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When you are feeling unhappy, do you make excuses as to why you are unhappy? Maybe you blame it on the bad traffic or maybe you blame it on your boss’ foul mood, or maybe you blame it on the weather, others, or life itself. Making excuses only prolongs your unhappiness. You and only you […]
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“Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” ~Lama Yeshe
It was October, 2012. The U.S. Presidential Election was around the corner. I was paying an unaccustomed amount of attention to political news on TV and to political discussion sites online. At one site in particular, I was eager to become part of the community, to make a good impression, to build a reputation.
To put it mildly, that didn’t work out well.
One evening I was watching an interview with a politician whose name I recognized, but I didn’t know much about him. I thought he was making some cogent points about the topic at hand. I went to the online discussion site to see whether anyone had mentioned this interview yet, and when I found no one had, I hastily composed a post praising the politician and suggesting that others should watch the interview.
The reaction was fast and fierce. How could I have anything nice to say about this nincompoop, who was renowned far and wide as a hypocrite? Where was my sense? Where were my ideals? Where was my head? What did I think I was doing there in the first place?
I was mortified. I, who had always prided myself on intellectual acumen, had totally failed to do my homework. I hadn’t done even the most cursory research to learn anything about the politician’s history.
I felt I’d made an ass of myself. I was so ashamed that I didn’t even visit the site for weeks. I was genuinely in pain.
Now I’m going to have to briefly flash back in time so the next part of the story will make sense.
At that time, in 2012, it had been almost ten years since a beloved spiritual teacher had died. I had shut down my spiritual life to a great extent after his death. You might say it was a long freeze. Or maybe “fallow period” would be a better description. Later events would make that seem like a good way to look at it.
While I was ashamed and hurting in the aftermath of my online blunder, I recalled something I’d heard my teacher say more than once, something like this: “When you see a tack on your chair, sit on it.”
That may sound enigmatic, but I think the metaphor is straightforward. What it meant to me, anyway, was that we should not flee from fully allowing an experience that might impart an important point. We should sit on the point, not avoid it.
I made a vow then. I promised myself I wouldn’t avoid my intense sense of shame. I wouldn’t brush it under the rug. I wouldn’t cover it or deflect it with distractions, entertainments, excuses, or rationalizations. I would experience it fully, let it do its work, and see what happened.
I’m not pretending that I had any specific practice beyond that. I’ve since learned some that I’ll mention a little later. But at the time, I simply stuck to my vow. Whenever the feeling of shame came to visit, I didn’t shoo it away or distract myself. I allowed myself to experience it.
It’s not even that I was inclined to turn toward TV or eating or any other concrete distraction. What I mean by “distract myself” is subtler. It’s a small mental move of avoidance, of turning the attention away from something uncomfortable. Its opposite is mindful awareness, facing experience head-on come what may.
Everything began to change within a few weeks. There was no one moment when the painful sense of shame evaporated, leaving nothing but clarity and peace. No, it happened gradually over a period of weeks. Each time I welcomed shame as a visitor, it lost some of its sting.
What finally became of it? All I can say is it was transmuted. It dissolved, and in its place arose a sense of peace and a new, calm engagement with the truth of being.
I recognized that whatever arises in experience is always already present by the time we can react. Whether it’s comfort or discomfort, joy or distress, calm or chaos, it can be witnessed with equanimity.
I began to notice old friends posting on Facebook about spiritual teachers and teachings they liked. I looked into some of them and found I liked them too. The long freeze had given way to a thaw. The fallow period was coming to an end. I felt a sense of regeneration, of reawakening.
How does this work? If it seems counterintuitive to you that diving into pain is a good idea, that amplifying discomfort can be helpful, consider this simple question: What are we doing when we feel that we’re suffering? In other words, what mental activity are we engaging?
It seems to me that above all else, the answer is we’re actively refusing ourselves compassion. When faced with discomfort or pain, we try to resist it or deny it. We’re judging ourselves, chastising ourselves for the feelings that arise spontaneously. Most of us wouldn’t do it to another, certainly not to a loved one, yet we do it to ourselves. That’s the suffering right there.
