A pattern of positivity
Our patterns reveal to us our unhealed and unaddressed parts. By being gently aware of them and resolving to learn from their underlying messages, we can surely reverse them and heal our lives, says Jamuna Rangachari
What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher.” ~Chuck Palahniuk
Many of us find ourselves in certain loops in life: situations or experiences which keep repeating, making us scream “Not again!” or “Why me?” For most people, whenever something negative happens, their first reaction is to either brush it off as just a one-off or blame the environment. When it happens again, we may still do the same. The third time, we start wondering if there is something in us that’s attracting these situations.
Life has a funny way of teaching us lessons. When there is something you need to learn or work on in your life, the same situation will continue to repeat itself until you either learn the lesson or find a healthy way of dealing with that particular issue.
I often hear people say “Why do I keep going through the same things in relationships?” or “I meet different people, but things always end up being the same” or “They act just like someone I used to know and with whom I had a bitter experience.”
Some of these people give up, and some get stuck in a vicious cycle of their own making, not realising that they are basically chasing their tail, repeating the same situation over and over again, albeit with a different face.
Recently, I met an old friend of mine. She complained to me about being trapped in a dysfunctional pattern of attraction. She used to be a beautiful girl in her heyday and attracted a lot of attention from almost everyone. She had many relationships, but since college days, she would back off the moment she realised that the relationship was getting serious. This pattern seemed to be happening even now in life. She is getting old now and has no serious relationship to call her own, even in her own family.
However, she had a breakthrough moment recently. She realised that she never wanted to get serious as she was scared that she would not be allowed to pursue her interests by her suitors. It was an erroneous way of thinking. She should have shared her interests with the person interested in her and taken it forward from there.
Patterns can manifest not only in relationships but also at the workplace. You might try to flee a bad boss or difficult colleagues, only to realise that the same situation or similar people get repeated at your new workplace as well. You wonder why fate is punishing you with the same pain again and again.
If you work with the public, you may encounter the same issue with different customers, until you find a way to deal with it or until you learn the lesson. While working with the public, at the army wives welfare association, I noticed that every single person I came across was either upset, angry, or annoyed, and I would react similarly to them. We are all mirrors of each other.
After encountering many people with the same or similar attitude and not getting any reprieve, I began to try and find different ways to resolve the problem, e.g., by not taking things personally and showing empathy for the person I was helping.
Around that time in my life, my pattern was pointing towards an important life-lesson: How to stop taking things personally and view problems as opportunities. Had I not experienced the same problem with customers repeatedly and not made the necessary changes, I would still be experiencing the same situation.
I’m still working on this as some lessons take longer than others to master. Instead of reacting to situations, when something comes up and seems familiar, I try to stand back—even if for a second—and think. For a while it will seem like coincidences are playing out, but over time, the pattern of our lives will show up. The lessons are mostly related to your spiritual and emotional growth, which can vary, depending on what you need to learn or overcome at the soul level.
Sunaina Rajshekhar, 35, an IT professional, suffered from the pattern of only attracting emotionally abusive partners. Because of this, she was unable to enjoy domestic felicity with a man. When it happened the fourth time (after leaving her marriage and finding another man), she was surprised to see that the new man was no different from her abusive husband.
Till then she had been blaming her fate and toxic masculinity for her condition, but now she had had enough. She wanted answers as to why the same situation was getting replayed in her life. She went in therapy to find the root cause of her issue and discovered that she carried immense anger against her father for disrespecting her mother.
She had harboured the belief that all men were abusive, oppressive, and chauvinistic by nature, and she nursed resentment against them. She also found that she had not been able to forgive her first boyfriend for playing with her feelings and dumping her for another girl. Emotions of anger, betrayal, and rejection had created knots and fears in her subconscious mind. As she was energetically vibrating on these negative frequencies, she was attracting partners who were a mere reflection of her inner state.
“I am learning how to forgive and how not to be judgemental. I want to believe that all men are not the same and that it is possible to settle with a good, kind-hearted man who loves and respects me,” she says, hoping that one day when her inner work is complete, she would attract such a man and dissolve her pattern forever.
Similarly, our personal patterns can point towards any of the various lessons we are supposed to learn in the human incarnation. It could be a lesson in humility, gratitude, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, courage, or empathy.
How to recognise your pattern?
A good way of recognising patterns is by listening to your feelings, your intuition. I’ve found that when I am caught in a pattern, my emotions run a bit stronger, kind of a warning from my subconscious mind to pay attention to what’s happening.
