Should and Must
‘“Words are the most powerful thing in the universe... Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind” —Charles Capps
In the interests of improving wellbeing and resilience in the community we have written many articles and shared a wide range of practical tools to try. When we are in search of ways to improve both our physical and mental wellbeing, we often inform ourselves with the advice and guidance of others who know best. The individuals or institutions that we turn to might be trained or qualified in certain practices, have done research and established evidence, or have experienced something themselves that we can learn from. We follow the advice of ‘those who know’ and we apply it to see whether it is true for us.
If we are carrying a little extra weight following the holiday season, we may set the intention to eat less and move more. We might do some research to determine which approach feels right for us, but we are likely to investigate the results and experience that others have had at the same time as backing it all up with science.
Following advice comes with rules and guidelines – and rules and guidelines come with ‘should’ and ‘must.’ Theses are two words that we have actively avoided using in our articles because they impose limits, and on the path towards enlightenment we are not in the business of limiting ourselves.
Why do ‘should’ and ‘must’ arise?
When we listen to a set of instructions, ‘should’ and ‘must’ exist to let us know that without them we will not achieve the desired result.
‘You must add self-raising flour, or your cake will not rise.’
‘You should eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day to maintain and nourish a healthy body.’
‘Should’ and ‘must’ are often backed up by evidence or experience.
What about when they are not?
‘Should you really be behaving like that?’
‘I must not swear’
‘Children must be seen and not heard.’
‘Must haves – essential beauty items for your bathroom cabinet’
‘I know I shouldn’t have said what I was thinking but it just came out’.
If we follow the origins of the above examples, ‘should’ and ‘must’ comes from a set of individual core beliefs that we formed in either childhood or later as a result of our conditioning.
We all have our own unique model of the world which is influenced by our childhood experiences, life experiences and genetic make-up. We form core beliefs about the world and its inhabitants so that we can interact with them – it enables us to give appropriate responses, to know what to expect from certain situations, and ultimately to stay safe when on unchartered territory. This is the individual lens through which we view everything that happens to us. Within this model of the world will be our beliefs about what is right and wrong, healthy or bad for us, rude or good manners, dangerous or safe and so on. This is where our overarching rulebook for life originates. Our core beliefs drive our thinking and underpin all of our behaviours. We live within the boundaries of them and to step outside these boundaries usually creates a feeling of discomfort or unease – it feels as if we are putting ourselves in jeopardy.
We have just said, however, that each of us has a unique set of beliefs based on experience. Each of us has a different set of experiences and so our beliefs will not be common to those of others either. We will not have learned or formulated the same set of rules as everyone else. Our rule book is subject to many external factors. For example: what our parents believed and told us, which of our behaviours led to a bad experience, or what events we witnessed happening for those around us. Our childhood was not of our choosing. Neither was that of our parents or our parents’ parents. For a variety of complex personal and societal reasons, rules have been passed down for generations and modified by individual experience along the way.
Our rulebook then, is hugely influenced by ancestral indoctrination and chance events. In that case, could it not be that ‘should’ and ‘must’ are sometimes being adhered to out of an unconscious need for safety rather than a conscious choice that something is right? In fact, when something does not feel right, might it simply be that we are falling into old patterns that are no longer appropriate for us? Without asking that question, we carry on, unconsciously employing old behaviours within the old boundaries and wonder why we experience the same old outcomes.
Cultivate the habit of walking in the shoes of your Observer Self.
This is the part of you that is able to witness your thoughts, feelings and behaviour without taking part, judging or analysing. It is the onlooker, who takes notes so that you can process events in the psyche. It is also the part of you that is awake when you make conscious choices.
Let yourself be ‘notified’ when you come up against ‘should’ or ‘must’.
Let it be like the ringing of a bell.
Know that these words represent blockages, boundaries and limitations, some of which are imposed with good reason and backed up by evidence and experience, and some of which are imposed by old beliefs and outdated patterns. Understand these words to be a junction, an interruption of flow, and an opportunity to press pause.
Come into the present moment with your breath.
Who is saying ‘should’ or ‘must?’
Is it you or someone else?
When you meet these words within guidance from someone else you can do your research. You can challenge claims and fact check evidence. You can explore alternatives and consciously decide whether the advice is true for you.
When the words ‘should’ or ‘must’ are self-imposed you can follow them back to their source. You can ask:
“What is s the belief that underpins these words?”
“Where does this belief come from? – Was it given to me? Did I learn it through experience?
Sit in gratitude with an understanding that although some inherited beliefs might be unwelcome guests, they were once handed down out of an old desire to protect, and that in the present moment, you have the power to practice discernment.
“Is this still true for me now?”
If not, what is the real truth?
If true, can you revisit the situation with alternative language that softens the boundary and introduces choice?
If you decide that ‘I must not swear’ is true for you because swearing can cause offence and you would never wish to do that, you can say ‘I choose not to swear’.
If you decide that ‘I should eat five portions of fruit or vegetables a day’ is true for you because you want to maintain a healthy body, it can become ‘I intend to eat five portions of fruit or vegetables every day’.
Remember that the words that we unconsciously choose to use towards the Self and others carry much information about what is going on for us. ‘Should’ and ‘must’ tell us about where our boundaries lie and what we believe whether conscious or unconscious. When we bring this into our awareness, we enjoy the gift of choice. For that we can be grateful!
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