Do You Do Harsh ‘n Heavy?

by Christopher Lovejoy on January 19, 2019

More than twenty years have passed since that day I sat inside a cushy over-sized armchair in a University reading room gazing in wonder through a large bay window at swirling snowflakes. I remember that day clearly, because at the time, I was given to composing haiku.

          the sun from a cloud
snowflakes swirl: joyous dancers
          on a gentle breeze

I must say, it was quite a show. I was mesmerized by these snowflakes, so soft, so light. They seemed so sensitive to the shifting currents of breezy air, so harmoniously and deliciously submissive in their buoyancy that they saw fit to convey a joyous and carefree display.

Could I be so soft, so light? In a manner of speaking, could I be a snowflake?

*

From a subjective standpoint, energy flows where attention goes. Truth be told, I could have stared right through those swirling snowflakes, like so many people seem inclined to do, but instead, I chose the high road, opting to rest my gaze on their captivating dance moves.

From an objective standpoint, attention goes where energy flows. It was clear to me that the energy was flowing through these snowflakes without any resistance whatsoever and without any insistence arising from within the snowflakes that it be any other way than it was.

There’s a lesson here: for snowflakes, amor fati is par for the course. For me, the captive observer of these sunlit snowflakes, I just couldn’t pass these snowflakes by without paying homage to their sunlit dance. I mean, it’s more than twenty years later, and I’m still talking about it.

Could I be so soft, so light? In a manner of speaking, could I be a snowflake?

*

Are you still with me, dear reader? I wouldn’t blame you if you felt, or are feeling, the urge to flee, because … well … because what would it mean to be so soft, so light? Scary, yes? What if I get bypassed, rejected, abandoned, forgotten? What if I get lost in the unknown? What if I melt and … (gulp) … die?

Scary, yes?

Amor fati. Sounds good on paper, doesn’t it? But can you live it? Really and truly?

Yes, I know, I can hear you. I can hear you loud and clear, and I know what you’re thinking, in words not unlike these: what about that terrible triple threat of wounded humanity known as pride, pretense, and prejudice? What an amazing question; thank you so much for asking.

*

In the world of CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) live distortions of thinking galore, where thoughts are infected or inflected with fear, where feelings are fused and confused with facts, and where the ensuing or pursuing behaviors are almost certainly anything but soft and light.

In this upside down world, the message is clear: I absolutely refuse to yield to who I am to become who I know I can be. For added emphasis, I don’t just refuse to yield to who I am to become who I know I can be … I absolutely refuse to yield to who I am to become who I know I can be.

Just to be clear: I’m as guilty of this absolute refusal as anyone. I would even go so far as to say that almost everyone is guilty of this crime against humanity. I mean, who can truly be themselves in and with a species whose members are hellbent on refusing to be themselves?

There is simply too much Pride, too much pretense, too much prejudice. To the petty tyrants among us, if you can’t yield, at least a little, you can’t grow out, and if you can’t grow out, you can’t grow up.

And therein lies the rub.

We pay dearly for this absolute refusal with the incessant crawl of ANTs arising from the depths of mind and heart. ANTs? Automatic Negative Thoughts ~ automatic, negative thoughts activated, generated, and perpetuated in reaction to being called out by objects and subjects alike.

Dozens of them … sometimes hundreds of them … every.single.day.

We pay dearly for this absolute refusal to yield to who we are because we keep playing whack-a-mole with ANTs: “Go away.” Whack! “Get outta my way.” Whack! “Stay outta my sight.” Whack! “Leave me alone.” Whack! “If you do that again, I’m gonna …” Whack! Whack! Whack!

Sound familiar? Okay, maybe I’m being a tad melodramatic, but perhaps you get the point.

Meanwhile, the more enlightened ones among us, so-called, are playing a different game …

Catch it!

Challenge it!

Replace it!

Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Sigh (softly, lightly).

Before proceeding, let’s once again feel into the calming influence of swirling snowflakes …

          the sun from a cloud
snowflakes swirl: joyous dancers
          on a gentle breeze

The miracle truly is in the moment.

*

Alright, let’s be apophatic about this.

There’s much to cover, so let’s do this one section at a time, starting with an overview of what generates and perpetuates cognitive distortions, and then viewing them from the past, present, and future.

