While this newsletter might seem to be speaking about courtesy in the online flow of information (more about that later), the title of this month’s mind contemplation is taken from the national anthem of the USA. They are having their national day this month (so is Canada), France’s and Singapore’s is just around the corner and I’m sure there are more I haven’t mentioned.
In fact, most countries have a ‘day’ that they designate as their own – often with celebratory fireworks, national colours or flags flying – with those of the nationality identifying (or disassociating) with their country of origin/inheritance. Even the Soccer World Cup has people in the garb of their own land or of another favourite nationality.
How does this relate to the mind? If you’ve ever been asked “where are you from?”, you realize that your answer may articulate part of your persona, form personal labels, associate with particular connotations, and may have particular meaning (whether to yourself or to others). Often nationalism is a very personal and emotional subject, and because of those reasons, the mind plays a big part in our definition of ‘home land’.
“There’s No Place Like Home”
The subconscious mind feels comfortable with labels and associations. That’s how it works best. It is the connectedness that makes life easier, because we can settle into acting in a consistent way. Of course, this can have disastrous effects when we label ourselves with limits or harmful ways of acting or doing. At the same time, if we look at each and every culture, there are some strengths and attributes that would be worthy of our continued support. While others may tease about the small population and cold climate of Canada, these ‘solitary’ (which seems funny growing up in the large, multi-ethnic city of Toronto) and harsh conditions gave me a healthy respect for the environment, possibly a pioneering determination… While certain qualities may have both pluses and minuses all in one, it’s useful to take a moment to note the various pros and cons associated with a heritage so that you can pick and choose what you want and need in your life, wherever you are. Want to make it more interesting? Find someone from another nation to challenge your own beliefs and labels.
Rituals and Hands on Hearts
I love the positive side of pride. While there may be a commercial excess of nationally-coloured gizmos for sale every year around _____ Day, there’s a great and positive sense of fervor to it. If you had trouble with listing the pros of your country, go to its yearly celebration. Not only will you hear or sense the words that make the country what it feels it is, but you’ll see some great rituals. Fireworks, barbeques, getting together with family or friends, leaving town, going swimming with the kids… it doesn’t matter what you may choose to do, you can make it into a ritual to be proud of. The subconscious mind loves associations and you can lodge a meaningful pattern in the mind much more easily when it’s a ‘special’ day. If you find joy in walking, make a National Day walk. If you want to spend more time with the kids, find something to do with them on that day that can possibly add something to your relationship that was missing. It’s almost endless what you can do, making the ordinary into something extraordinary or special. And as most people start a change on the first of January, other special days are just as powerful to be the beginning of a shift – and there seems to be less pressure (which makes commitment an easier fit).
Us vs Them
Nationalism does have its dark side. As is often the case, when we connect ourselves with one group, we set ourselves apart from another. Not to diminish the positive aspects of diversity, which I truly support, the sometimes funny reactions of “us” vs “them” can get us into trouble. Because of the protective function of the mind, we can sometimes put things down or push them away to keep our safety and security intact. Although stereotyping can be an efficient way of classifying with the mind, we need to assume that we are assuming more than we know. What does that mean? If you’re raised in Nation A, you’ll probably get a Nation A’s perspective on Nation B. For example, there was a WWII movie made in technicolour in the 60s about a bunch of soldiers from the US and Canada needing to work together. The English accents, staunch formality and general lack of creativity on the part of the Canadian suggested to me that this was not a multi-national collaboration on characters! While funny and ridiculous, the repetition of outdated or mistaken typecasting can result in some very unfortunate patterns being established, throughout history and in today’s world. I know that I have to caution myself against seeing different as being wrong sometimes and keep an open mind to alternative approaches, national sagas and perspectives.
Out of Place and Finding a Place
What about the people in the international community who has spent more if not all of their days in ‘foreign’ nations. Where is home? Often this can make individuals feel somewhat rootless as they negotiate different cultures as their norm. Many take on the attributes of their country of origin, while others immerse themselves in the culture of their present situation. Whatever the approach, help the mind find its most supportive place in a few different ways:
1. Child of the World: we’re all part of a bigger whole on this earth, so filling your heart and mind with compassion for our fellow humans usually puts us in a better space.
2. We’re Very Lucky to Stay or to Move: If you’re reading this email, you’ve achieved a lot in your life. Your ability to be safe where you are or have the opportunity to move freely around the world is a gift not shared by all. Sometimes it’s nice to remind ourselves about our little fortunes to direct our mind in a more positive slant.
3. You are a Part of Something: National Days are no exception to other holidays in the number of lives taken – through accidents or on purpose. I believe that it is such a strong need for humans to be a part of something – meaningful, worthy, loving, connected – that our inability to feel that can misdirect us into a downward spiral of helplessness or hopelessness. Should you or someone you love experience the holiday blues, some of these perspectives may help, and there are those who are trained to support you through tough times. Please use them. And know that you are part of something greater, with virtually unlimited potential, and that you are loved.
4. We have the Ability to Pick and Choose: Just as with friend and some of our families, we can label and associate ourselves with the best of the world. Remember, what the mind believes, it can achieve, so load your mind with the strengths and traits that best support you. And it doesn’t have to be at a cost of pushing other aspects away – we can just ascribe and embody a cross-section of the best.
Whatever your heritage, your country of origin or residence, you have the power to create your life in a way that works best for you. The plasticity of the mind continues to boggle us in how our hard wiring isn’t wired so hard and we have the capacity to turn weaknesses into strengths, qualities into aspects of power, and connect with others to build happier, healthier lives for ourselves and others.
And as a little maple leaf humour – for those who might want to see a very popular (in Canada) national ‘rant’, please look to this link – it is all made in good fun, and isn’t meant to harm anyone in any way.
Take care and have a great day in whatever place you may be,