In this instance, the active mechanism was a kind of a thought loop. It went something like this:
That was really stupid, what I did.
How could I be so dumb? I’m smart, not dumb!
I humiliated myself in public.
I can never show my face there again.
Each of those thoughts reinforces a sense of emotional pain, of suffering. They whirl around and seem to amplify each other. It feels as if there’s no way out. I kept beating myself up.
That’s exactly what it was. I was beating myself up. I was pummeling myself with those ideas. I was treating myself entirely without compassion and empathy, as if I hated myself, and I didn’t seem to know how to stop.
Notice that by this point the nature of the original mistake didn’t matter. It could have been as trivial as cursing out loud or as serious as committing a felony. The thought loop of suffering was running obsessively on its own momentum. It was no longer about the original offense. It was self-sustaining.
It reminds me of an experience years ago. When I was a teenager, I was admitted to the hospital for an appendectomy. In the recovery room, as I slowly emerged from the anesthetic fog, the room seemed filled with loud screams. I barely had time to wonder what they were about when I noticed that I was the one who was screaming! I stopped immediately. There was pain, yes, but no need to make it worse by screaming.
It’s an imperfect analogy, but I see a significant parallel: I had to notice the self-defeating action before I could stop it. In the instance of my shame it happened that by keeping my promise, by sitting on the tack, by diving into the pain, somehow I created a space where I had an opportunity to notice what I was doing and to stop it, gradually. I began to see an opportunity to embrace myself with kindness and compassion, and I took it.
As I mentioned, I’ve learned some specific practices to take advantage of the opportunity, to enhance and deepen the process.
Metta (lovingkindess) meditation
I find that this traditional meditation opens the heart and helps to cultivate compassion towards oneself and others. My version begins with visualizing the warmth and love I feel when seeing or meeting a loved one. It could be a spouse, child, parent, dear friend, or even a beloved pet. Then I say to myself:
May they be safe from harm.
May they be truly happy.
May they be free from suffering.
May they be loved.
Then I picture myself at my most open and vulnerable, when I’m hurting and in need of that same love and compassion. And I say to myself:
May I be safe from harm.
May I be truly happy.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be loved.
I can then extend that to my circle of friends, to the planet, and to all sentient beings everywhere. Practicing this regularly deeply affects the feeling nature.
Based on a traditional Hawaiian practice for community healing, the modernized version I use resembles a variation I heard from Scott Kiloby. Here’s how I engage it:
When I notice a feeling that seems distressful, first I simply sit quietly with it, acknowledging it and allowing myself to feel it.
I ask for the stories surrounding the feeling to reveal themselves, and I allow hearing the stories to intensify the feeling. The thought loop I mentioned is a perfect example of those stories.
I dive into the feeling with naive curiosity, looking to sense all its aspects. I’m not trying to soften it or push it away, but at this stage it may begin to soften.
I say to the feeling: “I love you. You’re welcome to stay as long as you like.” The important thing is that I have to mean it. I have to be prepared to live with it indefinitely, to welcome it indefinitely. After all, it’s part of me. It is me.
In retrospect, what I did by sitting on the tack of shame was closest to practicing Ho’oponopono.
For me, the whole experience emphasizes how important it is to include the heart in our practice, in our lives. When we find ourselves relying on mental analysis, it’s often judgmental and hurtful, especially to ourselves.
Both aspects can be useful, but the heart never judges, never condemns, never excludes. It knows how to heal us and make us whole.
About Steve Diamond
Founder of More Than Mindful, in Tucson, Arizona, Steve has meditated and studied nonduality for more than forty years. A former information technology executive, Steve now offers mindfulness classes in Tucson as well as individual coaching to clients worldwide. His inclusive, holistic, compassionate style is evident in the guided meditation audios that can be streamed and downloaded from his website.
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“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield
Imagine with me for a second. You wake up, roll over, and blindly reach to hit your alarm to start the routine of the day. Make the same thing for breakfast. Maybe go to a new coffee place…nah. Same place. Go to work on the same route to the same job you’ve been at for years.
After a long day of struggling through your daily responsibilities, you come home tired and slink back into the comfort of your TV and couch. Watch the same shows. Pass out. Repeat. At long last, the respite of the weekend finally comes. You go to the same bars, and hang out with the same friends, and before you know it, it’s Sunday night. Time to repeat the whole process over again.
