I have lived under a dictatorship most of my life. Sometimes, especially in the early days I considered it a benign dictatorship. Sometimes, still it continues to be.
The problem for me is when 'should' is the only voice I listen to - when 'should' dictates my emotional responses to events and incidents that have already happened and I have no control over. I 'should' have done this, or that. I 'should' have said something different. I 'shouldn't' have even attempted to do this or that.
Worst of all is when my dictator tells me who I 'should' be - if I were a different person, if I could have a different life then I wouldn't be suffering. I 'shouldn't' even expect things to get any better - at least that's what this little dictator tells me when I try to improve my life and end up facing disappointments - of course things have gone wrong I 'shouldn't' have even tried to make my life better.
For too many years I have lived under the tyranny of Should. Making me do things I feel uncomfortable doing, ignoring my own needs to an extreme as I seek to prevent Should's assaults on my mind and emotions after I have attempted to do things to meet my own needs. Living in the state of Should meant that I was constantly on edge, even after I had completed tasks or meetings he would be there running through my head berating me for failing. In the end I was never at peace, always on the look out for ways that I had failed myself and others around me. Always with the expectation that I 'should' have done better. Never once asking if ANYONE COULD have done any differently.
The 'How' of mindfulness is something I often overlook in favour of the easier to practice 'what'- but 'non-judgemental' is exactly the ally I need to help me defeat the dictatorship of Should.
It helps me combat the messages about how fit I 'should' be, what weight I 'should' be, how successful I 'should' be. Non-judgemental helps me to silence 'Should' especially in the middle of trying to achieve things like taking part in social events, or trying out new skills to help me change so that I can make my life better. So rather than a constant stream of Should telling me what I'm doing wrong I try to let go of judging myself constantly: 'You should be more confident, you shouldn't talk to people, they'll think you're weird.' becomes, 'I'm going to speak to this person and focus on what is being said - there is no should or shouldn't, it's just called talking to people - it is what it is.'
The thing about dictators is that they tend to shout loud. I need to ensure that the opposition voice is as strong as Should. Unfortunately, I've given this dictator too much time and space in my head over the years. That means me telling him where to go when he pops up shouting the odds and ruining my experience of life in the here and now.
Of course, there are times when I need to do 'the right thing' by others around me. It's part of the social contract. Otherwise I risk replacing 'Should' with his odious cousin 'Me-Me-Me'. Perhaps what I need is to develop the skill of discernment: 'The act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgement'.
An essential part of good judgement is perspective. Being able to see things as they are. I have found that practising mindfulness has allowed me to take a step back from the constant ranting of Should. I can see that I need to ignore Should when he tells me that if I had acted differently the past would have changed. So what? I can't undo the past, it has happened, it is gone, it has no power to keep me away from living in the present. No amount of Should telling me off is going to change the past - so why give him headroom? Similarly, no amount of him telling me that I should be like another person is going to make me a different person, so why pretend that he has any power over that either? I am who I am, I have lived the life I've lived and I am where I am.
If I keep listening to Should and his insistence that I 'should' be this or that, or that I shouldn't have lived as I have lived, or that I should be somewhere else in life, then I am naturally going to make myself miserable. It is time for me to silence him and to focus on doing that which is natural to me, that which is effective in keeping me going in the here and now, and that which helps me to maintain a life worth living.