Because ANTs are automatic, there’s nothing that can done about them directly. We can, however, create a context of inquiry, discovery, and advocacy with which and from which to address the ANTs indirectly.

ANTs are difficult to confront because they’re embarrassing, reminding us again and again just how insecure and immature we all are in the face of inadequacy, difficulty, adversity, hardship, and failure.

So embarrassing that we typically resort to something called “spiritual bypassing” to cope.

Herewith, an overview of the most basic distortions that breed ANTs …

A (Very) Brief Overview of Cognitive Distortions

In light of the foregoing, here’s what not to do with these pesky ANTs …

1) Remain indifferent to the fusion and confusion of fact and feeling

Example: “I feel that they were ___ing me today; therefore, they did”
Counter: “Hmm, I must admit, I’ve never known a feeling to be a fact”
Practice: make it a habit to keep facts and feelings clear and distinct

Bonus: this guideline presumes that due care be taken to identify facts and feelings, which implies a willingness to hold a sense of restraint: What is going on here? How am I really feeling about this?

2) Remain indifferent to any bias towards being deliberately negative

Example: I am so __; you are so __; they are so __; that is so __
Counter: “How do I know for sure?” “Is this thought helpful?” “Maybe, …”
Practice: make it a habit to treat the poop in life as manure for growth

Bonus: this bias is by no means easy to catch in the heat of the moment; a daily practice of mindfulness comes highly recommended to those  for whom reacting deliberately and negatively is a vulnerability.

3) Remain indifferent to slapping a label on everyone and everything

Example: “This is too hard”; “I’m not good enough”; “They are so __”
Counter: “Is there another way I can think about this? What about …?”
Practice: make it a habit to view the world through a wide angle lens

Bonus: some labels are not unlike weapons ~ highly charged devices for discharging reactive anger ~ and so it behooves the would-be warrior to exercise their use with due care for the enusing consequences.

4) Remain indifferent to thinking all or nothing in black or white terms

Example: “If I don’t live up to expectations, then I’m no longer worthy”
Counter: “Hmm, maybe this doesn’t matter as much as I think it does”
Practice: make it a habit to think about what really and truly matters

Bonus: beware of using words like “all” or “none”, “always” or “never”, “everything” or “nothing”, “everyone” or “no one”, to describe situations or interactions negatively; make it a habit to soften and lighten the use of these absolutes when expressing your thoughts and feelings. Tread carefully when using these words in a playful way to evoke or provoke a response. Consider using these words more often: “almost always”, “almost never”, “almost everyone/everything”, “likely”, “rarely”, “possibly”, “probably”, “almost certainly”, “sometimes”, “somewhat”, “more often than not”, “many if not most”; also, consider replacing the use of “I am” with “I feel” more often than not, e.g., I’m anxious > I feel anxious.

Feelings come and go; identities, on the other had, tend to remain forever fixed in place.

Could I welcome this feeling, allowing it to be just as it is, and releasing it just for now?

5) Remain indifferent to using all of the above to judge, judge, judge

Example: “I feel so __ and you/they are so __ for not doing/having this”
Counter: apply all of the counters indicated above in the order presented
Practice: make it a habit to apply all of the practices indicated above

The lesson here is not to let yourself fall into a sinkhole of indifference.

With these powerful guidelines, let us now turn to mastering time itself …

Are you still with me, dear reader? Alright, let’s do this … and do it well.

Cognitive Distortions from the Past (Or: On How Not to Be Depressed)

People who tend to be depressed have a lot of ANTs crawling around inside the mind. Keep in mind that a bad mood might be attracting ANTs; by the same token, a backlog of ANTs might be causing a bad mood.

Here’s what not to do to breed lots of depressing and depressive ANTs …

1) Remain indifferent to making assumptions and jumping to conclusions

Example: “Hmm, that didn’t go so well; I get the feeling I’m not cut out for this”
Counter: “Yes, it didn’t go as well as I would’ve liked, but then, maybe I could …”
Practice: make it a habit to say “needs work” as/when things don’t work out

2) Remain indifferent to discounting positives in the face of that one mistake

Example: “I really blew it this time; how can anyone care about all the good I’ve done?”
Counter: “Who/what else contributed to this?”; “Are there other ways I can think about it?”
Practice: make it a habit to broaden the scope of your inquiry beyond the “miss take”