Somehow down the road, you begin to feel like everything turned into too much of a routine. Nothing new happens anymore, and you can’t even remember the last time you really grew or progressed at something new—the last time you felt that burning sensation in your heart, that incomparable feeling of venturing into something new and scary.
That was me.
When I was a kid, I remember having this recurring nightmare. I was in prison, and my prison job was making license plates. That was my job for the rest of my life.
I had to find every combination of letters and numbers, and if I ever made a mistake, I would have to start over. There was no goal. There was no challenge. Just repetition and routine. (There were a lot more intricate details, but I’ll probably just give myself anxiety trying to recall them).
Anyway, I would wake up in a pool of sweat every night, wake my mom up, and tell her I was having the license plate dream again. She would just look at me like I was crazy; I don’t think I was very good at explaining why it freaked me out so much.
I don’t think I knew why it freaked me out so much.
Fast-forward a couple decades. I fell into a rut after a long period of falling into the same routines, day after day. Same jobs, long commute, long days, same weekends. It wasn’t even that I disliked my jobs—I worked in the music events and festivals industry. But my life had turned into such a routine, without challenges, without fear—just the same jobs, the same bars, the same everything, day after day.
I woke up one day with a thought that scared the hello out of me—when did it all end? I didn’t even know what goal I was working toward. The license plate nightmare had manifested itself into real life.
That day, I quit both of my jobs and bought a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia. On this trip, I went through just as many cliché life realizations as the next traveler, but one stuck out far more than any other.
The safety of my comfort zone was what was holding my growth and happiness back.
I realized how crazy comfort—one of the biggest roadblocks to our growth—is something our bodies crave the most. However uncomfortable and unnatural it may feel to jump out of our safe zone, the benefits outweigh the initial discomfort drastically. It’s just hard to see the other side sometimes.
Although the individual acts of leaving that safe space might vary from person to person—whether it’s quitting your dead-end job, traveling to a foreign place, finally talking to that person you’ve been too shy to engage, or simply diversifying your daily routine—I’m going to tell you some concrete reasons why leaving your comfort zone is so important for every person, and why you won’t regret it once you do.
1. All development comes from outside your comfort zone, especially from failure.
“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” ~J.M. Barrie
Let’s start with the basics. People tend to forget that struggle and discomfort are where all growth happens. Remember when you were a kid, and every single day was a challenge at something new? Your parents forced you to try scary new things you didn’t want to do, and either you succeeded or failed—and either way you were growing the entire time.
Somewhere along the line, your parents stopped forcing you to do things, and your responsibilities added another layer of chaos into your life, forcing you to retreat into a comfortable routine to achieve a form of stability. In that process, many people start daring less to take a step outside of their comfort zone.
Subconsciously, we attribute “learning” as a phase that only happens when we’re kids. That’s ridiculous. The learning process never ends, and there is always opportunity to grow, no matter what age you are or situation you’re in.
We don’t like to try new things because we fear failure, but we need to understand that failure isn’t the end of the road, it’s the beginning. We learn and gain more from failure than we do from succeeding—and way more than if we never took the chance in the first place.
Whether you succeed or fail at whatever you’re doing, it’ll be a hundred times more valuable to your growth than if you never took the chance in the first place.
Whether it’s the soreness of your muscles after a long workout, the exhaustion of staying up all night chasing a goal, the fear of venturing into the unknown, or the feeling of failure, one old cliché always remains true: no pain no gain.
Either you succeed and you grow or you fail and you grow, but trying anything is better than doing nothing.
2. You’ll discover passions you never knew existed before.
People often look for new hobbies that’ll fill their life with passion, but many are not only afraid to try new things, they don’t know where to look. They trudge through their daily routine, hoping something new will pop out of nowhere and save them from the repetition.
Hey, sorry to break it to you, but it’s not going to happen. Nothing’s going to fall in your lap. You have to go find it.
Not only will leaving your comfort zone help you take a crack at the things you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ll discover other things you never even knew you might’ve liked before.
