Thursday, February 27, 2014

Practicing for More Self Awareness

What happens when you get to the ‘end of you rope?’ When your ‘buttons’ are pressed? When stress levels rise up? When you are ‘triggered?’

For most of us, what happens is that our reaction patterns kick in. These patterns are strategies we developed as young children in response to the stress of not getting what we wanted when we wanted it. And these patterns are imbedded in us as early as our first year. 

Some people name these patterns ‘the double.’ Or ‘the shadow.’ Whatever name you use, it is describing the situation when you are not truly conscious and old habits are ‘operating you’ and determining what you say and do.

Where do these patterns come from? They come from the example of our immediate family, mostly mom and dad, when we were very young. For the young child, all learning is through imitation, and we parents are giving the children plenty to imitate. They copy how we move, how we walk. They learn to speak by copying our speech. They learn how to deal with stress by copying our reaction patterns, what we do when we are ‘triggered.’ They learn what we are happy for them to take up, and they learn the things we do in their presence that we wish we did not do.

So when I reach the end of my rope with young children, I try and remember how imitation functions, and ask myself, “How would I want my child to respond in this situation.” Being aware of my responsibility to the human development of my child can help me reign in my reaction patterns. As the saying goes, ‘we must be the change we want to see.’ 

Did you ever see your child drop something, and then hear her say, “Sh#@t!” 
As the parent, we have options about how we can respond. We can get angry, and scold, and explain why we don’t use that word and on and on. Or we can understand that our child heard someone use that word, perhaps when they dropped the bag of groceries, and quite possible it was us they heard. The child is simply imitating. Remember, that is how they learn.

An important part of changing a habit is being aware of the habit in the first place. A wonderful tool for developing self-awareness is a seemingly simple exercise described by Rudolf Steiner 100 years ago. It involves looking back over the day. You practice this each night before going to sleep. One way to practice is to sit in a chair (lying down may quickly bring on sleep) and close your eyes. Picture to yourself an image of you sitting in the chair. And then for the next five minutes, go backwards through your day, starting with the moment just before sitting in the chair, and going backwards through the day until first awakening that morning. Steiner suggested that one could do this in about five minutes. It is a quick review, just a brief glance at the various events of the day. 

This exercise provides an opportunity to observe yourself, and discover your ‘trigger points.’ In going backwards, you might notice a moment when you are all worked up about something, and slowly go back a bit until you notice the moment when your ‘button was pushed.’ 

Remember it is called a practice. When we practice something we realize we are trying to improve at it, we are not already perfect at it. This is NOT an exercise in self-judgment. It is a way to discover your own patterns of reaction. Perhaps after observing the same pattern time and again in the nightly review, you might have a spark of awareness in the midst of a situation when you are about to react habitually. “Oh, here I am in a situation where I usually get triggered. How do I want to respond this time?” It might be fleeting, but eventually lasting awareness of your soul habit is created and therefore an opportunity for changing those habits arises. First you see your habits, then you have the possibility of changing them. 

Look again and again at yourself with honesty in this daily practice. Try to find your trigger points, to know yourself better and better, and see the patterns of reacting, your personal ‘buttons.’ This exercise also can allow us to develop compassion and kindness for our shortcomings. Can I feel tenderness and compassion for the very faults and weaknesses that I am struggling with?

Our attempting to better ourselves has significant impact on our child. Striving for self-development is worth imitating. The activity of the adult trying to develop new capacities penetrates deeply into the developing child and can bear fruit much later in life. These are qualities I want to develop further in myself and am actively engaging my will on this path. Indeed it is a path of development for the human being who is striving toward consciousness. 
This week was the birthday of Dr. Rudolf Steiner (pictured above as a young child). He was born 153 years ago in February, 1861, and he died at 64 in 1925. In honor of his birthday, I want to express gratitude for the many suggestions of exercises to help develop our own capacities for independent thinking and freedom from reaction patterns, as well as his many ideas about human development that are available in the many books and published lectures that we can read today. Thank you Dr. Steiner, I know you are out there helping us still!

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