The yoga classes I take are usually of the hot variety. The room is heated to around 96° with humidity that threatens to fog the glass by the end of class. I’ve been practicing hot yoga long enough that the temperature doesn’t usually phase me after the initial shock of entering the studio.
This morning was a little different. It was warm enough, as Atlanta tends to be in the summer, that my AC was running at a steady clip as I drove to the studio. Even before 10:00 am, the heat radiating off the blacktop caused beads of sweat to form along my hairline as I walked across the parking lot.
When I walked in, the entire studio was already balmy from the combination of the earlier class and the scorching temperatures outside. I started to slip my shoe off to tuck it under the bench when I paused.
My mind started traversing through the expected sensations of the class. I was already hot and I began to dread the idea of willingly allowing myself to become even hotter. As I anticipated the discomfort caused by the intense heat, I contemplated slipping my shoe back on and heading to the sanity of the air conditioned gym.
My anticipation told me to focus on the discomfort rather than the outcome.
Anticipation is a mixture of prudent foresight and alarmist anxiety. It tempts us by promising that preparation is key. And then it traps us in a potentially endless cycle of “what ifs” and worry.
1 – Anticipation Is Often Pessimistic
Anticipation has a devious habit of focusing only on the worst possible outcomes. The delayed arrival home is attributed to a bad accident. The upcoming public speaking engagement will surely be met with ridicule. The readout on the scale must be a sure sign that the latest attempt at healthy eating isn’t working.
The problem with anticipation is that one known fact is then followed by a series of thoughts like the rungs on the ladder, a linear progression of if…thens… leading to false conclusions. The reality is more like a web of millions of possible paths and outcomes following any given fact.
2 – Anticipation Focuses on the Hardship Rather Than the Overcoming Of It
As the small plane slowly climbed to 14,000 feet, I glanced back at the small carabiner that was technically the only thing keeping me from being sucked out of the open doorway. With each foot of increased altitude, my anticipation of jumping out of the plane climbed as well. I was mentally rehearsing the walk to the door and standing in the open and roaring maw without the perceived security of holding onto the frame. My anticipation was so focused on getting out of the plane, that I was completely caught off guard by the sensations after I left its metal body.
And that’s how anticipation is. It builds and builds like a roller coaster clicking up the first, large hill. It only sees the initial gut-wrenching drop, the first step, the beginning onslaught. Anticipation rarely addresses how we might overcome the hardship or how we might feel once our feet are back on the ground.
3 – Anticipation Causes You to Live Life’s Hardest Moments Multiple Times Over
By the time my ex husband left the marriage, I had already lost him dozens of times over in my imagination. It had been my greatest fear. And even though those nightmares only occurred in my own mind, they felt real. I experienced that gut-hollowing feeling several times due to my anticipation and apprehension of living without him.
Once that worst case scenario really did occur, I only had to experience it once more. Even as I struggled to breathe through the pain, I found comfort in the knowledge that once I moved through each stage, I would never again have to revisit it. Even in my dreams.
4 – Anticipation Robs You of the Benefit of Action
Anticipation is like playing chess only without the ability to ever move your pieces even as your opponent zeroes in on your queen. The purely mental exercise of anticipation can lead to a feeling of powerlessness and futility.
5 – Anticipation Causes a Break in the Mind-Body Connection
When something challenging actually occurs, the body immediately steps up to assist. Adrenaline production is increased, causing the focus to narrow to only the most important and increasing the heart rate to encourage action. Cortisol joins the efforts and helps to increase the glucose supply to the muscles, prioritizing immediate energy over longer-term storage.
After enduring horrific traumas or extended periods of extreme difficulty, many people will state they have no idea how they made it through. And part of that amnesia and associated sense of disconnection from that period is due to the body’s chemistry working as both a motivator and a funnel, directing the mind towards choices that favor survival. Perhaps most importantly, the action required bleeds the stress hormones from the body, eventually allowing the return of a normal physical state.
When we’re anticipating, our minds are engaged in the full horror of the event. Our bodies, unaware that the terror is purely imaginary, dutifully step up the production of stress hormones. Only this time, without the accompanying action to deplete the hormone stores, their elevated levels soon become the norm, leading to life lived at threat level red.
I completed my yoga class today. The actual discomfort from the elevated heat was far, far less than what I had anticipated. And taking the class on such a hot day had an unexpected benefit – the August air felt cool as it kissed my shimmering skin on the way back to the car.
A beautiful reminder of the quote by Mark Twain, “I have experienced many troubles in my life, most of which never happened.”