3) Remain indifferent to an inability to disconfirm a negative in the face of positives

Example: “I cannot shake the feeling that with 5 As and 1 C, I’m still a poor student”
Counter: “Hmm, could it be that I’m judging, blaming, or shaming myself unnecessarily?”
Practice: make it a habit to remember that reaching superhuman status takes time

4) Remain indifferent to looking at “self, world, future” through gray-tinted glasses

Example: “This world is an absolute mess; how can I possibly forge a future here?”
Counter: “Truth be told, a happy-go-lucky child could tell me this world has a lot to offer”
Practice: make it a habit of putting on your rose-colored glasses from time to time

5) Remain indifferent to regretting the past about what happened (or didn’t happen)

Example: “Why oh why did I ___? Why oh why couldn’t I have said/done this instead?”
Counter: “Am I assuming the worst?” … “Who or what else contributed to this situation?”
Practice: make it a habit of letting yourself off the hook for what could not be helped

Bonus: a regret orientation is a tough nut to crack, one that likely spawns many if not most cognitive distortions related to depression; here are some more counters for your consideration: “are there other ways I can think about this situation?” … “was this situation really within my control?” … “am I holding myself to an unreasonable or double standard?” … “am I blaming or shaming myself unnecessarily?”

In letting yourself off the proverbial hook, be sure to assume some responsiblity for what can be helped, healed, or handled (if anything), keeping in mind that you’re rarely if ever alone with the particular issue at hand ~ that is to say, … “where there’s hope, there’s help.”

Again, the lesson is not to let yourself fall into a sinkhole of indifference.

Be expressive with your examples and be creative with your counters.

Remember: the past is done and gone; the miracle is in the moment.

Cognitive Distortions in the Present (Or: On How Not to Be Angry)

Anger is a catch-all term that attempts to cover everything from annoyance and irritation to frustration and resentment to contempt and disdain to hate and spite to outright condemnation ~ truly, a cornucopia of negative feeling. Here’s what not to do to breed lots of angry, resentful ANTs …

1) Remain indifferent to the angry presumption that you can read minds

Example: “I can’t believe he ignored me; I swear, he must hate me, and that’s intolerable”
Counter: “Hmm, maybe … he’s having a bad day; maybe … his mother gave him a hard time”
Practice: make it a habit to have a bit of fun with this sentence stem: “Hmmm, maybe …”

2) Remain indifferent to the angry tendency of shoulding all over everyone

Example: “I should be more …”; “You should’ve done this by now”; “They shouldn’t behave like that”
Counter: “Hmm, maybe, it doesn’t matter as much I think it does; maybe, I could view it like this: …”
Practice: make it a habit to wear the vest of your expectations lightly; make friends with “maybe …”

3) Remain indifferent to the angry tendency of making unfair comparisons

Example: “I just don’t get it; why does she get to do this when I’m just as good as she is?”
Counter: “Maybe … it has something to do with the fact that she has 10 more years of experience”
Practice: make it a habit to remind yourself that the world doesn’t just revolve around you

Bonus: don’t be so quick to compare your insides with someone else’s outsides

4) Remain indifferent to the angry tendency of personalizing hardship or failure

Example: “I can’t believe I failed this test … it’s all my fault … I just can’t believe it!”
Counter: “Maybe the test was hard for everyone; maybe … the “instructor” is a researcher
Practice: make it a habit to de-personalize failure with your best friend “maybe, …”

5) Remain indifferent to the angry tendency of overgeneralizing in the face of pain

Example: “If s/he doesn’t care, they don’t care, and if they don’t care, I don’t care”
Counter: “How do I know this is accurate? What evidence do I have to support this?”
Practice: make it a habit to question the accuracy of statements made from anger

Bonus: with anger, consider: “it isn’t so” or “it doesn’t matter (so much).”

Again, the lesson is not to let yourself fall into a sinkhole of indifference.

Be expressive with your examples and be creative with your counters.

Remember: the present is your gift and the miracle is in the moment.

