Emotional Awareness

Cause & Effect

I was doing some reading the other day, on children’s mental health and psychology, and came across this quote:

“...we suffer from the delusion that the world operates by the laws of right and wrong rather than the laws of cause and effect.”

- Joe Newman (in Raising Lions)

This struck me as incredibly spiritual, and truthful. We spend so much time pondering notions and actions of right and wrong, when, in fact, things tend to happen, because something else has already happened: cause and effect. Certainly, the time that passes between a cause and its respective effect, makes it hard to make the connection between the two sometimes, but if there’s a lesson I’ve retained from my spiritual studies is this: everything is about cause and effect, and nothing happens at random. Which is both a daunting and comforting concept.

This struck me even further, as I’ve been spending some time having long and deep conversations with friends recently, on the fact that we spend too much of our time analysing life, and finding meaning to things, and wondering about this and that, when, in fact, all we are doing is missing out on the life that’s passing right in front of our eyes. I think it was a couple of weeks ago that I mentioned Jeff Brown’s powerful saying:

“excessive analysis perpetuates emotional paralysis.”

I’m at a stage of my life where I’ve been slowly and painfully realising that most of what I wanted for myself, most of what I believed about myself, and most of what I believed life should be about, were all based on other people’s views, experiences, and expectations. I was talking to a friend the other day who mentioned that when she met me, I was so full of ambitions, plans, and goals, and she was asking if they had changed in recent years. Changed?? Changed is an understatement. I can’t even see past 2 months into the future these days. I often joke that my drive and ambition have gone on holiday somewhere and got lost. I don’t know where they are. But this doesn’t frighten me, to be very honest with you. It is what it is. Having no vision for the future helps me to keep focused on the present. Am I completely changed, however? Not at all. Do I still find myself living, believing, and seeing the world as I used to? Absolutely! One of my most domineering patterns is my constant self-reflection and awareness. I remember being 6 years old and already wondering why I and others behaved the way we did. I mean, who does that?

Another dear friend of mine, who’s exploring some painful things in therapy, told me that her therapist actually said: “You don’t have to do this”. “This”, meaning the exploration of painful memories and lived experiences. You may find this counterproductive coming from a therapist, but it is so true. One of the biggest traps a therapist can fall into is the need for perpetual analysis. I often tell my own clients when they begin to feel that they might want a break from therapy, that there will always be things to analyse. We can literally analyse our lives until the moment of our last breath. We can always ask why, or what, or how, or when, or where. We can always grab memories, circumstances, thoughts, and feelings, and hold them up against a mirror, or put them down on a table for dissection. The danger of doing that is missing out on life itself. Looking inwards and deeper is infinite. Living is not. And I want to live more. And I suspect that most people want the same.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating the choice of not dealing with something. But ultimately, it is a choice. And we always need to look at context. In the case of my friend, and even in my own case, and your case, we need to stop and look at context. After exploring something for some time, if that something does not actually improve, or the exploration of it is causing more pain than the non-exploration of it, then it might be useful to ask yourself the question: “Do I need to go through this?” Sometimes, because we are all conditioned in various ways, we assume and believe that by going to therapy that we need to absolutely dissect something until there isn’t anything else to explore. This is not the case sometimes. Particularly with core issues. It’s hard to explain what a core issue is, but often, people can feel it. It’s easy to discern when we’re dealing with something that relates to our core, and when we’re dealing with something that’s slightly more superficial. We usually get to core issues, after dealing with more superficial issues. They’re like the bulb of an onion. We need to peel off the outer layers first.

As the years progress, I’m beginning to hypothesise that perhaps core issues never go away. We just understand them on a deeper level, every time we explore them. So, when we reach the core, sometimes we actually need to take a break from it. To give you an idea, I studied Dramatherapy for 3 years, wherein I attended therapy and clinical supervision throughout, had my first clinical placements, and learned therapeutic techniques by practicing them on the real-life issues of my fellow trainees. Do you know how much therapeutic work that entails? But for those 3 years, all I did was explore the outer layers. I didn’t reach any core issues until the very final stages of that process, and until a traumatic event post-graduation, really exposed my core. Sometimes it takes years to get to the core. And it’s when we get there that we then need to ask ourselves: “Do I really want to go there?”

My friends and I have been wondering about this. How can we live more, whilst being the sort of person who will inevitably stop to ask why, to reflect on physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts, to ponder potential and future effects of my actions? I joked with my flatmate the other day, that I spend so much time analysing possible effects, that I actually miss out on creating new causes. It wasn’t a joke. I learned a few weeks ago, in one of my swimming practices, that every time I take a breath, my legs literally stop kicking. My coach pointed this out to me, and it really struck me that I had been doing this for all these years of swimming. I found it an apt parallel and symbolism for what I do emotionally. In order to take a breath, I need to stop moving. In order to reflect and pause, I need to stop moving. I’m beginning to realise that I’ve been quite emotionally paralysed in these past few years. Which also makes sense. I’ve always been a “tick boxes” kind of person. I just reached a point where I don’t know which box to tick, or if I want to tick any boxes at all.

What if cause and effect could be used as a solution to all this self-imposed analysis and reflection? What if instead of asking why, we could simply acknowledge that things have happened, or are happening, because something else has already happened? Ultimately, that is the reality anyway. And within this acknowledgement of cause and effect, we can stop and ask ourselves: “do I want to ask why this happened?” or “do I need to ask why this happened?” Could I perhaps find contentment in the simple acknowledgement that current effects are the result of past causes, and simply continue living my life? I think I can. There is a sort of liberation in just looking at it this way. This happened because of that.

A real example to illustrate this: I tend to be very emotionally self-sufficient. This is the effect of a combination of causes, mainly being independent from a young age, being told not to express feelings, and bullying. After exploring all of these things, and others, for many years, I feel that I currently have a choice: do I continue asking why those causes occurred in the first place and explore their subsequent effects on my life (analysis), or do I accept that they have happened, as I can’t change them anyway, and focus my energy on exploring the solutions to this self-sufficiency, which sometimes is a hindrance to relationships? Do I keep looking back at old causes and current effects, or do I try to create new causes, to have new effects?