My ex used to be obsessed with The Matrix. I think he somehow saw himself as Neo, an invulnerable character who was able to manipulate reality and was the one chosen to save the human race. I grew tired of the movie after so many repeated viewings and so, after my ex left, I pushed the series out of my mind.
Until today, that is, when an article referenced it in passing and made me remember one scene from the first movie in particular.
For those not familiar with the movie, the majority of humans are so-called bluepills who live their lives hooked up to a machine where a virtual reality is fed into their minds to keep them placid and peaceful while the machine uses their bodies for power. They are glorified batteries. Happy, but enslaved.
Some of the humans are able to break free from the illusion. These are the redpills. They are independent and aware, but also have to face the harsh realities of the world dominated by evil forces. They are fully sentient yet also fully responsible for creating their own realities.
In the scene above, Neo is given a choice: take the blue pill and re-enter the contented slumber of the ignorant or ingest the red pill and learn the entirety of the truth. Whichever choice he makes, there is no going back.
In my first marriage, I was taking the blue pill. I was as ignorant and prone to suggestion as those that are slaves to the Matrix. Within days of his leaving, it was as though a red pill was forcibly shoved down my throat, reality body slamming me to the floor. And there was no going back.
I’m not generally one for what-ifs, but I find it interesting to ponder what I would have chosen if I had been given the option at some point in my marriage to see the whole truth or to remain blissfully unaware.
Now that I’m a redpill, I can’t imagine going back. I want to live my own reality on my own terms and deal with the consequences.
But when I was a bluepill, I don’t know if I could have imagined the other option. After all, life as I knew it was good. Why risk it?
I got into a discussion with Recovering WS the other day (you can read the exchange in the comment section of this post) that got me thinking about lies and the motivation behind them. The law distinguishes between murder committed with intent and killings that are unintentional collateral damage to another act. Should we do the same with deception? Does it matter if the lie was intended to protect (either self or others)? Does that make it less morally egregious than a mistruth that is crafted as a piercing barb?
“I always say the truth is best even when we find it unpleasant. Any rat in a sewer can lie. It’s how rats are. It’s what makes them rats. But a human doesn’t run and hide in dark places, because he’s something more. Lying is the most personal act of cowardice there is.”
― Nancy Farmer, The House of the Scorpion
We all lie. To ourselves and to others. We all are guilty of rewriting facts to fill in missing pieces or to alter reality. (See Lose Your Illusion.) But we don’t all lie in the same ways. With the same intent.
Lie to Self
This is probably the most frequent of all the mistruths. Many of these are not even conscious; our brains act to fill in missing information, making assumptions in the process. Or the fallibility of memory covered up with fiction. Others develop over time as we replace more accurate memories with more desired ones, details changing with the years. Some of these are more intentional, lies told to protect the image that we carry of ourselves or of our world.
Many of these lies to self are harmless. It doesn’t really matter if the fish you caught grows a little longer with each recall or that you see yourself as the best player on the neighborhood basketball team. But these lies can also cause harm, such as when you discount the number of drinks you’ve consumed or conveniently forget to tally up the calories from your dinner date’s plate. Often these lies come from a desire – almost need – to correct cognitive dissonance, a disconnect between our beliefs and incoming evidence. We reconcile the two by altering the truth.
The stories we tell ourselves create our realities. And when those stories are anchored in falsehoods, our realities aren’t too real. And that can become a problem. Check out Self Deception to read more.
The lies we tell ourselves are not all bad. Check out this interesting piece on how editing your life story can aide the healing process. That is basically what I did with my former life by writing and sharing the story. Since the pen is in my hands, I can chose to shape and interpret the past in a way that helps me. Self deception? Probably. But at least it has let me find peace and forgiveness.
Self deception is inescapable, yet its negative incarnation can be limited. Be aware of areas in your life that frighten you and instead of turning a blind eye, look directly at them. That is where your lies to self most likely reside. Trust that you can handle the truth and then face it.
Lie to Protect Self
This is often the first lie perfected by the child, the “I don’t know who ate the cookie!” defense. It can often be an extension of the lies we tell ourselves, as we try to project the image we desire. These are lies born of fear – fear that we will be punished, fear that we will not be loved and accepted, fear that we will be judged. And fear is limiting. These are the lies that shelter the ego, that build a fortress around the broken heart, that form a protective shield around our vulnerable core. Being honest risks the very real threat of being rejected. But lying means that your true self is never really accepted. And, taken to the extreme, it means your true self may be buried beneath an ever-gowing pile of falsehoods.
When you do this, even with noble intentions, you are choosing someone else’s truth for them. Whether telling them that they look good in that dress or withholding information that you deem them unable to handle, you have appointed yourself the gatekeeper of their reality. In many ways, this is the lie born of the ego, assuming that you are in the superior position.
