Uncomfortably Numb

Long ago, I heard a story about how Indians train elephants in Asia. When the elephant is very young, the owner ties a very thick rope around its leg and attaches the rope to a strong, tall pole. As strong as the elephant is, the rope is always stronger. After countless attempts, it resigns itself to the confines of the rope. As the elephant matures, a thinner rope is employed. At the elephant's full maturity, the smallest rope is used. At this point, the elephant is surely strong enough to break the flimsy rope. But because of its conditioning, the elephant assumes that the rope is always stronger than it is and never tries to escape. Sadly, this conditioning process is not unique to elephants. There is an important lesson here: we are often prisoners of our own mental conditioning.

As infants, we are given protective boundaries by our parents, and for good reason. Then, as children, we employ countless means to exercise our freedoms, but our efforts are often caught in the net of limitations we impose on ourselves. Furthermore, as adults we perpetuate our childhood insecurities (e.g., I cannot draw), thus limiting our true potential. Just like the adult elephant, we resign ourselves to the length and the strength of the rope. Ironically, with maturity the limitations are miniscule, but, like the elephant, we are fooled into thinking otherwise. The good news is that a conditioned mind can be reprogrammed.

With regard to being caught in the undertow of life's problems, some questions come to mind. The first is, "Why are you stuck?" or "What is holding you down?" The second is, "How do you get unstuck?" Since the rest of this book is dedicated to getting unstuck, let's examine why some people choose to stay stuck. A colleague of mine with a practice in internal medicine shared this soliloquy, which sheds significant light on the issue:

"You know, there are people who come see me who don't want to be healed. They actually enjoy their illness. Oh, they would never admit that. In fact, these people would most likely deny it. But if you were to unlock the door to their unconscious minds, you would find out that their illness gives them some level of recognition, a strange kind of notoriety. Perhaps its even control over a spouse or a child. This baffles the hell out of me and my colleagues, because our job is to cure them, yet they interfere with the healing process. Some patients may say that they want to be healed and go through all the motions and the efforts to reach the elusive golden ring of health, but somewhere along the way, they sabotage themselves. The desire not to be healed is far greater than the wish to be cured, and this secret desire wins out every time. In essence, their identity is wrapped up in the disease. Boy, is the ego a powerful sucker!"

His comment reminded me of my favorite lightbulb joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: one, but the lightbulb really has to want to change! Whether it's an illness, a dying relationship, or a bad day at the office, the same explanation applies. Unless the mind is totally committed to change, the wheels of limitations just keep spinning in place.

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