More often than not, I recognise the pattern when the situation has ended or changed. It can be difficult to recognise a pattern while it’s playing out and we usually realise what had happened, later on. And that is okay. But when you realise that the situation is a repeat of a past incident, you must become alert and get ready to heal the root cause of the blockage. When you’re open to recognising a pattern, you can change it by learning the lesson, and in doing so, change your life.
Examples of common patterns
Below are some common recurring, negative spirals people face in their lives on a day-to-day basis. If any of the incidents below have happened to you at least five times, then it’s likely a pattern in your life.
• Being late for appointments
• Not meeting deadlines
• Being absent-minded
• Getting together with the ‘wrong’ guy or girl, resulting in destructive relationships
• Getting betrayed again and again
• Failing to achieve results despite working hard
• Sleeping late; not being able to wake up early
• Emotional eating
• Not exercising even though you planned to
• Getting into arguments or losing your temper
• Giving up halfway through whatever you’re doing
• Staying back late at work; getting burnt out
• Not being able to understand or accommodate other people’s perspectives
• Being extremely self-centred
• Being paranoid about everything
Some people’s response to these recurring behaviours is to exert external force to prevent the occurrence (i.e., through discipline). For example, if they are not exercising according to their regime, they will just whip themselves to stick to their exercise plan. If they are not sticking to their diet, they will discipline themselves to eat properly.
This usually works but only for a short period. The issue with this method is that it requires continuous expenditure of your energy to keep up the results. As soon as the external force is removed, you start to revert to your natural habit pattern. In addition, by investing external energy to address a particular area, you are left with less energy to deal with other things in your life.
The reason why this happens is that patterns occur as a result of the internal, fundamental frameworks one lives by. These frameworks refer to the inner beliefs and values that we hold. To get rid of these repetitive behaviours, we need to look inward, examine what triggers them, uncover the underlying causes, and resolve them at the root level. The good thing is that since patterns are a result of our beliefs, we can get out of them by changing our beliefs.
Here’s an exercise which I find very helpful in gaining clarity on the root causes of patterns. I regularly use it for self-improvement, and it has allowed me to change those behaviours of mine which don’t serve me, such as being late, emotional eating, and not sticking to my exercise plans. I also use this in my coaching, helping my friends successfully break negative patterns and accelerate toward their goals.
Before you start this exercise, write down a list of negative patterns in your life so that you can choose the one you want to get rid of.
1. List the past 5–10 times you have been in such a situation
Start by picking a pattern which you want to break. Then, list the past five times you were faced with it. Five is a decent sample size which lets us compare the incidents and spot similarities between those patterns. If you like, you can even list 10 incidents just to be exhaustive! Let’s take my example of being late for appointments. The lateness would usually range from anywhere between five minutes to 20 minutes, or even 30 minutes or more. Of course, I would often find excuses as well.
2. List the factors for each situation that led to the outcome
Now, list as many factors as you can that led to each incident occurring. If you have a pattern of waking up late, write down the reasons that lead you to sleep late. Maybe you had work to do, you were talking on the phone with a friend, you watch TV late into the night, or you have insomnia. It may be possible that each incident has more than one trigger, so list as many triggers as possible.
When I examined the incidents where I was late, I found a whole list of factors such as (a) oversleeping; (b) being caught up with work before the appointment; (c) the bus was late; (d) unanticipated traffic jam; (e) couldn’t find the location (the place was foreign to me); and (f) something cropped up just before the appointment.
3. Identify commonalities across the factors
Look at all the factors you have listed. Are there any common factors across the incidents? Circle them. Chances are you will find one or two dominant trends across all the factors listed. In my example, the common factor was that I was always caught up with work before the appointment. While there could have been additional factors in each case, I was almost always running late because I was engrossed in getting my work done.
4. Dig into the cause of the factors
Now, dig into those common factors. What led to these factors? For each answer that comes up, keep digging deeper to identify the underlying cause. Keep asking “Why is this the case?” or “Why is that so?” until you hit a resonating point.
Looking into why I was getting behind, I realised it was because I wanted to finish work which was supposed to have been done earlier but was not finished yet. As I looked deeper into this, I found:
• I had planned more than what was realistically achievable. I did not factor appropriate breaks, and I had underestimated the time needed for each task.
