Why do we let things get so complicated?

I was looking at some old family photographs last week. These black-and-white images from when I was a child on holidays capture little moments, frozen for all time. In them I can see myself when I was  young and carefree, smiling easily, not observing myself, not wondering how I am doing. Looking at them I easily get back in touch with a time when love was given without  complications, a love that  was genuine and asked for little in return. Times were simple, and we were simple too. We embraced life – and each other – freely.

Life has changed everyone in this photograph, as it does all people. The naturalness of childhood, with its trust and more open spirit, makes way for  the passing of time, for  older, supposedly wiser years, for the onset of worries, and for a focus on ourselves and doubts about what once seemed so sure. We grow up, and as we do we become less open, more complicated. We begin to guard and armour the heart, hardening in our attitude towards others and toward life.  The sad thing is, we convince ourselves that this is right.

I am sure that everyone reading this has memories like the ones I have when I look at  a picture such as this. We all wonder where did all that optimism and openness go?  What happened to the love  that we gave to others over the years, that we invested with the best of our intentions? All those dreams, that looking forward to something  good, to something that would endure for ever, and would be there in good times and bad?

It seems to me that all of us are doing our best in a life story where we are never really sure of the conclusion.  A story where we try to live good lives, and be fair to others, and yet still learn that there is a lot of things that are outside our control and where we have to learn through pain and sorrow.  And in some cases, the simple openness does not work; we realize that we have to let go and trust in a process that we cannot understand.  Why do some things not work out, some good people get ill and die, friends move away and no longer stay in touch?  And yet, even if  we have been visited by sadness or have been hurt, we keep touching back into that young heart, which believes in the goodness of life and in the power of love and of friendship. We have to move on, holding on to our hopes despite the unresolved aspects of our life and our story. We are asked just  to try, and try again, and then again some more.  The greatest tragedy would be to let the experiences of life convince us that the optimism and smiles we had as children were completely misplaced.

Our sense of self and our early experiences

Our early experiences strongly shape our sense of self.  They become hard-wired into our unconscious system and then are triggered easily at important moments in adulthood. Because they are so deeply ingrained in our cells they can influence us when we are drawing conclusions about the kind of person we are. Frequently they are concerned with laying down a blueprint as to how reliable or safe the world is, and to what extent others can be trusted. This influences the broad autobiographical narrative which tends to be established by our late teens, colouring our expectations about life and about people. We are balancing our experiences of attachment or closeness with our experiences of unreliability and disappointment. Early disappointment affects our  ability to trust or feel safe, or to fully give  ourselves in adult relationships. Consequently we often approach a relationship in the hope that it will be the one which will finally heal these early disappointments –  hoping to rewrite the relational blueprint which caused us problems as a child – or behave in a way that our negative expectations will be confirmed.  Sometimes the repair happens, but often we are looking outside for something which needs inner work to be fully achieved.

We are wired for attachment
in a world of impermanence.

How we negotiate that tension
shapes who we become.

Robert Neimeyer, Ph.D.

Practice letting things go

It is over 20 years since I read this saying from Gurdjieff. It struck me then and still resonates now. We often pin our happiness onto what we have  – certain things, relationships, achievements, successes- and hold onto them for dear life. What this quotation reminds us is that happiness is rooted in a contented mind. It is often related to letting go, to holding things lightly, to being peaceful within ourselves  – with where we are and what we can do without. It is linked to knowing we are complete in ourselves, not holding on to some things and not needing to be  completed by others or by what we have.   

A man is satisfied not by the quantity of food, but by the absence of greed.

Finding a quiet space within

As I have written before, finding quiet time  each day is not a luxury. Rather,  it is essential for protecting our health and strengthening our deepest selves.  Looking within nourishes  the roots of an enduring happiness, namely, a deep confidence in our sense of self, as opposed to a happiness which looks outside, linking itself to circumstances in our lives, such as our career, finances or even relationships.

I can’t give you any advice but this:

to go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows.


Rilke