When I decided to quit my jobs and go on this trip to Southeast Asia, at one of my darker and lonelier moments (don’t ask), I found myself needing to write something, just to get some emotions off my chest. Little did I know I had just discovered my passion for writing.
I started writing article after article, and decided to design a website to share them on. I started taking more and more pictures to combine with these articles, which even led to editing travel videos together.
That’s four things, if you didn’t count. Four things I had never knew I had interest in before. All these newfound hobbies were borne from one thing that I discovered just moments after I left the comfort of my home.
No matter how much you want to believe it, waiting around for something won’t get you anywhere, but the second you leave your comfort zone, you’d be surprised at how things just start falling into place.
3. You’ll become more open-minded and understanding, making you appear wiser and more intelligent.
Life is full of completely different and unique people, but when we get stuck in the same routine, we tend to gravitate toward people that are similar to us. When this is the only interaction in our lives, it leads us to become close-minded and cuts us off from the reality of the differences that exist between people.
When you’re surrounded by the same people, who share the same opinions about everything, you gain a confirmation bias, and you start to think that a certain way of thinking is how all people think, or how all people should think. (Need an example? Go look at any political party ever.)
Leaving the comfort of being surrounded by the people you are accustomed to will introduce you to different ways of thinking, which will not only lead to a better understanding of our differences, but an appreciation for them.
This can be a whole different kind of uncomfortable, but the next time someone that has an opinion you disagree with, instead of immediately trying to convince them your side of the argument, try to understand why they came about that thinking in the first place.
We all gather our opinions from a rich web of experiences and thousands of variables, yet sometimes we tend to think of other people’s opinions in black and white. Everyone has a reason for why they think the way they do, many of which are a lot deeper under the surface than you might be able to initially see.
Opening your mind to other people’s cultural views and understanding what their ideologies are based out of (as opposed to just trying to confirm your already established beliefs) is the first step to gaining wisdom that applies to all people, rather than just the social group you’ve become accustomed to.
4. You’ll gain clarity once you ditch mindless comfort-zone distractions.
When we continue our routines and watch the same shows, go to the same places, or look at the same apps, we tend to turn our brains off and just follow muscle memory without even noticing. These routines make us feel comfortable and often put our minds to sleep.
You’d be surprised at how much clearer your mind works once you simply turn your phone and TV off and go explore something new. Your brain will actually start going to work without you even trying.
Something easy you can do today: Turn your phone off.
Something harder you can aim for in the future: Turn your phone off for longer.
5. You’ll become a more confident and sociable person.
Talking to strangers is often an anxiety-provoking activity for people. We’re constantly fearing we’ll get judged or that we’ll say the wrong thing to the wrong person. First off, let me tell you, everyone feels the same way. That thought alone helped me become a more sociable person without worrying about the consequences of a “failed conversation” (sounds stupid when I put it like that, huh?).
Interacting in situations with people you usually wouldn’t interact with is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. Go compliment someone you don’t know. What’s the worst that can happen?
In a more non-direct approach, forget about other people for a second. When you spend your time trying new activities and experiencing things you haven’t done before, through the power of leaving your comfort zone, confidence eventually comes whether you were looking for it or not.
The very act of being bold enough to try something you haven’t done before will raise your confidence on its own, and that in turn naturally minimizes the fear of interacting with people you don’t know.
Confidence and social skills will be a byproduct of your breaking of the ordinary. Which leads to the next point…
6. You’ll become a better storyteller without even trying.
“No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever meet someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.” !Chris Hardwick
Just as confidence and social skills come naturally when outside of your comfort zone, so will the stories. When you make a conscious attempt to leave your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised at how weird, crazy, and awesome things tend to happen more to you more.
You’ll start amassing an inventory of interesting stories without even trying. All of your failures and successes somehow start to become more of a narrative, rather than a repetitive list of chores.
Make your life a story that people would want to watch a movie about.
7. You’ll discover entire worlds you never knew existed before and the communities that go along with them.
Lastly, you’ll discover tons of different groups and cultures that will amaze you.
