Time and pain.
So often in psychotherapy people come to a point where they ask: is what I feel just about me or is it because of what's happening around me or is it both?
This question I think goes to the heart of what I do and questions like these are really difficult to answer and often take a long time to answer, if ever. So what does this mean?
An example might be someone who on the surface was having a bad week. They missed an appointment, a tooth became infected and they had to go to the dentist, something bad happened at work, they had an argument with their partner: all these at the same time. Now it makes sense that they might be feeling pretty bad about all this, but do they feel bad because these are bad things or are they feeling bad because in the past for them bad things happened all the time and caused them to make generalizations about how the world worked, how people treat each other etc. Or is it somewhere in between?
Obviously difficulties occur in any lifetime - how could they not? The crucial point is how someone responds to a bad week like this. Some would feel a bit low and deflated for a few days, but wouldn't assume that this encouraged a dim view of things. Someone else would see this series of events as confirmation that nothing good ever happens.
To me it speaks to our relationship with the past, present and future. If we respond to difficulty by becoming depressed or anxious then it's likely that a harsh past has given us the idea that things will always be harsh: therefore the future won't be any better. Someone else may feel bad in the present, but on some level will feel that the future will be different: something else will happen and it's just as likely that it won't be bad.
Here in the West I think the pre-occupation with Eastern thinking: staying focused on the present speaks to perhaps a cultural problem we have with dwelling on difficulty and becoming preoccupied with avoiding it in the future.
So bad things happen around us, to us, because of us but perhaps they won't always be bad: that it's just as possible that something pleasurable or meaningful will happen. Just because we come from difficulty, doesn't mean everything will be difficult. We may feel pain, but that doesn't mean that life is only painful or that we're doomed to it.