Cognitive Distortions of the Future (Or: On How Not to Be Anxious)

People who tend to be anxious have a lot of ANTs crawling out of the future. Keep in mind that this anxiety might be attracting ANTs; by the same token, a backlog of ANTs might be exacerbating the anxiety. Here’s what not to do to breed lots of nervous, anxious ANTs …

1) Remain indifferent to the frightful presumption that you can do fortune telling

Example: “I’m giving a presentation today and I just know I’m gonna forget everything I need to say”
Counter: “Everything? I mean … everything?“; “Might I be holding myself to an impossible standard?”
Practice: make it a habit to relax into the moment, to remember that the future is not carved in stone

Bonus: I know from experience that many people can anticipate the future with fortune telling; however, fortune telling based on negative presumptions born of fear, doubt, and worry is a far different creature than fortune telling based on a secure and mature inner knowing.

Problem is … negative presumptions could be coming from an insecure, immature inner knowing …

Tricky, and so … beware and … be aware.

2) Remain indifferent to the frightful tendency of repeating “what if …?” ad nauseum

Example: “What if … I don’t get to do what I really and truly love to do with my time and my life?”
Counter: “But then, what if … I do get to do what I love to do?”; “And what if … I don’t? I’m still worthy”
Practice: make it a habit to play with your what ifs, testing, tasting, and tuning their effects on you

3) Remain indifferent to the frightful tendency of overestimating risk, threat, or danger

Example: This … feels too risky / This … feels too threatening / This … feels too dangerous
Counter: “Maybe … this isn’t nearly as bad as I think it is; maybe, … in some small way, I can …”
Practice: make it a habit to de-magnify and test inflated perceptions of risk, threat, or danger

4) Remain indifferent to the frightful tendency of underestimating one’s ability to cope

Example: “There’s no way I can deal with this; I simply don’t have the right stuff to deal with it”
Counter: “Hmm, maybe … my ability to cope is better than I think; maybe, in some small way, I can …”
Practice: make it a habit to boost perceptions of coping with perceived risk, threat, or danger

5) Remain indifferent to the frightful tendency of catastrophizing about the future

Example: “This lineup is so slow; I’m gonna be here all day; I’m gonna miss my appointment … again”
Counter: “Is this in my control? Am I assuming the worst? Am I making this more personal than it is?”
Practice: make it a habit to relax into the moment, to remember that the future is not carved in stone

Again, the lesson is not to let yourself fall into a sinkhole of indifference.

Be expressive with your examples and be creative with your counters.

Remember: the future is wide open and the miracle is in the moment.

Some Closing Thoughts on Distorted Thoughts

A hint for processing some, most, or all of these practices is to play soft and light with your expectations ~ and with expectations in general ~ not unlike a snowflake dancing in the breeze. This means putting behavior first, feeling second, allowing feeling to arise from behaving.

To play soft and light with expectations, and to firm up desired identity with desired behavior, however, one requires a commitment to inner space, an acquired sense of distance and detachment between knower and known, observer and observed, witness and witnessed.

In support of this processing, I recommend expressive feeling, which I explore here.

Also, feel free to tweak the information above to better fit your style or situation in life. I am by no means the sage of your life; you know best what is best for you and don’t ever let anyone tell you different, unless of course you trust and respect said person(s) to be authorities.

But even then, question, question, question; you know best what’s best for you.

Remember, too, that almost everyone is in the same boat: almost everyone is facing hardship and failure, almost everyone is facing a serious difficulty or challenge, and almost everyone is doing the harsh ‘n heavy or (perish the thought) having the harsh ‘n heavy done to them.

A shearing effect is in play across the entire planet, pitting spirit against soul, preventing soul from processing its pain, while generating spirit without soul; it’s a deadly game we’re playing, and I dare say, we’re all going to lose if we don’t wise ourselves up to the harsh ‘n heavy.

And here, I’m talking about patterns of harsh ‘n heavy, not the occasional bout.

It’s in the nature of this life, in this world, at this time, to be confronted and challenged … and … to confront and challenge. Let’s just be sure this is done without as many distortions as possible, while remembering that the number of ANTs is a fair measure of how well this is going.

A little compassion for ourselves and others can go a long way. Let us never forget that the past is done and gone, that the miracle is in the moment, and that the future remains wide open to soft ‘n light …

          the sun from a cloud
snowflakes swirl: joyous dancers
          on a gentle breeze

Hmm, I knew this haiku would come in handy some day.

/

A preview of my published work can be found here.

An outline of my masterwork in progress can be found here.

A listing of my posts on this site can be found here.

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