictate our relationships with those we meet and with whom we surround ourselves. If we have grown up in a safe and secure environment, trusting those around us, we will be naturally more trusting of those we meet outside that circle. We also, as a natural consequence of that conditioning, tend to gravitate towards people with similar methods of relating to those with whom we grew up. This, if our upbringing was healthy, will generally provide us with a healthy mode of interaction as adults. If, on the other hand, our upbringing was less functional, we are likely to collide with folk who challenge us to either fix it, or become ever more dysfunctionally entrenched. And adversity, as I have mentioned before, will throw those possibilities to their furthest extremes. It will teach you who you are.
On a lighter note, though, I began this piece with an uncomfortable realisation. Like so many people, my expectations of the world dictate my interaction with it. And my interaction is, I have begun to understand, an attempt to control or manipulate it to exceed my expectations. Put more simply, because I don’t expect the world to care much about my happiness, I struggle to allow my happiness to show. Because if I am happy, then the world can stop trying to make me happy. Do you see?
“Are you all right, darling?”
Fine…? Only two minutes earlier, I had been gazing out of the window at the reddening evening sky, sun setting over the cobbled-together fence and ploughed field that form the picturesque view from the kitchen. And I took the deepest breath of contentment and smiled to myself. I even registered my own gentle happiness with delight.
And then: “Are you all right, darling?”
Each day is a lesson, eh?