Most of the time we go through our days following a schedule or routine that is more or less familiar. Even when it’s a day without a schedule or one that contains some new adventure, there are enough elements within it to provide us with the continuity of what’s familiar. I wonder if we realize just how much we rely on our day to day lives to always have this kind of consistency. We certainly experience a level of comfort in expecting that the sun will rise every morning, the earth will stay solid under our feet and other aspects of our lives will remain stable.
Consider the times you encounter a new experience – an event that’s happened to you, a situation where you are asked to do something you’ve never done before or maybe you’re involved in learning new skills. In each case, you find yourself evaluating and categorizing what’s before you. We all do this – checking out our experience to identify elements that are known or maybe similar to what we already know. Of course, this process keeps us from becoming overwhelmed by having to take in so much that’s new that we cannot move forward. We even follow this pattern every time when we meet a stranger, comparing his appearance, voice or mannerisms to others we already know.
As we go from one day to the next, the elements in our lives that are familiar become expectations for our future. Say I meet someone who bears a strong resemblance to my sister. It would not be unusual for me to allow my feelings about and attitude towards my sister to influence my interactions with this new person. At some point, however, as the new relationship develops, the bearing of my familiar sense will give way to create space for the “newly” familiar. This is the way we operate, though often it’s not as smooth a process as it might seem.
There can be clinging and aversion that get in the way of actually seeing or appreciating the new experience as it is, or, in the case above, the person as she is. We become attached to the way things are, to what we know, to who we are or to what we have. The attitudes and feelings we bring can mask what we otherwise might see or hear or feel. It requires conscious awareness to determine how open and unencumbered we can be in greeting what is new. Even with the intention to remain open, “new” doesn’t stay that way for long.
The drive to be comfortable, surrounded by the familiar, is very strong. It is part of what helps us survive and negotiate our environment. Often we sort of slide right into reframing a new experience into one that is familiar. But when a life changing event occurs, it’s not so easy. Transforming upheaval into familiar or comfortable takes some effort though it can happen nonetheless. Consider Stockholm syndrome, or attitudes/behaviors of victims of abuse or violence or natural disasters. Not to reduce the effects of such events to a simplistic level, but certainly some element of the drive to incorporate familiarity is present. In particular, when a situation is not an isolated occurrence but continues over a period of time, a person habituates himself to what is happening around him. This process itself does not indicate an attitude of acceptance or approval; instead it carries with it the intention of supporting the individual in moving ahead with his life. As with so many other aspects of our lives, this changing face of familiar is a process that serves us better when we can bring awareness to it. The practice of mindfulness, which can be supported through meditation and yoga, has been found to assist in providing clearer intention for times when we are in this process. Being mindful in the moment can help us understand when expectations based on our familiar lives are getting in the way of clear seeing. It can also create the potential for an opening toward newness or change or whatever is different from what we’ve known before, leading us hopefully to a more authentic, less automatic, way of living.