Excerpt From the chapter:
The Freedom to Become:
Do you feel you're in control of your own life?
How would it feel to have more of that sense of control?
As with all great achievements, gaining control of your life is not something that happens overnight. Rather, it is a journey, an ongoing process that requires time and effort, self-analysis, and gradual growth.
When this seed that represents your potential is well-sown, properly tended and nurtured, it can become a strong fruitful tree. This journey starts with the decision to begin taking responsibility and control over your own life.
We start to realize that we have the power and the freedom to become whoever and whatever we choose to be. With continued practice, and by accessing and developing our strengths and our own potential, we can then manifest/translate this into our reality.
Every journey, and every process of growth, starts with one conscious step. Each step and every level of improvement will likely include realization and action stages which propel the momentum of improvement forward. It is only fitting that an achievement like this is a long time in the making, and that it continues indefinitely.
This particular progression and journey starts with the awareness and the realization that you are an individual with a mind of your own—a valuable human being separate from the perception of others, a person with the ability to think, to reason, and to evaluate information for yourself.
Your journey—and its experiences and time-frame—will be as unique as you are. The many challenges faced, the fears conquered, and the lessons learned, however, will likely be seen as universal and potentially useful for anyone who seeks a better way.
Consider this: Did you choose the situations you were born into? Did you have any say in who your parents were, the kind of home you grew up in, or the circumstances that shaped you genetically, geographically, economically, or emotionally? As the author of The Four Agreements points out, you didn’t even choose your own name.
It becomes clear, therefore, that going forward, there are many things which we can now choose consciously. We have the opportunity, now, to choose what we want to keep intact; as well as the opportunity to change and/or to do differently, many other things in
our lives. [More on this discussion later…]
I write this based on my own journey—literal as well as figurative. I was born and raised in the continent of my roots: Africa (specifically, Ethiopia), lived and was educated in England for eight years, then became a citizen of Canada.
My experiences in these three continents, the Ethiopian and Eritrean cultures I grew up in, the varied ways of life, social norms and lifestyles I encountered in Europe and North America, as well as the many different people, belief systems and personalities I have met, observed, worked with and learned from so far, has had a great impact on my life.
One of my first lessons, (and I keep coming back to this realization time and time again), was that everything does not have to be complicated, complex and difficult for it to be worthwhile and true. In most cases, common sense and simplicity are the shortest paths to our goals.
Common sense and simplicity, however, still require regular practice, action and focus, in order to bear the good fruits of knowledge, fulfillment and the success in life we strive for.
I am grateful to have been helped in my journey so far by the many kind and wise people who have touched my life and taught me well. Another major part of my growth came, and continues to flow from the many different books on many different subjects which I was always encouraged to read and absorb.
Fortunately for me, I have always loved to read and books have been some of my most constant and loyal companions. The variety of books, experiences, people and places which have taught and enriched my life, have helped me to make much progress in understanding many different aspects of my own self.
The work of self-growth required the understanding of self and my thoughts, my own motivations, my emotions as well as the shortcomings and flaws that needed addressing. Some of my flaws and skill limitations seem to be things that come fairly easily to most other people. Or do we all think this way to a certain extent?
Another positive outcome was the gradual improvements in understanding and controlling my actions, as well as in observing and understanding human nature. Understanding the nature, the motivations, the ego and the reactions of people to real and perceived situations enable us, increasingly, to handle people according to their personality and mindset.
This being a gradual and a continuous process, however, it is inevitable that there will be setbacks, challenges and frustrating periods in mine and every person’s journey. We will still struggle with personal flaws, we will continue to have shortcomings in our personalities, and we will find ourselves making unnecessary and obvious mistakes at times.
This is to be expected of course, since all human beings make mistakes. We all struggle with flaws and, everyone likely has their own specific personal issues they are dealing with. We should therefore, learn understanding and patience when dealing with the people we come into contact with, while realizing that it will not be possible to get along with every person or to please everybody all the time.
The only thing we can do, therefore, is to concentrate on our own selves and to focus on our self-improvement. And of course, we should practice, and keep practicing.
Our journey and mind-transformation can begin with seemingly simple things. Here's one: learn to stop wasting your valuable time by fretting over the things you simply cannot control—weather variables, traffic and crowds, taxes, the behaviour of others etc.
Instead, you can resolve to try to calmly accept the things you can't change.It is better not to waste your energy looking for things to be offended and upset by.
Easier said than done, of course, because it does take time and work to let go of things. But once you consciously practice and stop wasting your precious energy and time with things that lie beyond your scope of control, you may find your emotional load lightened, and yourself a calmer, happier, healthier human being.
You may also realize you have a lot of extra time in your life and extra room in your head (consciousness) for the things you want to focus on: your loved ones; your well-being; what you are passionate about; and the things that bring you joy.
Now…do you dare to take a journey into self-discovery? To ask yourself, “Who am I, really? What kind of person, friend, family member, employee/employer, or neighbour am I?” And ask others if or when the time is right.