Think about one thing you like to do. For instance, we’ll say you enjoy golf. Think about all the tiny intricacies, tactics, and elements of golf that make you love it so much, whether it’s the careful studying of equipment, the complexity of your body motion, the perfecting of a craft, or just the peace of enjoying a beautiful day. On top of that, think of the entire golfing community that you connect with because of a shared love of an activity.
Now think about the fact that these passions and communities exist for an infinite amount of activities out there. Foodies for every kind of food. Music lovers of every genre. Fans of every sport. Professionals of every craft. Thousands of different cultures and communities that you have never experienced exist out there—all filled with people that possess as much love and passion for their craft as you do.
Discovering and sharing new passions with people is one of the greatest joys in this world.
The possibilities are endless. Go find some new worlds today.
Feeling like there is no end in sight can be one of the most suffocating feelings in the world. I know from experience that deep, sinking feeling you get in your chest when you realize your life has become too predictable—when nothing new happens, when you feel like you’ve stopped growing as a person.
The good news is it’s completely in your power to take control of your life and experience what’s out there, and turn that suffocation into freedom, curiosity, and excitement.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” ~Chauncey Depew
Taking the first step is always the hardest, but I can guarantee you that once you do it, the only thought you’ll have in your head is “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” Every second you spend in this world is precious, and you shouldn’t waste a single second of it wondering if you should have done something. Life is waiting for you to take the reigns.
Imagine with me again. You wake up five minutes before your alarm, with a head buzzing full of ideas, ready to conquer the day. You go to work with a clear mind, with new goals formulating in your head at what seems like every minute of the day.
Before you know it, the workday has gone by in a snap, and you race home to start progressing to your next goal, or to write your next idea down, or to plan your next big getaway. Life has become exciting and full of wonder once again.
No more license plates.
About Elliott Pak
Elliott Pak is a musician, writer, and traveler who enjoys helping motivate people see life through new perspectives with a raw and unfiltered writing style. Subscribe to his blog, Dirty Maps and Mirrors, to gain honest and unique insights on improving your life in a relatable way, with a healthy dose of humor and sarcasm.
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TRIGGER WARNING: This post references suicidal thoughts and may be triggering to some people.
Since my first post on Tiny Buddha entitled “Why I Didn’t Kill Myself and Why You Shouldn’t Either,” I’ve been doing amazingly well. I thought I had this suicide stuff in the bag. I thought it lived in the past. I thought it was no longer a part of me.
I thought I had found my way forward and that I would never feel that way again. I thought my suicidal ideation was a historical part of my existence.
I was wrong.
Tonight, I sat in the bath watching the water trickle down from the faucet and all I could think was how easy it would be to watch the blood trickle down my arms into the water instead.
I thought of how easy it would be to drift away into nothingness. I thought of how easy it would be to not have to get up every morning to face another day of emptiness. I thought of the peace I would have if I were no longer afraid all the time and how wonderful it would be to be free from the prison of my mind.
Sometimes, I long for this.
Sometimes, I long for death.
I do not long for death itself, being cold and distant and immovable.
But, I sometimes long for something other than what I am. I long for a feeling of safety and security. I long to feel loved and cherished, not used and abused.
I long to feel anything that is something more than the nothing I feel right now.
What Do You Want?
I know what you want. I want it too. You want someone to love you, someone to care, someone to tell you everything will be okay.
You want someone to tell you that even if you aren’t perfect, you’re enough just as you are.
You want your parents to put your needs ahead of their own, because that’s what loving parents do. You want those adults who abused you to think twice before they steal your innocence and your ability to feel.
What you want is for the past to never have existed, and what you want is impossible.
I know what you want.
You want someone to care, and it seems as if there is no amount of caring that will fill the empty hole in your heart, and no matter how hard you try to fill it up yourself it only goes halfway and then starts slipping back to empty.
Every day is a struggle to survive. Every day you wake up and wonder, “How much longer can I go on?”
The emptiness that fills your heart and your soul begins to take over your rationality.
At some point the things that kept you going have become meaningless. The life you have lived for so many years was just a struggle to survive.
Today you are at a point where nothing means anything. You aren’t even in pain. You feel nothing. You want to give up. You want to no longer exist. You want to stop being.
