He’s starting to believe

So I’m starting to believe.

Not that I think I’m Neo, for those of you who are fans of the Matrix. (There’s another Matrix reference later, just to keep Trevor happy). It’s that the cynic who keeps me safe and sane is taking a back seat and the adventurer who believes anything is possible is doing more of the driving. I keep seeing and experiencing more things that the cynic can’t explain away as pure coincidence.

It’s not that I’m pessimistic or not open to new ideas, more that I’m a realistic optimist who’s aware that there’s more to achieving goals than just positive thinking. But in the past whenever the adventurer comes out to play and makes decisions, something goes wrong. The cynic sighs quietly in the corner and stands up and takes over. Again.

It’s like living with an excitable teenager inside my own head and the cynic is all parental and picks me up, dusts me off and puts me back on the right path. I suppose the point is, who’s right path is it? It used to think that the cynic inside me was me being my Dad. Partly there to watch over me and keep me safe and partly getting exasperated whenever something went wrong, scolding me and making sure I did the right i.e. ‘sensible’ thing. Take the sensible decision. It keeps you safe.

Over the years the cynic has been the stronger of the two, particularly when I was younger, keeping control of the excitable teenager and only letting him out at party time for a laugh. There have been fewer of those times of late – shame really.

But the more I sit and think about the reality of it, the more I realise that the good decisions have come from the adventurous side of me, not the safe and cynical one. Risks are worth taking. The whole point is that risks don’t always pay off. That’s what makes them risks in the first place. It’s just that when they do pay off, they more than make up for the times when they don’t. Unless you’re taking poorly judged, outrageous risks of course. And the definition of poorly judged and outrageous would depend on where that cynic came from and whose motives he’s being driven by, I suppose.

Anyhow, the upshot is that I think I was wrong about that cynic being my Dad. It’s more like a child’s view of my Dad, a caricature of a parent based on my Dad, not my Dad as the man he really was. That’s important because, strangely, I’ve spent most of my life as an adult and a fair proportion of it as a father too. Although he died half a lifetime ago, it feels as though I know him better now than when he was still around.

I’m pretty sure that all my Dad was actually trying to do was help me keep my options open whenever I truly didn’t know which way to turn and, more importantly, when there was no apparent downside to my decision. That was useful, taking me into Sciences for A-level, (safe decision – options open – no doors closed), Chemical Engineering at University, (another safe decision, lots of open doors), and into my first job as a professional Chemical Engineer. As it turned out, the adventurer won that one.

I couldn’t make up my mind which of the big, (or small), chemical companies I wanted to work for, or indeed be at all sure whether any of them would actually want to take me on. So the adventurer applied for a job at a brewery. Just for a laugh. I ended up working for Ind Coope in Burton-on-Trent as a process engineer, technically known in the vernacular as a Brewer. Now that was a good career move! Whilst in my mid-twenties, I worked in one of the largest breweries in Europe and, on night shift, I was the top man on site. Me, in charge of all that beer. I made more beer than I could possibly imagine – and believe you me, I could imagine a lot of beer!

Look at this way – one brew would last you and 5 hard-drinking friends 10 pints each a day, each and every single day for 10 years, although in reality the beer would have gone off by then, you and your friends would have become alcoholic and died of liver failure and I’d have lost my job for letting you take up the challenge in the first place. Maybe that’s why the brewery was ‘dry’. Absolutely no drinking alcohol on site at all, except for the official Taste-Panel of course and no prizes for guessing who was a dedicated member of that committee. We made one brew an hour, 24 hours a day. I think that qualifies for the phrase ‘a lot of beer’.

Meanwhile, back with the Adventurer/Cynic conflict in my head. There were some definite advantages to the options-open approach, (beer for one), although to be fair that only came about because the adventurer threw in an off the wall back-up at the last minute.

And I think, after all this vaguely relevant waffle, that that’s the whole point. It’s not about whether I should follow the adventurer, throwing caution to the wind or whether I should keep all options open and adhere to the fatherly, parental cynic’s advice, staying safe and secure.

Somewhere out there, there’s a Tony shaped path through it all. Sometimes it’ll be cautious and sometimes a little strange and risky. But after years of recalling all those times when the adventurous choices came undone, I almost always ended up somewhere better. You see, there’s this Trance Phenomenon called Hallucination. Now I realise that this sounds a bit spooky and smacks of stage hypnosis and chickens but actually it’s more subtle and everyone uses it. It’s more about how you choose to mark your day or week or even your whole life.

It comes in positive and negative flavours which unusually aren’t about whether the particular hallucination is good or bad. It’s about what you add or take away from your day-to-day experience. A positive hallucination brings in something or interprets something as something it isn’t. Like seeing your best friend wave to you in the street so you shout hello and it’s actually someone you’ve never met before. You positively hallucinated their face onto the real one. Of course you could go the whole hog and absolutely know that there are hens in the skirting board – hooray for Mrs Overall!

Negative hallucinations, on the other hand aren’t necessarily bad and are the way most of us get through the day. You simply don’t notice things that really are there. It’s usually just a way of filtering out all that irrelevant stuff that goes on around you all day, every day. It also what makes someone unlucky. Or lucky, for that matter. According to research, (a favourite phrase of a certain Cognitive Hypnotherapist I know), there’s no such thing as a lucky or unlucky person. They both pass through the same world. It all boils down to what they remember and more importantly what they don’t remember, at the end of the day.

In general, I count myself as an optimist and a lucky person. I remember the good things that have happened, the people who smile at me, the driver that lets me in at the junction, the fact that I always find a car parking space. Always. I really do. The unlucky person behind me wonders who that weirdo with the smirk was, why did that car push in in front of him and who is that bastard who always parks in the space he had his eye on!

The cynic/adventurer fight, I’m coming to realise, has nothing to do with whether I feel optimistic or not. It’s more about who I am. Over the years, the cynic kept reminding me of the time I left the brewery to become a financial planner, (read door-knocking life insurance salesman), or never sought promotion because then I’d be working for the man and he’d want a slice of my soul – only to end up working so hard that I ground to a halt and became ill.

I deleted the steps that meant I worked from home when my children were small. I could pick them up from school, keep them calm when the school caught fire and they were evacuated to the pub, (yes, really!). It was the adventurer that kept me asking Gill to marry me – she turned me down three times. She eventually gave in, and it was absolutely the best thing I ever did. You’ll have to ask her if you want to know if she feels the same!

It was the adventurer that decided that I should take up the redundancy offer last year instead of redeployment into a safe job that kept the salary coming in. It was the adventurer that put me in front of businesses that mean I’m now working half as hard as before for more money, surrounded by more rewarding people. And it was the adventurer who searched for and found Quest. Cognitive Hypnotherapy is fascinating and very rewarding. It’s almost as though this is what I’ve been searching for but didn’t know it, (nearly the other Matrix reference…be patient).

I didn’t sign up for therapy but we practice everything we learn on each other so I’m damn well getting therapy, whether I want it or not.

I’m starting to believe. It’s becoming an opportunity to bathe the soul. I’m starting to believe…

…there’s a difference between running a bath and taking a bath…

…after the rescue…
© Tony Burkinshaw

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