Cognitive Dissonance to the Nth degree
Back in the day when I was young I’m not a kid anymore...
Do you remember back in the day when you had your first crush? I do. Although the one I plan to share with you now was actually not my first, it was noteworthy all the same. I was in Elementary School and his name was Jonas, (not his real name). He was French, with a face full of freckles and a Ron Weasley head of hair. Funny, he was clumsy and was always eating as well.
He was nice. I was nice. We were nice together. Although part of my prepubescent brain did the running man every time we held hands, there was this other part of me that felt equally...repulsed, for lack of a better word. His crime? He ate Cheezits. All the time. All day. Every day. Like Brad Pitt’s character from Oceans Eleven, this kid was always eating, mowing down handfuls of Cheezits. This is where you might think, “Huh... repulsed? By Cheezits?” Yes, but have you kissed someone who lived for Cheezits? I call it “cat food breath”. It was not good, and, as a result, it was only once. Bless his little French bread heart. I even bought him the Use Your Illusion I CD for his birthday. Like I said, he was nice. But cat food breath just isn’t my thing. So we chose to be friends instead. This great decision was almost certainly made via a note passed in class with boxes for yes, no, or possibly maybe.
But even though this was a little over two decades ago when I was a mere pre-teen, I remember this being an uncomfortable experience- dealing with two very opposing emotions at the same time. A crush AND disgust. It would be years later during my undergrad studies in Psychology that I realized a term for this experience existed- cognitive dissonance. Sounds like a Pearl Jam song, but absolutely nowhere near as enjoyable as a PJam ballad.
No, it is actually an incredibly uncomfortable experience. According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, cognitive dissonance is a psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes that are held at the same time. Doesn’t sound that bad? Try reading it in John Oliver’s voice as he talk-yells to the camera with passion and fervor. Bloody brilliant.
While I have experienced cognitive dissonance, (let’s just call it CD at this point), a multitude of times throughout my life, and will most assuredly continue to do so, nothing could have prepared me for experiencing CD as a parent. Nothing. Insert CD to the Nth degree.
Your child is born. You love them. You smell their head. You watch them while they sleep, making sure to poke them every now and again to see that yes, they are indeed still alive. You give up sleep, showering, and sex for quite some time. And you could care less. But at some point, they establish their own personalities and things get tricky. It’s not even the times when they smack you in the face, or scream at the top of their lungs, or scratch you in anger, or poop on the floor for the 10th time, then proceed to touch and smear that poop all over everything. No. It’s not even when they become sassy and tell you they do not like you, to go away, or that you should shut your mouth. (Parents of teens now realize, “Oh, she must have younger children”. Yes, 6 and 3.5) No. These are just examples of kids being kids really.
Being a parent is like walking, living, and breathing CD most of the time. You are the role models for your children. This we know. (And of course, the music makers and the dreamers of dreams). What you say, how you act, if you choose to throw a pillow across the room in a moment of frustration, if you choose to scream at the cat, if you choose to yell at them for not listening for the millionth time that day, they can see the anger in your face, even smell it on your skin. In that very moment that they see it, you can then see it on them. In their eyes and on their little faces. They are a mirror. Perhaps the most powerful, brutally honest mirror in existence. Snow Whites' Wicked Queen’s magic mirror is nothing compared to this. And, wham! You are in bed with CD. You’ve got it bad. You might still be reeling from frustration or anger, but now you get to add in guilt and self-loathing. But the beauty of this is it goes both ways. You can be in your own head, going over the budget, fretting over your finances, silently berating your partner for something trivial but oh so annoying, or dealing with a moment of sadness because your Pops' song came on and you would give anything just to see his face and talk with him once again. They see this too. A little hand will appear on your back, or a meaningful and sometimes rare, “I love you” will be whispered in your ear, or they will make that face or do that dance that triggers the direct line to your funny bone, and before you know it, you’re laughing, feeling love and loved, gratitude, stress and sadness all at the same time. It’s like the move Inside Out, (which I think is a brilliant film by the way), sometimes sadness is necessary for joy to even exist. Speaking of Inside Out, I have decided that Bing Bong is the perfect example of CD. I mean, he is literally three things at once- part cat, dolphin, and elephant. The CD that must go on in that brain!
I think it was the movie Inception where they were discussing the implantation process when Leo’s character said that a positive emotion always outweighs a negative one in terms of power and lasting impression. I wholeheartedly agree. While I may learn quite a bit about myself during moments of CD when a reflection of my anger glares at me through my child’s eyes, I learn more about the power of love, life, and beauty during those other moments where their love for me is pouring out of their eyes, seeping out of their souls, grasping, yearning to hold my hand.
While CD may always be there to give us the uncomfortable willies, I do have a helpful tool to try, if the 'ole sperm-and-egg-becoming-a-parent-dance is not your thing. It’s earplugs. Noise control ones if you’ve got the dough.
Just kidding. It’s only meditation.
Meditation also acts as a mirror, not just for CD, but for everything. For me, meditation
is not only self-care as a Mom/human/bad-ass-woman, which in turn makes me a better all of the above, it is the art of practicing non-attachment, and a tool to peel away the layers of avidya, (wrong knowledge). You know, all those awesome things you say to yourself when you fail or get that yearning to try something new or take that creative risk. (Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcast, Big Magic talks a lot about creativity and fear should this topic interest you more. I am sure you can find it on your iPhone, iTunes, or just google it already, you lazy bones). The more I practice meditation, the more I am better equipped to handle big, bad CD. So I wake up, every morning at 5 AM, while it is dark and the house is quiet, and I practice. One of the most beautiful gifts I give, both to myself and anyone I come in contact with, is my meditation practice. If you are curious to try meditation or would just like to experience some new material, I highly recommend anything by Rod Stryker. You can find him on Yogaglo, Yoga International, YouTube, or you can download the CD that accompanies his book, The Four Desires. Or, just GOOGLE him.
Try it. What have you got to lose? When big, bad CD comes a knockin’, you might just have a tool to pause, feel all those feelings and respond, rather than react. Or just put on some PJam and kick back...heeeeey, I-iiiii, ohhhh, I'm still alive.