By Bill Harris
In my opinion, all so-called dysfunctional feelings and behaviors -- all those things that cause us emotional and mental suffering and cause us to seek therapy, personal growth programs, self-help approaches, and so on -- are really coping mechanisms we use in an attempt to deal with the stress of being pushed past our personal threshold for what we can handle coming at us from the world. When our threshold is too low for our environment, stress and chaos happen, and we exhibit these various ways of suffering.
These coping mechanisms are an attempt to keep our internal map of reality (which is really what is being stressed when one's personal threshold is exceeded) from falling apart. What we fail to recognize as we try to defend this map is that after falling apart, a new and better map will take its place.
This natural process, the identification of which led to a Nobel Prize for scientist Ilya Prigogine, involves this map (our concept of who we are and what our relationship is to the rest of the universe) going into temporary chaos in response to too much input, finally falling apart (when the chaos becomes so much the old map cannot hold itself together), and then instantly and simultaneously reforming itself at a higher level that CAN handle the environmental input that previously was too much for it.
Unless the system completely ceases to exist (the odds of which are one chance out of an infinite number of situations), this reorganization always results in a new system/map that can handle what the old system/map could not handle. The only reason we try to protect the old system and keep it from falling apart (and then reorganizing at a higher level) is that we think that map is who we are, rather than just a handy conceptual tool we use to help us through life. We get so used to using our concept of reality when making decisions about what to do, how to feel, how to act, and so on, that we forget it's just a tool and that who we really are is much more.
Because we think we are this map, we think WE are falling apart when the map begins to fall apart, and we then try to protect it, even though the deficiencies of this map are the real problem in the first place, and a new a better one will instantly allow everything to work better.
So what is the practical application of this model of how things change and why people create dysfunctional feelings and behaviors and other kinds of resistance? How does this work in real life?
I'm glad you asked. First of all, you have to acknowledge to yourself that chaos precedes change. Whenever there is chaos (or stress) in your life (I don't mean usually or occasionally, I mean WHENEVER) it means your current map is not able to handle the environment you're in, is not quite able to handle the journey you're on at the moment. At this point you might remind yourself that
It is helpful, therefore, to recognize when you are in the initial chaos state, and to remind yourself that this is the prelude to positive change -- if you know how to get out of the way and let it happen. Many (most?) people cannot recognize when they are in chaos. Why? Several reasons. Many people instantly self-medicate whenever they begin to feel stressed. They reach for a drink, a joint, a cigarette, food, a sexual partner, or some kind of adrenaline rush -- anything to mask what they are feeling. They do this unconsciously and automatically. They do not realize that the chaos they feel is a growth opportunity and that by not taking advantage of it they are condemning themselves to repeat the stress and chaos over and over, since every time life pushes at their current map, it will always be stressful. A new and more highly evolved map, however, could handle what the current map cannot.
Second, most people do not take responsibility for the chaos or stress they feel. They project it onto something outside of themselves. They find something to blame. "I'm stressed because of him." "I'm stressed because I lost my job." "I'm stressed because of the terrorist attacks." "I'm stressed because of my kids/parents/partner/finances/health/whatever." The real reason you are stressed, however, isn't any of these. The one and only reason you are stressed or in chaos is that your threshold for what you can handle is too low for the environment you're currently in. And the one and only real solution is to raise that threshold higher. Not taking responsibility and instead blaming something outside of yourself is yet another way of going unconscious and of avoiding being an active participant in creating personal evolution.
So first, you have to notice that there is chaos. "Here I am, in chaos." Then, you have to acknowledge why it is happening. "My threshold for what I can handle is too low." Then you have to remind yourself that since chaos is the first step in reorganizing your map of reality at a higher level -- one that will work much better than the old one and handle much more -- this is actually a big opportunity. "Hallelujah! I am about to evolve, and once I make the leap to the next level, I'll be able to handle more, and a lot of things that cause me to suffer now will fall away!" Then, you have to let it be okay that you are going through the interim period of chaos, and just watch what happens (more about that in a future article). Resisting will at best make the process painful, and at worst will keep the reorganization from happening at all.
Few people in the world really understand how change works, which is why most people fight it. And, because they often "win" this battle over the change trying to happen, they lose the war. By fighting off change, you get to be pushed past the same old low threshold over and over until you finally allow it to reorganize itself at a higher level.
But you DO understand how change works, which will save you untold suffering, if you will only take advantage of your knowledge. Change is a natural process. You don't need to know "how" to do it. The entire universe has been evolving for God only knows how long by this very mechanism. All you have to do is get out of the way. Here are the steps once more:
Isn't life simple?
Well, it is if you follow the above. Or, you can avoid being in any situations where you get pushed past your threshold (good luck). You can stay home, isolate yourself, do your best to not participate in life, don't take in any new information, etc. Or, you can develop all kinds of ways to blow off steam when the pressure builds. You can be angry a lot, worry a lot, compulsively talk, or exercise, or eat, or have sex (or whatever you like to do). Of course, you'll continue to have the same threshold in that case, with the same limitations. You already know what that's like.
This principle of one of those deceptively simple things in life. At first it seems difficult, but once you master it you can't figure out why you ever did it any other way.
One of the great things about the Centerpointe program (you knew I'd bring this in eventually, didn't you?) is that not only does it push your threshold for what you can handle higher and higher (and higher), but it also gives you the clarity to be able to go through the five steps I've outlined above. As people progress in the program, this process gets easier and easier.
If your life is anything like mine, you have one opportunity after another to master this principle, so decide right now you will master it. After all, you'll keep getting opportunities, one after another, until you do.
Finally, if you're not in the program yet, what are you waiting for? How long do you want to wait to get started in making your life easier and your suffering smaller?
Director, Centerpointe Research Institute