“The worst part was that I had things I wanted to tell my mother, too many to count, but none of them would go down so easy. She’d been through too much, between my siters-I could not add to the weight. So instead, I did my best to balance it out, bit by bit, word by word, story by story, even if none of them were true.”
― Sarah Dessen, Just Listen
Lie to Distract and Cover
This is the preferred language of the addict, although it is my no means limited to those battling addiction. Much like a magician on a stage, these lies are designed to turn the attention away from the action, whether that be a visit to the bar or the arms of another. These are lies born of desperation, deceptions that become increasingly necessary in order to carry out covert actions. The recipients of these lies were not the intended targets but they often become collateral damage.
This is the one I struggle with understanding. I know this happens. I know there are people that wish to hurt others. But I cannot comprehend the motivation. These lies would be the murder 1 of falsehoods, deliberate and malevolent in intent from the outset.
When I received the text that ended my marriage, I learned that I had been living within a mirage. At first, I saw my ex as the deliberate and vicious creator of that facade. I believed his deceptions were designed to kill. Now? I no longer feel that way. I think he lied to protect me, wanting to shield me from his employment and financial troubles. I believe he lied to cover his ever-growing addiction. I think he lied to avoid detection and the ensuing consequences. I think he lied to himself about the severity of the problems, telling himself that he could still climb out of the deepening hole.
“When people cheat in any arena, they diminish themselves-they threaten their own self-esteem and their relationships with others by undermining the trust they have in their ability to succeed and in their ability to be true.”
― Cheryl Hughes
And, as for myself, I think I was only too happy to believe those lies since the truth was too ugly to bear. I allowed him to create my reality, handing over the reigns of my perceptions.
Once I altered my view of his deceptions, I softened towards him. It let me see him as broken rather than evil. It helped me see myself as collateral damage rather than a victim. Of course, the crazy part? Maybe I’m just lying to myself about his intentions because it fits in better with my reality.
Lying is like any another behavior – the more you do it, the more you do it. It becomes a habit. You become fluent in its language, speaking it with ease and little forethought. Lies feed upon fear and doubt and can hold us prisoner if we do not notice the bindings in time. It’s impossible to never be subject to fiction; our brains are wired to tell stories. Just be careful of the stories you tell, both to yourself and to others. Make them tales that you can be proud of.
A lie may take care of the present, but it has no future. ~Author Unknown
And, in the spirit of Gilda Radner, that’s the truth:)
I joined Pinterest a few months ago to see what all of the fuss was about and to share my quotes and book information. I spent a few hours over the next week exploring various topic streams and signing up to follow boards that I found interesting (fitness, vegetarian, inspirational quotes). I love Pinterest for inspiration and ideas (those pumpkin recipes floating around last month made me want to take a week off work to spend in the kitchen!). Despite the positive impact that pinning can have as a virtual muse and design board, I also see a dark side casting shadows on the perfect pictures.
Many pins have the effect of ramping up expectations, often to levels that are impossible without a trust fund, a gaggle of helpers, or rib-removal surgery. It’s so easy to get caught up in the beautiful pictures, one after another, and to let your mind fantasize. The images cement our daydreams, providing a goal that may be inspirational or may be utterly unattainable. There is a fine line between reading a quote layered over a fitness model and feeling encouraged to work out and feeling frustrated that no number of hours in the gym will be able to give you that physique.
Nowhere does this setting of expectations get more out of hand than on the wedding boards. These are some of the most popular pins, making the rounds among women of all age: married, single and in-between. There are photos of elaborate dresses with price tags to match. Pictures of cakes with carefully crafted fondant. Images of budget-friendly decoration ideas. But they all have one thing in common. They’re perfect.
I get it. It’s much easier to focus on a single day than the parade of days that create a marriage. We can try to convince ourselves that a picture perfect wedding will somehow trickle down into the years of the marriage. Sadly, the proper shade of aubergine (what color is that, anyway!?!) for the bridesmaid’s dresses will not mitigate that recurring argument about the dishes. I wonder what a real life marriage board would look like? Probably not so perfect 🙂
I fear that too much time spent perusing perfect pictures will move a person away from happiness as the gap between their expectations and reality grows ever wider. Be a discerning consumer of media of all types. Filter what you are exposed to and limit yourself to images that inspire you and lift you up. Watch yourself and be prepared to go on a media diet if you find that you are becoming too engrossed in the pursuit of perfection. And for goodness sake, please get off the wedding boards:)
Pin it then live it. Don’t let your dreams only exist in the digital world.