In Neuro Linguistic Programming, there is a concept called ‘complex equivalents’. In very general terms it means that we hold 2 things as being synonymous. Think of it as, if ‘X’ happens, then ‘Y’ will always be the result. Or, if ‘X’ happens, then that always means ‘Y’. Or if ‘X’ happens, then my response should always be ‘Y’.
For example: as a kid, if my parent’s got angry at me for anything, then, to me, that meant that they didn’t love me. So, I worked very hard to not do anything that would lead to them yelling at me. And I failed rather well at that so I lived in fear that they would reject me and turf me out of the family. And I know that I came to believe, no matter how many times they might have said that they loved me, that they really didn’t mean it. By extension, that grew in me to mean that I was not loveable.
As a result of yet another profound BSI® session which I had with Sheila Winter Wallace, I’ve been thinking about many of the complex equivalents which have unpinned many of the choices I’ve made in my life.
At that particular BSI® session, I know that the whole idea of ‘empty’ became the focus of my thoughts. And so, I began to wonder what ‘empty’ really meant to me. To me, it has meant profound terrifying silence. It’s meant something which is barren and sere and wizened and dead. It has been an unfinished void. It’s meant something which is vacant, unused, and endless. It has meant something which is boring. And it has been something which I’ve strived to avoid throughout my life.
I now consciously understand that I’ve chosen to fill up my life with so many things not because they enliven me but because they fill a space. And much of what I’ve chosen to do has been really mind-numbing. I’ve learned nothing new. I’ve chosen to do what I know how to do virtually in my sleep – things that I’m good at and which do not add to my life. I’ve chosen to live a lot of my life in a holding pattern. I’ve been marking time.
When I think of marking time, I always end up thinking about any pit orchestra vamping the beginning of ‘One’ from A Chorus Line until the singers are ready to begin. Playing the same 4 bar phrase over and over again ad nauseum. And it’s unexciting and predictable and, ultimately, empty for me. And, as I’ve marked time and filled up the minutes and hours of my day with something to do, I know that it’s taken me longer and longer to complete whatever task it is that I’m doing. I’ve been going through the motions and have been disengaged and disinterested. I could phone it in, so to speak.
In marking time and going through the motions – in making do – I’ve accepted that that is what I’m supposed to do in my life. I’ve resigned myself to believing that there is not more possible for me in my life – that living is something which, for the most part, I’ve been consigned to endure. And I’ve come to believe that I don’t deserve to have more in my life. I don’t have the right to choose something else for me.
As I re-read this, I know that ‘empty’ and ‘marking time’ and ‘going through the motions’ and ‘making do’ are all variations on a theme of believing that life is meant to be pretty much colourless with only occasional flashes of very pale pastels. That’s what living is supposed to be about. Too much of anything – noise, music, colour, vibrancy, liveliness – is not a good thing. Too many choices are not a good thing since, when facing a plethora of options, I end up doing nothing and not choosing. [That’s what I’ve believed I will do.] I’ve come to believe that it is better to mete out my energy and resources than risk the possibility of not finishing anything.
I’ve believed that having too many choices and trying too many things will make me a jack of all trades and a master of none. When I went into high school, I really wanted to take instrumental music. I wanted to learn to play the cello and the French Horn. And my mother would not let me make the choice I wanted because she was worried that I would not end up good at any one instrument – the cello or the French Horn or piano [which I began studying when I was 5].
And from this, I’ve believed that I must always choose wisely since I would only be allowed to make one choice. And, no matter what choice I’d make, I couldn’t change my mind since I had to always finish what I started. It’s amazing how much I’ve resented that – continuing to do something until it’s finished even if it no longer interests me. Back to a lick and promise and vamping and going through the motions and marking time and empty.
Accepting complex equivalents that are in play in our lives means that we are always waiting for something to happen to us before we respond. And we are closed to opportunities and different ways of thinking and different choices and potential possibilities for personal learning and evolution. The complex equivalents which underpin what we believe and how we view ourselves in the world paralyze us. We come to believe that the whole ‘if ‘X’ happens, then it means ‘Y’ and I will always respond with ‘Z’’ is the way our world works.
The truth is that we can choose to break that cycle of belief and strategy. All it takes is conscious awareness. It takes choosing for mySelf. It takes being congruent with who I AM in each breath. It takes honing my craft of saying ‘Yes’ to mySelf. It takes me putting that into practice in each moment.
And if I can choose to do this, you can too.