It can be very difficult to ask for and to hear this, but it can help us to become aware of some of our own blind spots. We cannot improve or fix anything if we don’t identify what the issues and problem areas are. Open your eyes and ears to understanding how the people around you see and hear you.
But overall, you can get into the habit of considering the events and people that have shaped, influenced and played a role in your personality, belief system, and in the defining moments of your childhood, teenage, and adult life.
You can work at evaluating how your upbringing has affected your morals and values, your reasoning process, and the way you see the world. This can take place over time, many years and experiences.
Remember—babies come into this world innocent and "unformed.” It is the adults and the environments they grow up in that can ultimately influence them to become what they become. I believe that the infancy and early childhood of a human’s life are the most crucial stages in the formation of character, perspective, and personality.
Children are like human sponges, soaking up everything in their environment. Their early life experiences, good or bad, can become what they use to filter and understand everything that happens in their lives.
A lot of people think that small children don’t understand much, but I believe that small children observe, listen to, and understand a whole lot more than we adults realize.
Not only does everything in their immediate environment affect and shape their perceptions of the world, but they also are more likely to thinks and act in similar ways to what they grow up observing and absorbing.
Add to that the intensely emotional and hormone-fuelled pubescent and teenage years! The result can be an adult with a lot of issues to handle—and possibly a lot of unresolved anger, emotional baggage and unanswered questions.
Think about the start in life you were given by your caregivers and the environment you grew up in. Do you think it helped make you a strong, self-assured adult, or: fearful and introverted, angry and aggressive, bitter and resentful, or needy and desperate? Not all the time, perhaps—but self-examination may help you recognize these things.
Take the time to watch the movie of your life in your mind. Begin to trace how the different circumstances in your life have brought you to this present moment. Think of the many places and times, as well as all the different people you’ve met in your life.
Of course, this can take a lot of time, but you can take it easily—and often just let these things come into your mind. Begin and learn to evaluate how these experiences have affected you and what your outlook on life is as a result of them.
For example, you might find, from your childhood, that you observed “respectable” adults committing adultery, breaking the law, or presenting a false image of themselves to the outside world while behaving the exact opposite in private. As an adult now, you may find that you’ve also copied some of this behaviour.
On the other hand, you might find in your childhood memories the roots of some of the phobias, and the irrational fears you struggle with. Perhaps you have trust issues—and, for example, find it difficult to form new relationships. Perhaps some ongoing self-examination will help you realize what voids your life experiences have left inside you.
It could be that your formative years have hurt you so deeply that the thought of looking inside yourself scares you more than anything else in the world. This might be the case if you find yourself reacting very strongly or becoming defensive at the very idea of consulting a professional—therapist, counselor or priest/pastor, for any kind of help.
While consulting a good, qualified professional can be very beneficial and is recommended for the instances where it is necessary; self-examination is a method by which we can start to understand, motivate and help ourselves in a tangible way.
The importance and effectiveness of honest and ongoing self-examination and self-analysis cannot be over-emphasised. By analyzing ourselves, our emotions, and our upbringing, we can get a clearer picture of why we do some of the things we do.
Evaluate also your level of satisfaction with the life you’re living. What would you change about yourself, and who would you like to become? This may take some doing to examine and decide, but it is exactly the kind of process that gets you closer to your happiness and your goals.
Think about the way you process information. Perhaps your mind is filled, most of the time, with positive and uplifting thoughts that push you forward to your goals. Or perhaps, much of the time, your thoughts seem full of anxiety, uneasiness, or even mild depression.
Maybe you, along with many other people nowadays, seem simply to be going through the motions of life. Maybe you feel a sense of seeming to barely hang on,as if the next setback, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, might be the last "straw" that pushes you over the edge.
Consider all the stress, responsibilities, and hardships people in today’s society go through on a daily basis to feed families, to make ends meet, and to appease those who constantly take and criticize. On top of that, we may not always get enough sleep and rest, and this can leave us exhausted and out of sorts, both physically and mentally.
When you live in such a frustrating physical and emotional state of turmoil, it can easily happen—you get angry, upset and “erupt” at the slightest provocation.
The culmination of this type of existence can be a life full of resentment and unspoken grudges—a life full of regrets, guilt, missed opportunities, and dwelling on the past. This can be accompanied by the same hurtful relationships, and can become part of an unfortunate cycle in which everything seems to continue going wrong.
If you are in the habit of worrying, obsessing, expecting the worst to happen, feeling irrational fears and insecurities, try asking yourself who you might have copied this behaviour from. Some adults, unfortunately, draw children into situations, conversations, and arguments far beyond a child’s capacity.
This can greatly affect the child into their adolescent and adult years. Try to get at and take note of the memories hidden behind the walls of your mind—the memories you rarely revisit. This can be a daunting task, but it can also be very rewarding.