• Instead of adhering to my work schedule, I was distracted during the work process and would be doing peripheral tasks instead.
• This happened because I overestimated my own capacity.
• Thus, setting off for my appointments before I had finished my work meant that I wasn’t able to achieve what I had set out to do. I had let myself down by not living up to my envisioned persona. Because I didn’t want to accept that thought, I would keep working away at my tasks until I was late beyond measure.
It is possible to have several causes behind the factors. As you work on this step, ensure you uncover as many of them as possible.
5. Identify action steps to address the cause
Now that we have uncovered the root causes, how can we address them so that they will not recur in the future? Come up with action steps that will address the root causes as well as any factors which you feel lead to the issue.
In my case, the following are the action steps I came up with:
• Create task lists which realistically match my current capacity.
• Place my schedule in a prominent place so I can be conscious of the time, as well as the tasks that need to be done.
• In times where I am not able to get the work done, accept it, and create a separate plan to address the unfinished work later on.
As you come up with the steps, it may seem that they do not address the patterns directly. For example, with my issue of being late, creating task lists may not seem like the most appropriate solution at first sight. Yet, because it addresses one of the causes (unrealistic planning), it has helped me in breaking the pattern. If you (a) correctly nail down the root cause(s), (b) identify the right action steps, and (c) act on them, the patterns will start dissolving and disappear from your life.
In most cases, since we do not recognise that we have a problem, we do not even think of finding a solution.
Yogi Udgire, a trainer from Mumbai, conducted regular lectures in colleges and found that most of his lectures were becoming outdated. He decided to change the pattern of such lectures and after a lot of research, realised that he needed to change the methodology itself. In doing so, he founded a new institute of teaching, the institute of digital research that keeps updating the syllabus according to current trends. This has changed not only his way of giving lectures but also the life of his students, who feel more in sync with the current upgrades. Moreover, Udgire feels that he is constantly learning in the process.
Sri Satish Kaku, a guru from Mumbai, says, “There is no default pattern in life. True life is simple—new and fresh in each moment. Most patterns are self-created so I recommend awareness and meditation to all. This will help us stop building further karmas and even change the past samskaras (tendencies or mental impressions).”
Ameeta Sanghvi Shah, a psychotherapist from Mumbai, shares, “Changing patterns is about changing complex habits lodged in our unconscious. They often get activated without our conscious knowing. Will power and creative thinking help only slightly, and it is the therapies that actually deal with the unconscious, which helps tremendously in releasing the patterns.”
Elaborating further, she says, “NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), inner child therapy, past life regression therapy, visualisation, mental rehearsal, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), and family constellation work can reverse dysfunctional patterns and restore healthy ones.”
Getting addicted to people for your everyday happiness is also an unhealthy habit which can become a pattern if not healed. Shreeja Johar, a healer from Kolkata, says, “The dependence on external factors for every moment of your life can become suffocating after a point of time. I realised this when my friend, who used to be an integral part of my life, suddenly got so engrossed in his own life that my position in his life changed from being central to peripheral.”
She continues, “The journey to my self-development began. I started to understand that the void I was experiencing could only be filled with self-love and acceptance. Addictions aren’t just of substances but can be of people too, and the co-dependency can become stressful. Often, people become possessive and hypersensitive, which makes the relationship suffocating for both parties involved. Finally, some NLP tools and techniques helped me in creating a confident, happy, and most importantly, an independent me.”
There is the well-known story of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) too that has helped many reverse their patterns. It is now an international mutual-aid fellowship with more than two million members worldwide. It strives to help members ‘stay sober and other alcoholics achieve sobriety.’
One little-known aspect of the history of this enormously popular therapy, and a testament to the interdisciplinary nature of health and wellness, is the influence of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung.
AA was founded in 1935 by William Wilson and Robert Smith in Akron, Ohio. Years later, Wilson wrote to Jung acknowledging his ‘critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.’ Jung’s unusual influence came largely through his unsuccessful treatment of Rowland Hazard, an investment banker and former state senator from Rhode Island who, in the late 1920s, found himself slipping deeper into uncontrollable drinking. In Wilson’s words, Hazard had ‘exhausted other means of recovery from his alcoholism’ when he consulted Jung.