The endless negative thoughts swirl around in your brain compelling you to end everything. The hope for the future subsides to a dulling ache keeping you going every day.
You stare at the television knowing you are wasting your life, but are incapable to get off the couch and get outside.
Yet, you keep going. Why is this?
Why You Shouldn’t Give Up
I don’t know why I don’t give up sometimes. Most days I want to give up. But, the human spirit is powerful. The desire to live is a strongly held need that keeps you in this world.
There is only one reason I don’t give up.
There is only one reason I don’t spend all my money, write out my will, and deliberately plan my death.
There is only one belief that sits in the back of my mind that keeps me going day after day.
What is that belief you ask?
There is always something that I hope for. I hope for change. I hope for strength. I hope for love. I hope for caring. I hope that things won’t always be as they have been.
Hope, my friends, is the only thing keeping me, and probably you, alive.
What does hope mean? To me hope means not giving up. It means constantly seeking a new way. It means looking deep inside to find what exactly it is that seems lacking.
What About Now?
I can’t promise you things will change tomorrow.
I can’t promise you that your self-serving parents will suddenly see the light and give you what you need.
I can’t promise you that you will stop choosing the wrong partner or that magically things will be better.
There are so many days when I believe that all is lost and that I want to give up and I don’t know why I feel this way. I feel stupid for not being happy for what I have.
I want to be enough.
I want to feel enough.
I want to thrive, not just survive.
So, for now I make it through the day. For now, I do the best I can do. I wake up every day and realize I need to change something and I realize that at some point it will change.
That, my friend is enough. Believing that something will change is sometimes enough.
Because, “This too shall pass.”
Because There Is Always Tomorrow
How do I know “this too shall pass”? I know because feelings and circumstances always change. Change is the nature of life.
The day after I wrote this and while I was going through the editing process I called my doctor to see if maybe it’s time to get back on some medication. I was feeling despondent and knew something needed to change. Of course, they couldn’t get me in for another month.
So, where could I go? What else could I do? My answer to myself: “search Google,” of course. I started looking up bunch topics that I need to work on that were related to relationships, love, and happiness.
I came across a relationship coach who seemed to get exactly what it was that I needed at the moment. I watched a series of videos. Although I had heard all the things he spoke of before, for some reason everything resonated more deeply than usual.
I needed someone who would not just tell me that I am enough (intellectually I know this) but would give me the tools to help me believe that I am enough and keep me from falling back into the abyss of negative thinking that I tend to fall into.
When we are ready to hear, the message comes.
I booked a session with him and when we spoke everything became clear. I finally grasped the complex nature of how one can go through life without loving and accepting one’s self and how your fears can limit your existence.
You may not realize it, but you may actually fear being happy and you may keep thinking negative thoughts as a means to protect yourself. I realized that I had to stop my negative thinking and that no one can make me feel whole and loved and valued if I don’t truly love and value myself.
I realized I am still looking for someone to save me or for someone to validate me so I can feel whole, and guess what? It stops today.
I just decided. I decided that it was time to show up for myself fully and completely and stop delegating away my needs for others to fill like an empty vessel.
If you don’t give up hope and keep looking for help and reaching out to others, you will eventually find the people, tools, and resources that you need to heal.
I do it over and over and I’ll do it again. If I can do it, so can you.
About Carrie L. Burns
Carrie L. Burns is a blogger on a mission of self-discovery. As a sexual abuse survivor that struggled for years with depression anxiety, low self-esteem, lack of self-love, and relationship issues, she found her purpose through writing and sharing her story with others. Check out her other writing at www.acinglife.com.
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Original post from: https://bethandlee.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/in-this-day/
In this day, what have you appreciated and felt grateful for? Have you made the effort to see the positive or have you just been waiting for it to come to you? It begins with you. You have to make the effort to change your perception of your day and seek out what made you […]
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“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” ~Gandhi
Pain is and isn’t just like energy. According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed but is merely converted from one form to another.
For example, the light energy from the sun can be harnessed by plants, which, through photosynthesis, convert it to chemical energy. Plants use this energy to grow fruit, which we eat. We store this energy for when we need to exert ourselves, when we convert it to kinetic energy. The energy never disappears, but is instead just displaced.
