During a recent gathering of great minds who help me keep perspective, one of my closest friends shared an intriguing observation. If you remove cattle from a burning barn, they have to be restrained in a safe location or they will return to the burning building. Why? Because they associate the barn with safety. Even though the barn is no longer safe, their instinctual brains are driving them back to what they associate with comfort.
When I first heard this account, my mouth dropped open and I stared blankly. The group thought that I was worried about the cows. I wasn’t thinking about cattle. I was thinking about how often I have returned to unhealthy behaviors because they are associated with comfort in my instinctual mind. Somewhere along the line, ice cream, chocolate and milk gave me comfort. Somewhere, I got the idea that life is about suffering and hard work. My rational mind thinks that’s insane but my cow brain still desires to go back to the burning barn.
I started to think about how many people I have watched go back to their burning barns. Addictions of various forms: food, money, sex, work, religion, exercise… All of those things can be harmful in the extreme (in either direction… too little or too much).
I am practicing living in the moment, here and now. Feeling my feelings as they happen, being in control of my actions but not which emotions I let myself feel. It gives way to spontaneous tears, incredible joy and occasional anxiety. But, you know what? I’m still here! My feelings aren’t fatal but continuing to go back to the burning barn is.