Strangers to Ourselves

One of our greatest challenges is to understand the peculiar content of our own minds. We may look like the ultimate owners of our skulls, but we remain practical strangers to much of what unfolds within them...We are frequently the very last people to know what is at work with 'us'.
- Alain de Botton, The School of Life

Q: Can you think of a time you realized (or where shown) something about yourself that you hadn't seen before?

The House of Consciousness

Thich Nhat Hanh describes our consciousness like a house, where what we are conscious of is living room and what we are not conscious of is the basement. In Buddhist terms there is, for example, a seed of anger in the basement that, when touched, comes up into the living room as a mental formation.

The word “formation” is a Buddhist term for something that’s created by many conditions coming together.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, from Reconciliation: Healing The Inner Child

Q: What comes up with the image of a seed being touched that launches a train of thought or emotion?

There's No Such Thing as a Dragon

We used to read a wonderful book, titled "There's No Such Thing as a Dragon", to our children when they were small. It's about a boy, Billy, who sees a dragon and tells his parents. They promptly inform him that there's no such thing, but Billy trusts his experience and continues to tell his parents about it. With each new denial from the parents, the dragon gets bigger until it eventually fills the house. Not until the parents finally relent and acknowledge Billy's experience does the dragon start to shrink, eventually taking its place in the house at a friendly scale.

Q: Have you ever told yourself (or been told ) you shouldn't be having a certain experience?


Continuing the house analogy, TNH points out that we often try to block these negative emotions from coming into the living room. We'd much rather have it filled with happy, or at least distracting, situations. The result of this blockage is a kind of poor circulation, a toxicity.

In The School of Life, deBotton describes it like this:

Feelings and desires that haven't been examined linger and distribute their energy randomly across our lives. Ambition that doesn't know itself re-emerges as panic; envy transforms itself into bitterness; anger turns into rage; sadness into depression. Disavowed material buckles and strains the system.

The Mystery of Childhood

How did it get this way? Childhood, of course, looms large; that long period of coming into being, marinating in the specific strangeness of our home and family. He writes:

[As children] we can't begin to understand our strange circumstances: who we are, where our feelings come from, why we're sad or furious, how are parents fit into the wider scheme or behave the way they do...We are condemned to be enmeshed in their attitudes, ambitions, fears, and inclinations. Our upbringing is always...peculiar and particular.
- Alain de Botton, The School of Life

It's crucial to note that everyone goes through this in childhood. We are all dented, scratched and bruised in various ways, not necessarily because we had bad parents (though we might have) but because it's unavoidable. de Botton points to therapy as a way to delve into the past to gain insight on how it affects and controls us in the present.

Q: Did you ever discover something about your upbringing that was quite different from most everyone else?

The Mindful Approach

TNH suggests we can approach the "peculiar content of our own minds" with mindfulness, based on non-duality - the truth that nothing is separate. The so-called negative emotions and mindfulness are therefore not separate; we aren't entering to do battle but to embrace.

TNH offers three ways to apply mindffulness, using the language of the wounded child.

  1. We recognize what the wounded child is saying and do not suppress or fight with it.
  2. We hold the wounded child and their message with care and compassion.
  3. We gain insight into the roots of the our suffering, which lessens it.

Mindfulness recognizes, embraces, and relieves.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, from Reconciliation: Healing The Inner Child

Opening to What You Resist

The secret to gifting your life's deepest purpose is to open through what you most resist, so your love's mission can bless the world, untrapped by your accumulated history of memories.

If Deida's pronouncement sounds like hooey, I have a story for you. When I first entered the workforce, I was terrified at the thought of formal speaking to a group of any size. Having to read a short memo to six people in a workplace safety meeting would set my heart to pounding.

I eventually realized I wasn't cut out for what my college education had intended, and was offered a job offer to teach at that college. I jumped at the chance to get out of fixing things and into the college environment, overlooking the not-so-small matter of having to stand up and speak in front of groups. Every. Single. Day.

In the end, after near faiure-to-launch and patchy first week, I discovered a tremendous passion for teaching that carries through to this day.

Your body needs you, your feelings need you, your perceptions need you. The wounded child in you needs you. Your suffering needs you to acknowledge it. Go home and be there for all these you can love.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, from Reconciliation: Healing The Inner Child

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