Everything in life constantly changes outside of our control. Our relationships, bodies, thoughts, feelings, emotions, tastes, all are in a constant state of flux.
We know it to be true, but we resist this notion.
How do you know you are resisting?
It shows up in negative emotional states like anger and fear.
Dissatisfaction and unhappiness with life emanate from these mental states.
And you feel pain.
Often, these painful feelings are associated with our inability to accept the true changing nature of things. It comes from our inability to let go of things that are not under our control.
Whenever change occurs, when times get tough and we get the least bit uncomfortable, we look for relief.
Herein lies the source of misery for so many people. Instead of developing an understanding relationship with pain and discomfort, we seek ways to alleviate it. Here is a partial list of ways that this is done:
- Dating, sex, affairs, cheating
- Pornography and masturbation
- Seeking compliments and praise
- Seeking attention, approval, or validation
- Watching TV, movies, reading, sleeping
These indulgences are associated with a notion of utility: their usefulness is based on how they can make you feel in the moment. They have the ability to rapidly change your mood from negative to positive. That is why they are so powerful, yet so dangerous.
They are dangerous because the change is so brief in duration, yet your mind begins to associate them with happiness.
You get temporary pleasure and a cessation of anxiety, but no permanent satisfaction. Once their pleasurable effects wear off, you’re back to square one. In order to be happy again, you have to indulge again.
You are now stuck in a trap of your own making, the trap of using temporary pleasures in a futile attempt to find long term satisfaction.
You are like King Sisyphus of Greek mythology, whose punishment for his hubris was to forever roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down right before he reached the top.
You become frustrated beyond belief because you can’t make the pleasure last. The boulder keeps rolling down the hill and you have to start all over. You never understand the true nature of these short-term pleasures and why you can’t be happy.
Through the use of short-term pleasures to make you feel better, you associate short-term pleasures with happiness, but they are actually locking you into a vicious cycle of unhappiness.
Some things on the list are clearly destructive to you and other people, while watching TV and movies hardly seem problematic at all.
In and of themselves, watching TV, reading, and sleeping obviously aren’t harmful. It’s our relationship to them that is the problem. If we use them as an escape, as a way to avoid uncomfortable feelings, that is the problem because we never deal honestly with what troubles us.
On the other hand, life satisfaction and happiness is most often associated with a sense of purpose, altruism, living by a moral code, discipline, and moderation.
Whenever life throws you curve-balls, you don’t run away and hide, or self medicate with any of the methods I listed above.
You stand steadfast and face your troubles in an honorable, compassionate, and non-judgemental way. You don’t criticize yourself for having the same feelings and anxieties that all humans have, regardless of their station in life.
At the same time you can enjoy life’s pleasures without needing them. You adopt the attitude of “I can be happy with or without them” and actually mean it.
Sure, they are pleasurable, but you understand their true nature. You are well aware that they aren’t responsible for happiness, so they have no power to delude you into over-indulging and you don’t get upset when they aren’t available.
You don’t use them to self-medicate.
Essentially, you do the opposite of what the vast majority of Americans do.
Admittedly, when life sucks and seems unbearable, and experiencing the short term satisfaction that comes with indulgence is the best thing you’ve got going, you have a spiritual battle on your hands.
I’ve been there.
But really all it takes is study, contemplation, and practice.
For most people this is too much work.
“I’m too busy”.
“I work too hard. I don’t want to think”.
So people ignorantly remain in an unhappiness that they themselves are creating and reinforcing through their habitual routines of dealing with their unhappiness!
Dealing With Pain
Since so much of what keeps us unhappy is the habitual ways that we react to undesirable feelings, you have to develop an actual awareness of what’s going on.
What do you do once you feel anxious? How do you habitually respond to stressful or painful situations?
Do you withdraw from those around you? Go out and party? Seek attention? Get angry? Cast yourself as a victim? Stay later at work? Blame others for your troubles? Do you use people in any way to make yourself happy?
Once you identify the way you habitually respond, you have to figure out a new response. But the response can’t be some other method of distraction. The response should be based on a method that I wish I discovered much earlier in life.
It’s known as RAIN. It’s not a quick fix. It may be uncomfortable in the beginning, but with practice you learn how to deal with life’s frustrations in a constructive, rather than destructive, way.
- Recognition. Become aware of what you are feeling without reacting. Just become aware. See if you can name the feeling. Nothing else.
- Allow. Let yourself feel it. Even if it is painful or unpleasant. DO NOT avoid it. The process will fall apart if you go searching for relief. Notice how the feeling manifests itself physically inside your body. The two feelings I struggle with the most, loneliness and unrequited love, feel differently. Loneliness is felt as energy in my chest, while unrequited love is felt as tightness and hollowness in my chest and nausea in my stomach.
- Investigate. Try to understand what you are feeling without stepping out of the feeling. Humans have an ability to distance themselves from something to study it. I used to do this all the time. I was good at it. But by distancing myself, I was avoiding allowing myself to really feel it. Experiencing a feeling and thinking about a feeling aren’t the same thing.
- Non-identify. Don’t identify with whatever you are feeling. If you are feeling lonely, it doesn’t mean you are lonely. You are simply experiencing a feeling, a temporary feeling that everyone else in the world feels. No need to feel ashamed, unworthy, or weak. Think of the most amazing people in world history or in your life. Would you consider them shameful, unworthy, or weak? Of course you wouldn’t, yet they have felt the same things that you feel and have probably self-medicated throughout their whole lives.
While you do this, keep compassion in your heart. I can’t stress this enough. Show compassion for yourself and everybody else in this world. Everyone suffers, it’s a fact of life. Most people do it silently and alone.
Compassion softens you.
Painful feelings can harden you and make you defensive. It can make you feel disconnected and alienated.
Or you can change your disposition towards pain and let it be your connection to the rest of humanity.
You feel pain because you are human, not because you are weak or have done anything wrong. The worst pains you have felt are being felt by millions of people around the world at this very instant. This is just one way that we are all connected, and thus never truly alone.
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