Overtime, you’ll start to find that it’s getting easier and easier to maintain pole position in directing your own life and your efforts and energy to where you really want to get. You’re starting to be more aware of what you do and don’t actually like, what you do and don’t actually want to do, and what activities and people fill you up, energize and empower you, and which ones really don’t.
With practice, you’ll get more and more adept at noticing when your backseat driver is surreptitiously back behind the wheel, pulling you down into pointless distractions and off into tangential dead-ends, goading your critters into a fury or trying to ship them out - permanently - to Australia.
The good news is that most of the time, he’s not going to be able to mess with your head the way he used to. You’re onto him now, and most of his sneaky tricks, and you’re starting to be able to ‘choose against’ much, much more, and more easily than in the past.
The bad news is that the backseat driver still has access to your two biggest nuclear buttons, and the more you start trying to pull away from him, the more he starts to use them against you.
These two buttons are marked ‘fear’ and ‘anger’, although most people don’t actually realize that these are the two raw emotions powering up those babies.
Many people prefer to call these buttons by fluffier names like stress, worry, indecision, mild upset, disappointment, etc. But if you dig a big deeper, you’ll always hit the bedrock of either anger, or fear, lurking underneath. It’s like when the boss calls you over for a chat, and your stomach instantly lurches into your shoes.
We can call that ‘butterflies in the stomach’, which conjures up the most fragile creatures in the world whispering gently around out intestines, but what are we feeling really?
WHAT ARE YOU REALLY FEELING?
“The boss wants to talk to me? Why? What did I do wrong? Is it that unauthorized phone call to Honolulu I made three months ago? Did someone complain about me? I bet it’s Jill! She’s had her eyes on my project for a long time. She’s always stabbing people in the back. She’s such a cow. I can’t believe she’d go this far though, unbelievable…”
Step back, and let’s observe what’s going on here. It started out as fear, and then very quickly the anger and self-indignation rushed in like a tidal wave, together with a solid (but completely unproven….) assumption that Jill has done the dirty on us somehow, and dropped us in hot water.
Then you get to the boss and you find out he just wants you to know you have a week of leave to take, and you need to do it pronto, by the end of the year. That’s it?!? You worked yourself up into a state over that?!
What’s going on here? Suddenly, you feel like you’re four years old, all lost in the world and completely overwhelmed. You need your mommy, right now. But now you’re 34 years old! And mommy isn’t available to soothe your pain and kiss is better. What makes all this even worse is that you’ve convinced yourself you’re an enlightened human being now, and that you’re meant to be past all these charged emotional outbursts.
The people who buy into that story get so badly stuck because they’re effectively closing themselves into a cell with no light, no window, no door. If you tell yourself that you’re enlightened and you can’t get angry or scared even more - even though you’re clearly doing precisely that - how can you ever get out of the problem?
If you can’t recognize the street that lead you down this blind alley, how can you retrace your steps?
True emotional freedom requires us to be honest about what’s really going on. It requires us to stop daintily hopping over words like stressed-out, healthy venting and a bit worried to actually call the emotional spade a spade: we’re angry, and we’re scared.
And sometimes, it’ll go the other way around instead, and we’ll be scared and then angry. And sometimes, a few other things will get drawn into the mix, too, and we’ll find ourselves feeling angry, scared, resentful, jealous and hating.
But underneath it all, it’s really all just a reaction to losing control.
Don’t panic when you suddenly discover you have no idea what you yourself really thinks about a whole bunch of stuff, or that you have no idea what you really want to do with yourself, or why.
Instead, just turn your attention to taming your inner critters. The way to do this is to just start noticing how they react to your situations and experiences. Does the thought of having to give a big presentation, or attend a job interview send them scurrying back into their box, or climbing the walls?
What makes them soften up and relax a little? Long walks on the beach? Long talks with someone a little wiser? A little light reading or a hard work-out? As you get to know your critters better, you’ll soon start to figure out that certain people literally have them eating out of their hand, while others put their backs up and get them baring their teeth and growling up a storm.
Relating to your deeper feelings as critters that need to be house-trained can give you a very helpful handle on how to deal with being plunged into feelings of frozen overwhelm or hepped-up over-excitement. But where critters beat dogs hands down is that with a bit of practice, you can actually get them to talk.
