It starts when we’re young. We watch telly, perhaps, and sink a little further into the cushions, to avoid our homework. We hide from that sound of a parent asking us where we are, and whether we are doing what we’re supposed to be doing.
In adulthood, it happens when we sink a little further into the cushions of our own minds, to avoid moving our projects forward. We hide from the sound of our inner parent asking us whether we’re doing what would move things forward.
We have a lot of techniques for avoidance. Here are a few of the most common.
When we project, we point to someone else and say ‘It’s them! They’re stopping me from being effective!’ We become the retailer who blames her customers; the lover who blames their lover; the workman who blames his tools; the teacher who blames their pupils. We experience an uncomfortable emotion, and we try to reduce a sense of guilt by formulating a reason why our situation is not our fault.
Some of us hide in bed, some hide at work, some hide in our own heads using silence… but the aim is the same. We feel vulnerable, and we want to escape the critical eyes of others, and the work we think is involved in being present. In fact, our presence is a simple thing, but we imagine life to be full of predators and difficulty. So we disappear for a while into our own world.
FINDING ‘OTHER URGENT THINGS’
When studying psychology, I and fellow students invented the term ‘TOUT syndrome’. ‘TOUT’ stands for ‘The Other Urgent Thing’. We had noticed that, whenever an important assignment was due, we would suddenly decide that the vacuuming absolutely HAD to be done right now. We noticed the tendency of the mind to use ‘urgent’ alternatives to distract attention from the truly important.
HOW TO AVOID AVOIDANCE
In some respects, avoidance is a useful thing. Just as a sports person may dodge a tackle, so we can deftly keep ourselves in the game by avoiding certain tricky obstacles that might otherwise derail us. We can buy time that way. However, when we sense there is something central that we are dodging, we may need to persuade ourselves to engage more openly and clearly.
We can avoid projection by taking responsibility onto ourselves. Instead of pushing fault outwards, we can ask ourselves honestly what we are feeling. If we are feeling pressurised, then we can accept the feeling for longer, without hurling it at someone else. We can meditate on the feeling until we can be fully present in its company. This stops us from making things worse with knee-jerk reactions. It makes it more likely we will quietly get on with what is necessary.
We can avoid hiding by allowing ourselves to engage with others peacefully. We can choose to communicate gently, about anything we choose. The worst that can happen is that others say no to a request. Gently engaging reassures us that we are safer than we think, and don’t have to hide behind walls of self-doubt.
AVOIDING FINDING ‘OTHER URGENT THINGS’
Lastly, we can avoid ‘The Other Urgent Thing’ syndrome by watching ourselves mindfully. We can notice when we’re distracting our own and others’ attention onto an unrelated problem. If ‘The Other Urgent Thing’ is useful, we might choose to allow a bit of distraction. But we won’t let it get out of hand.
A USE FOR MEDITATION
In summary, we can:
- Be aware of our own feelings, and take responsibility for them
- Engage with others peacefully
- Watch ourselves mindfully, noticing when we get distracted
There are many meditations that help with all or part of the above. Most practices teach us sitting with our feelings, peaceful engagement, and mindful focus.
Without these abilities we become hard like a snooker ball, ricocheting off people and events. With these skills, we become in control of our actions, and peaceful.