I think that determination can be most easily described as persevering even when you don’t want to. In this way, it’s tied to the concept of discipline. And I think that the reason a lot of us struggle with determination and discipline is because we don’t believe we’ll achieve that which we’re striving for – and that the effort will be wasted. I don’t know about you, but I had my flaws pointed out to me regularly by my parents, growing up. Whether it was my Mam getting impatient with me and being condescending when I didn’t complete a household task to her standards or my Dad criticising me for not practicing music enough and saying that when he was young, he practiced “for hours and hours a day”. I wish I could’ve gone back and told myself that the fact I was practicing at all was enough, that I should’ve been happy with my musical talent instead of letting him twist it into something negative. Lately I’ve realised that these supposed shortfalls can become prophecies for how we will operate in later life. They get reinforced, they get into our heads, we start to believe that this is who we are and that we are unable to effect positive change. But it’s not who we are. It was never even about us. It was our parent’s projection that we took to heart because we didn’t know any better. We also might continue to act in this way as a form of rebellion against our critical parents. I guess I don’t really know of a magic spell that can suddenly transform awareness of your inner child’s pain into growth and healing; but I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that we did the best we could as children with the limited emotional tools we had at our disposal.
In my resource for self-esteem growth, it says that if we follow any of the starting points on the list, “the result will inevitably be growth in our sense of self-worth and we will become more self-determining”. I think that this is true. I think I have seen a lot of growth in myself in the form of developing new perspectives, increasing my understanding of the complex spectrum of emotion and growing in resilience to difficult situations. By this I don’t mean that I have ceased finding these scenarios difficult – I’ve just started to better my ability to get up and face another day in a taxing situation with the belief that maybe today, things will be better or I will feel stronger. At my pharmacy work placement and my bar job, I can generally cope when things get really busy because I’ve had experience of that before – it’s the people I work with that I often find difficult.
Attempts at compassion has been my latest coping mechanism when interactions or dynamics with others bring up painful emotions. It comes from the bodhichitta training I’ve been putting into practice in my life. I go into more depth about this in my last post – A New Perspective on Ego, Emotions & Distress Tolerance. In the “Loving-Kindness” chapter of Pema Chödrön’s book “The Places That Scare You”, she outlines a compassionate practice to send goodwill to all, even those we find difficult. The template provided is: “May (name) be free from suffering and the root of suffering” but we are encouraged to put this mantra into our own words to make it feel genuine. The mantra I made is: “May (name) enjoy the root of happiness with an open heart.” This is what I have been saying when I find myself getting caught up in resentments and what Eckhart Tolle would call the “pain body”. And do you want me to be honest? It doesn’t really make me feel better. Wishing someone well who is making you feel upset and angry is not like waving a magic wand. I am not suddenly overcome with genuine compassion for that person and it does not take the uncomfortable feelings away. It’s more of an aspiration for the sort of person I want to be, the compassion I want to have and the serenity I want to have when approaching these difficult situations. And it is difficult. Yesterday, I was working with a team leader who was a complete control freak. Only one year older than me and bossing me about like an authoritarian. I tried to keep my sense of humour and not take things as seriously as he was but I found myself growing more tense as the shift went on and actively trying to avoid him. At one point, I thought: “No, I need to calm down”. I went to the bathroom and after saying to myself “don’t let him get under your skin”, I took ten deep breaths, trying to empty my mind of thoughts and fixations, and started the compassion exercise. Firstly, the mantra is to be directed at yourself – “May I enjoy the root of happiness with an open heart”. I think this is a good place to start. For most of us, it is the easiest place to find true compassion because ours is the only experience we are truly intimate with. Next, this intention of loving-kindness is to be extended to someone we feel very fondly of, someone we love. A friend comes next, then someone we feel neutral about; and finally, we wish someone well who we actively dislike. So there I was, in the toilet, wishing the team leader well. I don’t know what, if anything, will come of all this – I just want to be a kinder person.
So, how will I stay determined? I’ve already outlined that bodhichitta practices don’t usually make me feel better. There is no instant gratification – but then, that is not the purpose of an intention. An idea that came into my head the other day was to try and notice the tenderness and vulnerability in others. I’ve noticed that one of my pharmacy colleagues tends to seek the approval of others sometimes – like a child – and it softened the way I looked at her. My pharmacist has confided in me things I would never share on this blog – things that show his vulnerability. Yesterday, I tried to look deeper and imagine how out of control and desperate that team leader might feel on the inside – behind that cold mask of professionalism and authority. This is my main intention for the week ahead – to see the tenderness and vulnerability in others and notice that we are all connected in our suffering and desire for happiness. It may only be a fleeting minute or second that we are able to tap into this well of compassion – but it’s a start and the effort made is important. I also plan to continue with the loving-kindness practice at least once a week and make a daily reminder on my phone of an intention that I set today – to be kind, gentle and steadfast. So, those are my intentions for this week. Next week’s post will be a summary of this week of self-determination. 🙂
Thank you so much for reading and apologies again for the lack of posts the last two weeks! I had an unusual couple of weekends of socialising that I wanted to make the most of.
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx
Art by Yvonne Coomber