Actually, that’s not exactly true. The critters are talking to us all the time, just we haven’t tuned our ears to hear them. But listening to what they are saying can quickly become one of the most profoundly satisfying and useful skills you’ll ever learn in your life. Because critters often hold some of the most valuable pieces of insight and wisdom.
Up until now, you couldn’t hear them because the backseat driver was filling your head with all its dictates, and arguments and worries and concerns. The critters couldn’t really get a look in, unless they went ballistic one day and bit someone’s head off (and let’s face it, that used to happen much more than we like to admit. That’s part of the reason we shoved them in the Porta-Pet in the first place.)
And initially, you may have to take them out for walks muzzled, until you really learn their moods and their foibles, and what sorts of things can set them off and trigger an attack stance. Over time, if you observe them carefully, and really start to listen to what they’re telling you, and showing you with their reactions, you’ll start to build the most rewarding relationship of your life.
The more you care for your critters and tend to their needs, the more they’ll come to trust you, and to go to bat for you when you need them.
Your critters have a much keener sense of smell than you do; they can sense danger - and also snuffle out genuine opportunities and hidden treasures - a million times better than you can.
But you have to be the one holding the leash and taking them for a walk, and not the other way around.
Over time, you’ll discover that you’ve come to know your critters so well, and that you’ve trained them so ably, you very rarely have to worry about them losing their heads and chewing their way through the neighbors’ prize dahlias. Instead, you’ll be able to easily put their talents and abilities at your disposal - as long as you learn their limitations, and respect their requirements.
If your critters hate big, loud, superficial parties, don’t take them to those things even if it seems like a great idea. If they hate being cooped in a stuffy accountant’s cubby hole, you’ll have to find a different job to do, or a different way of doing your job, that will take the critters into account.
If the critters hate sitting through a six hour Thanksgiving feast with your nearest and dearest, you’ll have to decide to either box them back up out the way for the afternoon (and then deal with the consequences of doing that later) or bring them along but leave at the first sign they’re getting a little antsy.
You’ll learn so much about life if you start to listen more to your critters. But that doesn’t mean they’re always right, or completely infallible. When you’re out searching for clues, or trying to track something or someone down, the bloodhound will be invaluable. But no-one sane ever takes their dog’s advice about what stocks to invest.
So don’t expect more from your critters than they’re capable of giving you.
Learn their strengths, respect their weaknesses and you’ll be rewarded many times over.
But don’t expect your backseat driver to like your critters, or the other way around.
One of the backseat drivers’ favorite ploys is to spend a few moments inflaming and inciting your critters, until all hell breaks loose and they’re pooping all over the place and otherwise wrecking the joint. At that point, the backseat driver will try to convince you that you can’t deal with these critters by yourself - I mean, look at the terrible mess and destruction they’re causing!! - and that you really need him, the backseat driver, to get things back under control.
How’s he going to do this? By banning the critters to the back of beyond, crating them up and shipping them out.
That’s how they got into that Porta-Pet crate in the first place, and that’s why they’re going so bug-eyed and wild now you’re finally trying to spring them out again.
From their side of things, whenever the critters have to deal with the backseat driver again, it’ll bring out the very worst in them. Whether they deal by gnashing their teeth, running away or freezing in place - maybe, a combination of all of these things - depends on a whole bunch of things.
But the more you’ve invested in your relationship with your critters, they more they trust you, and the more you really understand and value them, the easier it’ll be to get things back under control again when they do go a little beserk again. And that is inevitably going to happen, because animals inevitably act like animals, not angels.
So to sum up where we’ve got to:
The more you get to hang out with your critters, the more you’ll start to find that you want to hang out with people who like, even love them just as much as you do. Or at the very least, who can tolerate them without blowing a gasket.
There will still be times when you have to Porta-Pet them, but increasingly you’ll find that you’ll want to keep those occasions to a bare minimum, and to also keep those times as short as possible.
Because while you can function superficially without your critters, your critters can’t stay sane for long without you, and they’ll be sure to let you know how much they missed you when you get around to visiting them again.