Recently, I heard Mary O’Malley give a short talk on Compulsions.
She described a compulsion as a finely crafted survival system we use when we are out of touch with ourself. It’s compulsive as we repeat it over and over in an effort to avoid what we don’t want. But it also keeps us from ourselves. Keeps us from feeling. And that is an act of turning away from yourself.
We see compulsions in everything from bad habits like smoking and overeating to shopping, sex, gambling, spending, sweets, and so forth. Now notice, did you judge any of these as wrong? That is the mechanism of resistance. The secret is in being OK with it. Compulsions can also be to work, talking, walking, painting, coffee, a person, football… We can use pretty much any form of doing to avoid being.
It is an avoidance mechanism that keeps us from facing what we don’t want to see, not realizing it’s what we wanted all along.
It’s easy to understand how this occurs. Our mind is a habit machine. That’s how we learn to walk, talk, and drive a car. But if we practice avoidance, that will become a habit too. Only this habit is self-reinforcing.
The core compulsion she observes is struggle. I refer to this here as resistance, resistance to what we fear. What we don’t realize is what we are fearing is the fear of feeling. A fear of feeling badly, so we withdraw from feeling altogether and thus withdraw from happiness. Oops.
The sad thing is, all we have to do is allow what is and those bad feelings we fear are found to be bogey men. Some of them may be intense, but all we have to do is experience them fully for a moment, and they pass, their purpose completed. Without that, we will spend the rest of our lives avoiding them. How much energy do you think that takes?
She also spoke about what I also call the story. The explanation we come up with as children for why people are the way they are. And why we’re in this circumstance. The mind needs answers, so it makes something up and we carry that story forward, illogical and unconsidered as it is, into adulthood.
She observes that the story is created by the age of 6. In school we find ways of strengthening it. By the time we are teens, we have begun to believe it. I’ve observed that somewhere around 9 to 11 years of age, some event often arises that allows us to deeply confirm our story. By the time we are adults, we have forgotten how to live. Instead of the richness of life, we are closed in a box in our head.
She refers to this box as a bubble which I find very interesting. As I have spoken of here, awareness of an intent creates a bubble of attention within which we create our reality. That is the mechanics of the story in action.
The key is to see them as compulsions. To pay attention and shift from management and control to engagement. Control is a very curious thing. In order to stay in control, we resist things we judge wrong. But that act of resisting them causes them to have control over you. Tom Stine has been writing about No Control over on his blog.
She suggests not seeing them as the enemy or what you’re doing wrong. I blew it. I’m too fat/skinny/old/// This is judgment. That’s trying to escape the bubble which is just more struggle. Instead, approach them with curiosity. Just see it as it is. Then you will laugh. The fundamental parts of our story make no sense at all. Remember – they were made up as young children.
As you do this work in seeing the compulsions, you can let them go. Without that mask, you begin to feel again and discover those “bad” feelings weren’t so bad after all. They just needed to be felt. Even better, the core happiness begins to shine through, for no reason. Contentment, peace, freedom, and energy for living.
She suggested 2 things:
1 – use the mantra “Right now, this is life, and it’s OK”
This helps release you from the grip of struggle.
You will either move more deeply into life OR
You will get a reaction that allows you to see the struggling self. Something to be allowed and released.
2 – when stuff comes up, ask the question:
“What am I truly longing for?”
It is never for the compulsion. As you peel back the layers of this, the layers of needs will fall away until you find the core drivers of your being. What makes your heart sing.
As she observed, you have never left what you long for. A deep infinite connection to God.