According to correspondence between Hazard and his cousin, the Pulitzer prize-winning poet Leonard Bacon (also a patient of Jung), Hazard had daily sessions with Jung in Zurich over several months and stopped drinking. However, after an alcoholic relapse during a trip to Africa, Hazard was brought back by his cousin to Jung as a ‘court of last resort’ in 1928. During this second analysis series, Jung pronounced Hazard a chronic alcoholic and stated there was nothing more that psychiatry or medicine could do for him. There was just one hope, Jung said, and stated it had to be a spiritual experience.
It might seem strange for a physician to prescribe a spiritual experience, but it is consistent with Jung’s background and interest. Jung’s father and several uncles were clergymen, while his mother reported having ‘second sight’ and said she was visited by spirits at night.
Jung’s prognosis made Hazard seek out the Oxford Group, a Christian evangelical movement, active in Europe and the U.S. during the 1920s and ‘30s. It appears that Hazard’s association with the Oxford Group proved beneficial because he soon stopped drinking. Although reforming alcoholics was not the primary goal of the Oxford Group, Hazard chose to devote service to alcoholics such as himself, in the hope that others would benefit.
Wilson wrote to Jung in 1961 to express his “great appreciation” for his efforts. “A certain conversation you once had with one of your patients, Mr. Rowland Hazard, back in the early 1930s,” Wilson explains, “did play a critical role in the founding of our Fellowship.”
As Wilson puts it in his letter: “You frankly told him of his hopelessness, so far as any further medical or psychiatric treatment might be concerned. This candid and humble statement of yours was beyond doubt the first foundation stone upon which our Society has since been built.”
After co-founding Alcoholics Anonymous, Wilson also did a lot of service and created the well-known, 12-step program for overcoming difficult patterns, whether it is alcoholism or something as simple as getting up early in the morning.
Let us aim to find our pattern to learn our lesson.
A 12-step programme for all (modified from the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous).
Though this has been taken from the alcoholism de-addiction programme, it is applicable to all of us in all areas of life.
Step 1: Honesty
After many years of denial, recovery can begin when—with one simple admission of being powerless against your pattern, whether it’s alcoholism or attracting abuse from others, or even in simple things like failing to get up early—we resolve to be honest with ourselves that we cannot get up in time.
Step 2: Faith
It seems to be a spiritual truth that before the higher power can begin to operate, you must first believe that it can. This belief is important for us to change.
Step 3: Surrender
A lifetime of self-will run riot can come to a screeching halt, and change forever, by making a simple decision to turn it all over to a higher power. Again, in all areas, one must surrender their life to a higher power and request to be guided at all times.
Step 4: Soul Searching
There is a saying in the 12-step program that recovery is a process, not an event. The same can be said for this step—more will surely be revealed. For all of us, it is indeed true that life is a process, not an event.
Step 5: Integrity
Probably the most difficult of all the steps to face, step five is also the one that provides the greatest opportunity for growth. One needs to be completely honest with themselves and others to grow further.
Step 6: Acceptance
The key to step six is acceptance—accepting character defects exactly as they are and becoming entirely willing to let them go. Like in alcoholism, most of us don’t change our habits as we don’t accept that we have a character defect.
Step 7: Humility
The spiritual focus of step seven is humility, asking the higher power to do something that cannot be done by self-will or mere determination.
Step 8: Willingness
Making a list of those harmed by us before coming into recovery may sound simple. Becoming willing to actually make those amends is the difficult part. Here again, it can be anyone like your colleague, life-partner, or a friend. The fact is that bad habits do have an impact on others, and we need to work on rectifying this.
Step 9: Forgiveness
Making amends may seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but for those serious about recovery, it can be a great medicine for the spirit and soul. For those blaming others like their colleagues or partners for everything in life, again, this is a great medicine for the soul.
Step 10: Maintenance
Nobody likes to admit being wrong. But it is absolutely necessary to maintain spiritual progress while in recovery, be it alcoholism or any other negative pattern.
Step 11: Making Contact
The purpose of step 11 is to discover the plan God (as you understand Him) has for your life.
Step 12: Service
For those in recovery programmes, practising step 12 is simply telling others ‘how it works.’ For the rest of us, it is helping all those we come across who may require our help.
Our patterns shape our lives. These are created by us in myriad ways, so it makes sense to understand them completely and find the growth-related lessons hidden in them. This awareness will not only help in eliminating negative patterns but also enable us to create positive life-patterns for ourselves. This is possible as everything is a matter of our deep-rooted beliefs. By creating the patterns we desire, slowly but steadily, we will be able to design a fulfilling life for ourselves. A life that makes us happy and contented.
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