I’m housesitting for a friend this week. It’s a sweet house with a beautiful garden that makes me feel like I’m in the south of France. On the coffee table in the front room is a book called Offerings: Buddhist wisdom for every day. Today’s offering by Matthieu Ricard is “The basic root of happiness lies in our minds; outer circumstances are nothing more than adverse or favourable.” This is something I’ve been coming to realize more and more. In fact, the first post I wrote in September (and then erased) was entitled “Internal World” and it was about this. In it I said that the more therapy I did with people- delving into the inner workings and trying to make sense of feelings and behaviors- the more I realized that regardless of race, gender, economic status, or IQ, what was happening externally for someone seemed to have less to do with their happiness than what was going on internally. I know recent “happiness” studies use external factors such as income, community, etc. as happiness predictors. I agree that these things can lend to one’s happiness, but I believe the internal world is a bigger predictor.
How we make sense of information and events and our internal dialogue impacts our happiness and sense of well-being more than anything else. It’s our foundation. Much of our internal world is developed in childhood. Growing up we are taught ways of seeing the world–what is good, bad, acceptable, etc., and our many experiences– good, bad, and neutral–also shaped our internal worlds. As we grew and developed we changed and shed some of those thoughts, ideas, and ways of seeing things, but some stayed with us, sometimes on a subconscious level. For those who experienced abuse–physical, emotional, etc.–the internal world can be even more complex and confusing. If the abuse wasn’t healed, but instead repressed or denied, it’s usually wreaking havoc internally as it takes a lot of energy to keep unwanted thoughts and memories at bay. Sharing our stories, looking at these thoughts, ideas, experiences, and wounds, and getting some healing from the pain they can bring is so very important. And is why I’ve been a psychotherapist for the last 15 years.
I started with a quote from a buddhist book and I believe that meditation and mindfulness are really important and wonderful tools that can help keep our minds’ wanderings from taking over and also help us not to label and judge everything. However, as I’m writing I’m realizing I also believe that for many people who’ve had abusive, dark, or confusing childhoods, or experience mental illness in any of its many forms–depression, anxiety, psychosis, etc.– sharing personal stories, putting words to feelings, acknowledging things that happened—being heard and seen— may need to come first.