Monday, August 9, 2010

Building A Better Past

Regarding Forgive Someone Tuesday, Benevolent Warrior wrote:
If one values, appreciates 'where they are,' authentically, isn't the past all been helpfully productive towards bringing one there? (and therefore in no need of betterment?)
BW's logic is sound and his statement accurately reflects how most of us go about transforming negative events into positive ones. I would call it the silver-lining (as in every dark cloud has...) method of revamping past experiences. You know them:
  • If I hadn't missed my flight, then we'd never have met.
  • If I hadn't lost my job as a pilot, then I'd never have discovered my love for accounting.
  • If my child hadn't experienced these learning challenges, then we'd never have bonded the way we did.
The silver-lining method is tried, true and oft-used. It's a great way to find the good in a bad situation by, well, by finding it somewhere else. It's an end-justifies-the-means technique and it works. Well, kind of.

The problem with using the silver-lining method is that you never actually make the bad situation good; you simply make the bad situation justified. Further, YOU haven't actually made the situation good; the happy result has made the situation good. So, in the context of transforming your active experience of the world into a sustainably happy one, well, you haven't done a thing.

To be clear, finding a silver lining is way better than strapping a dark cloud to a leash and dragging it everywhere you go or stuffing it into a shoebox along with last year's receipts to be pulled out and reviewed whenever you feel a little tired or upset. It works.

It just has absolutely nothing to do with you transforming your experience of the past, or for that matter, of the present.

As belief makers, our goal is to transform our experience of any situation into a happy one independently of anything other than ourselves and our beliefs. Our goal is not render a verdict of justifiable homicide, it's to render a verdict of innocence. The formula goes something like:

The situation
+Your beliefs about the situation
Your experience of the situation

You start by taking a situation, any situation, and you accept it for what it is. You look at it straight on in the full light of day, warts and all. You don't deny it. You don't delude yourself into seeing it as something it isn't. You don't try to wrestle it into something else. You just see it. The goal is not to change the situation (though changing the situation may be in the cards); the goal is to change your experience of the situation.

Note that the key (only) actor here is you, part two of the equation. There are no dependencies on other people or specific results. The only dependency is on you.

The third component is your beliefs. You are going to change your experience of a situation by changing your beliefs about the situation. Now, to be clear, one of the beliefs that you might conjure up is the belief that there's got to be a silver lining in there somewhere. Asserting this belief in the midst of a dark cloud is fundamentally different than stumbling upon it long after the cloud has passed. At that point, you haven't based your happiness on the silver lining having revealed itself, you've based you happiness on your belief that it's going reveal itself.

The result of you dropping, adding or changing your beliefs is a new experience of exactly the same situation.

Running in a Cloud
Consider the experience of running. Let's say you take up running in order to get in shape, to be more healthy, and to generally feel better: silver-lining beliefs. However, your actual experience of running is less than enjoyable. You're hot and sweaty. Your breathing is labored. Your limbs feel heavy and unresponsive. You feel aches and pains in places you didn't know existed.

At this point, none of the silver-lining has revealed itself, your experience sucks, but your beliefs carry you through the discomfort.

Alternatively, you could embrace your sweat, labored breathing, heavy limbs, aches and pains, and transform them into something wonderful! Really!

You can learn to love the feeling of your pores opening up and perspiration flushing your body of dirt and toxins. You can learn to experience your lungs opening and expanding as you would the sun rising after a long, dark night. By paying attention to your legs, you can find the springs hidden within the concrete. You can completely transform your experience of running into something enjoyable.

The difference in experience and in the results achieved are markedly different.

Are You a Silver-lining-er?
Silver linings found after the fact can help you forget the dark clouds of the past. Silver linings believed before found can make the dark clouds endurable in the moment. However, neither approach actually transforms your experience of dark clouds into something glorious. There's a fundamental difference between justifying an experience and declaring it wonderful. The former simply ain't the latter.

In the end, building a better past is no different than building a better present; it's just easier to cheat and believe that you've transformed your experience, when you haven't.

Happy Monday,

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