After all, you might be tackling those experiences—no matter how small or trivial—that have had a lasting effect on your psyche, causing you to be super-sensitive to certain topics and situations that might not bother someone else. Consider getting to acknowledge and deal with such things instead of continuing to brush them under the carpet of your mind.
Again, this will be a process that takes time and determination—but it is a process that produces positive results. From personal experience, I have learned that the human brain and psyche can pace itself, in a way that works for you.
It also can be wise enough to let any information and memories that your mind has blocked for your own protection to stay where they are supposed to remain. Trust yourself in this and know that you can and should take a look at what is hiding in the corners of your mind.
Imagine placing your garbage bags in the shadows by the back door night after night, rather than taking them outside to be collected. Half-hidden, sometimes forgotten…and likely a smelly, cluttered, unhealthy situation. The same can be true in the memories you have hidden away but have never addressed—perhaps for many years.
This kind of situation might eventually lead to a lot of stress—ultimately even ulcers, disease, breakdowns and addictions.
You do have a choice: You can try to ignore the real issues holding you back, and tell yourself it’s not that big a deal. Or you can address, understand and begin to resolve them. Only you know if you’re managing your issues or if they are managing you. Denial and avoidance are often the way we react, but how helpful and productive is this?
To change is to first acknowledge. And yes, it can take maturity and courage to evaluate your past and the adult it has turned you into. And then, perhaps, you can gain some real insight that helps you see where you might need to make some changes and decide where you want to go from here.
At the same time, you can learn to accept your history and the things from your past that cannot be changed no matter how many times you might re-tell, regret, or replay them over and over in your mind. It is only our future actions and decisions which can be changed or chosen differently.
And as we considered earlier: Did you choose the situations you were born into? Did you have any say in who your parents were, the kind of home you grew up in, or the circumstances that shaped you genetically, geographically, economically, or emotionally?
The answer of course is No! Consider how significant it is that you didn’t choose the family, the language, the continent or the race you were born into.
You also didn’t consciously choose the foundations of your personality; your social behaviour, education, culture, and norms; your perceptions about and treatment of people of other genders and races; your methods of conflict resolution; or your understanding of family, love, discipline, and affection.
Again, as the author of The Four Agreements points out, you didn’t even choose your own name.
It should, therefore, be very liberating for you to realize that many of your past actions, perceptions and your behaviours have been the result of the countless decisions that were made for you and not by you. You likely have been reacting, to whatever circumstances and people have crossed your path, in the only way you knew how.
Your personality and behaviour have been based on what you have copied from the authority figures in your life. How you behave can be a result of reactions to and reflections of how your parents and guardians; siblings and extended family; school environment and teachers; friends and neighbours have treated you.
Your behaviour and personality is also likely to have been influenced by the social, cultural and religious leaders you grew up with. Good, loving, protective, beneficial? Or were these factors and people in your upbringing intentionally or unintentionally abusive and non-nurturing? Such things determined, to a large extent, the person you have become…
Up to this point.
You might feel very sad to realize that some of the people who were supposed to uplift you and prepare you for the world may have been the very ones who hurt you the most. Indeed, it is heartbreaking when this turns out to be the case. Such deeply felt hurt and disappointment is also something that can affect a person for a very long time.
It would be worse, however, to let such experiences determine and limit your future and your potential.
It is much more beneficial to consciously make the decision to not let the past determine and limit your future, because clinging to hurt and resentment can keep you chained to your past, and prevent you from moving into your future.
You might continue to feel helpless and hopeless, a victim of circumstance. Feeling this way can rob you of your initiative and potential...can work against your realizing your personal power...can prevent you from feeling in control of your life.
Instead, imagine what taking control would feel like! Imagine what taking control of your emotions and your future would feel like. If you allow it, your past experiences can become a very valuable lesson that can help you on to bigger and better things. Whereas, wallowing in misery and dwelling on all the things that have happened to you are likely to result in no change at all.
It can be much better to acknowledge something like this: “It was not fair and it was not my fault. I know I deserve better in the future. I can definitely benefit from comforting myself, nursing my emotional wounds, and giving myself time to grieve and cry for all the things I feel were lacking.”
And after these concerns have been addressed, you can say, “It is best to let it go. I can let it go.” By making the choice to let go, you are effectively taking control of your emotions, your life and your future, whereas before you had little or no control over the circumstances surrounding you.
At the same time, if you don’t break this vicious cycle of hurt, resentment, and negativity in yourself, you might take all you have learned and copied, along with all your pain and hurt, and carry it over into your relationships.
As a result, your adult life might suffer from unfulfilling relationships., whether with your spouse, extended family, or co-workers.You might find yourself wondering why all or most of your relationships seem to be “dysfunctional”.
And for those of you who are parents—if you don’t acknowledge, resolve, and heal your emotional wounds, you might inadvertently pass them on to your children, who might pass it on to their children, and so on.
[Copyright (2012) S.A. Abraham]
[All rights reserved.]