“The artist who falls in love with her own painting is surely mad.
The artist who fears and hates her own painting is surely mad.
But are we not the same when we judge and react to the world by our own skewed perceptions?”
I have come to fall in love with that saying.
It is one of the key takeaways from my Vipassana meditation . S.N. Goenka’s recorded soul imparted that wisdom on me during one of the final days of my retreat in Ontario. I paraphrase it here because I lack the mental capacity to remember exactly how he said it. But that was the gist of it.
I’d like to examine the sentiment that Goenka is trying to make. The external objects, ideas, and people that make us happy, sad, angry, guilty, laugh, cry, feel any sort of feeling, etc. are not inherently designed to make us feel the way they do. Rather, we attach our own ideas about them to the person/thing/idea itself and then react to our perceptions. We are the artists reacting to our own artwork.
I want you to go back to psychology 101 class and think about Pavlov’s dogs. Pavlov conditioned his pets to salivate at the sound of a bell because he was able to make a mental association in their minds between the sound of the bell and the delivery of food.
The same thing happens when we feel certain feelings towards other people. When we feel hate towards someone, for instance, we attach negative ideas to them in our minds. This negative information causes us to feel a certain way (angry, sad, jealous) whenever we see or think about them. We are salivating at the self made bell.
Now, we do this so many times since our childhood that these associations become habitual and subconscious and we rarely stop to think about why we feel the way we do when certain things cause us to react in a certain ways. This is classic conditioning.
This idea is what I have been experimenting on for the past 5 weeks. Who is my test subject? Myself. My own thoughts and behaviors. My reactions.
Not too long ago I received a Facebook notification that an old high school acquaintance of mine had commented on one of my pictures. When I saw this, it’s almost as if my mind stepped onto a time machine and reverted back to my ‘high school mindset’, as I like to call it.
Now what the fuck does this have to do with what you were just talking about Mahyar? Great question, my dear reader, and I will get to that in one second but please.. watch your mouth.
Let me explain.. I want to tell you a tale of a young confused high school student..
The years were 2006-2010. The environment was a Long Island High School. Here we find a younger, less aware version of myself. Girls didn’t pay me much attention and I didn’t get invited to too many parties. Besides being a loner for the most part, I tried out for some sports teams. I was never good enough to make them though so I did one of the only sports that accepted everyone; track. Then when the fat kids started to show more endurance than me in the long distance events, I ran my ass out of the program faster than I could run the 100 meters. Thus, most of my time after school was spent watching tv, playing video games, working minimum wage jobs and seeing how many times a day I could masturbate.
I hope the reader doesn’t take this as a call for sympathy or pity. It’s just the way I was. I was the prototypical insecure teenager.
The worst part of it all was that I was a slave to their opinions. Oh man, I wanted the kids in my classes to like me. I wanted them to think I was funny. If I could make them laugh and they’d say something nice about me – I’d feel higher and happier than any drug this earth could produce. But if they rejected me, or worse, ignored me- then I’d be back below the dirt. I wasn’t in control. They were.
‘Be cool‘ became my one and only objective.
This was the person I was trying to escape when I came to college. This was the person I didn’t want to be anymore. So when I got to Buffalo, I made a change.
Upon arriving at college, I opened myself up to see what the world offered. I joined clubs and started practicing martial arts. I made and lost many friends. I met some girls who showed me who I was at my best and who I was at my worst. I traveled, partied, experimented with things that have changed me and some things that were just stupid and a waste of time. I experienced things the average college kid usually does while spending more than the GDP of Greece for tuition.
I started to understand what it means to work hard for what you want. I started to explore the outer world while dealing with the craziness that is the inner world. I started to learn to shut up and listen more than you talk, and I am just starting to learn to appreciate what I have. Most importantly, I have started to accept myself for who I am and not try to change for anyone. I guess you can say I grew up… a bit.
That’s why it was so interesting to see what happened to me when I noticed the comment on one of my pictures on FB.
The magnetizing red that glows from the notification symbol on the top of the Facebook page drew me in like a fly. I clicked on it and saw that this guy that I haven’t spoken to in nearly half a decade had commented. I was confused and curious. His comment didn’t really apply to the picture and at first it didn’t make any sense, but then I realized he was referencing some old joke that we had going almost 8 years ago. I laughed at it and felt a bit of nostalgia for those lost teenage years. The joke originated from our 9th grade spanish class if I remember correctly.
Oh Dios mio.. What happened next worried me and made me laugh simultaneously at the ridiculousness of all of it. For a moment, my inner peace was shaken and my objective mind was turned off. I wasn’t able to think. I had been taken over by none other than my ‘high school mindset’. Just by seeing this kid’s name under my picture I was hit with a feeling of insecurity. ‘Be cool’ I told myself. ‘Say something funny. You want him to like you.’
I heard myself saying that and felt the insecure feeling that was building up inside. I let the thought float around for a second. I just watched it. I took a breathe and stepped back for a second.
I calmed myself down and asked myself why I was reacting the way I was. For a second I felt like I was that lonely kid in high school again. Why was this happening? I thought I was past this…..
I started to fret. I was annoyed. I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE FEELING THIS WAY ANYMORE, I yelled at myself. I mean, who the fuck is this kid anyway?! Why would I care what he has to think about me?
But then I realized something. It’s not that I was that still that lonely kid from high school or not. It wasn’t that I cared so much that people I knew from that point in life wouldn’t think I was cool – I was just being Pavlov’s dog. All those years in the past wanting to be liked, I had conditioned myself to react this way anytime someone from that particular part of my life presented themselves to me. My bell was ringing and I was salivating with insecurity. It was just a habit. There was no need for me to make an identity out of it. It was just a mental groove that my mind would fall into that I had never really examined before.
So what do you do when this happens? What did I do?
Well the field of psychology and psychotherapy usually prescribes digging in and finding out why this was happening, but I am starting to realize that may be a huge waste of time. It doesn’t matter why I was insecure in high school. It doesn’t matter why I reacted the way I did when I saw this guy’s comment. It is not who I am. All that really matters is that I realize that this way of thinking was doing me no good.
‘Is this thought useful to me?’ You must ask yourself this. If not then that thought pattern must be dropped. That’s it! The habit won’t go away if you do it just once, but keep it up and slowly, slowly the thought will have less power. We don’t have to be controlled by our mental habits.
I was being controlled because I was used to it. But I don’t tolerate that anymore. The more I react, the more I am being controlled by others. And I think it was the great Gandhi that said, “ain’t nobody got time for that”.
We must heed his advice and take back control over our minds.
As for the comment on the picture. I wrote back after I calmed down. I talked about how it brought me back and I even threw in a ‘lol’ in there. He hasn’t responded yet.
I hope he does soon..