Nerve reflexes are normal, and helpful. They protect us – like pulling our hand back lightning fast from something burning hot. Metal and emotional habits are often the same. They protect us from being hurt again. Like software expert and author of “Secrets of a Buchaneer Scholar” James Marcus Bach (@jamesmarcusbach) once tweeted, “people get defensive because they have something to defend”.
The problem comes when you stand there repeatedly jerking your hand back long after the stove has gone cold. If you react reflexively to things that aren’t a threat, then looking silly is probably the least of your problems.
That is where Socrates comes in handy: “Know Thyself”. If you know what triggers your unreasonable reflexes, then you can either avoid the trigger, change the trigger, or at least try to over-ride and re-condition the reflex. Luckily, mental and emotional habits and reflexes are more malleable than the physical nervous system kind.
This part is just my opinion: Buddhism and Taoism often talk about self-discipline. My Western mind tends to jump right to the notion of doing something in a rigid, regimented way is the only kind of discipline that counts: Meditating every day, keeping a vegitarian diet – that kind of discipline. I think there is something else important – something the daily regimine kind of thinking totally misses. Self-discipline isn’t necessarily about doing something every day. It is more to do with self-knowledge coupled with self-control. Self-discipline is controlling your reactions and reflexes. You can’t change the facts and reality of the past and what has happened…but you can change how you react to those realities – and all the realities that are unfolding now. You can’t control what other people feel or do. Your own feelings are genuine, authentic, spontaneous, valid and necessary – but you can control how you react to your feeling and circumstances. THAT is self-discipline.
Sometimes the way to that self-discipline is the other kind…the regimines and rituals. Meditation certainly helps. So does the exact thing the Page of Cups symbolizes: Dealing with demons, exhorcizing old emotional ghosts, and in essence, knowing thyself. To deal with them, you first have to know what your inner demons are.
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