Pain is in a sense the same, creating a parallel to the first law of thermodynamics which I call the cycle of pain.
The manager is belittled by his boss because the boss was frustrated with the latest quarterly results, which disappointed because the customers were unhappy with the product. Upset, the manager comes home and mouths off to his wife, who is carrying her own tribulations from work.
The wife and mother then loses her temper with her son, who is hurt by his mother’s outburst. In pain and having witnessed a bad example from his mother about what to do with frustration, the son then goes to school the next day and causes a fight in the classroom during the teacher’s lesson.
His plans in tatters with the class disrupted, the teacher then exacts collective punishment on the whole class, who then each go and act out the negativity in their own separate ways.
The form of the pain changes, but it doesn’t go away—it’s spread out and perpetrated on new victims in a seemingly endless cycle of pain.
Except it can go away. After all, pain differs from energy in some important ways.
First of all, pain can be created, added to, and multiplied or increased exponentially.
Above, the frustration that the teacher caused can turn into sadness, hurt, or anger among his thirty pupils, who then have a negative emotional-energetic push to transfer and potentially increase the pain.
More and more people are born and live longer each day, meaning there are more egos to feel and create pain. The internet and other mass communication technologies only expand each single person’s ability to transfer and create more and more pain in more and more people. Weapons of mass destruction have the same function. This is a depressing picture.
The story, however, isn’t all bad, and as conscious human beings we can actively work to stop the flow and creation of pain.
When the husband comes home to vent at his wife, the wife can always ask what the matter is, listen compassionately, and react with love and a desire to help ease the pain.
When the child acts out in school, the teacher can always take a deep breath, draw upon her compassion for whatever is driving an innocent child to be aggressive, pull the child aside, and try and find out what’s wrong.
We can all recognize that another person’s negativity is his or her pain, not ours.
This is very simple to comprehend but extremely difficult to achieve. It takes a lot of effort.
Put yourself right in the moment of a very tense or stressful situation. Your boss has had a stressful week and is screaming at you, blaming you for the entire team’s failure or something that had nothing to do with you. Your mother always favored your older brother and is interrogating you, asking why you didn’t get married and have the perfect job like he did. Pick a real example from your own life.
How did you react—with total serenity and compassion? Did you lovingly embrace this as a spiritual challenge and opportunity for growth? In all likelihood, far from it!
You probably shouted back, clamped down, cried, or otherwise reacted to negativity with negativity, and this in turn negatively affected someone else. Why? Because this is hard—really hard. And yet, it’s the struggle we, as human beings, face every day.
However, when we sit around and think about being our best, about trying to make a difference in the world, we think about legendary figures placed in the fulcrum of historic events. We think about Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa. Saving the rain forest, ending poverty, or finding a cure for some horrible disease come to mind.
In fact, very few people will ever even have the chance to be in the right place at the right time to make such a difference. Even if we had the skills and desire, we might not have the resources, the connections, or even be born is the right era to affect such a change.
By definition, not everyone can accomplish extraordinary things. The rain forest needs saving, poverty needs ending, and diseases need curing, but why not start with what you can influence right now—the world’s little daily hurts that, through the cycle of pain, create big problems?
But this is our bias, made dramatically worse in recent years by social media: to overlook or even look down upon the ordinary. And yet, it is the ordinary, everyday flow of life that is so difficult to navigate in a way that does no harm to ourselves or others. Indeed, daily life presents our most obvious opportunity to change the world around us—to end the cycle of pain.
Imagine a world where parents didn’t smack or shout at their children out of anger, where spouses didn’t take their work frustrations home and get passive aggressive with each other, where strangers didn’t project their pent up feelings onto each other.
Imagine all of the infinite little tragedies that could be avoided. Imagine the child who, in a moment of despair, sees a helping hand instead of a fist. Think of what a different place the world would be if one million or one billion people had this same thought all at once.
I, too, once had a head full of grandiosity, all the while overlooking the difference I could make each and every day.
Growing up in an affluent suburb of New York, I was raised like most of the other kids in my peer group—to be hyper-competitive and keep up with the Joneses. I wanted to be a famous academic, a CEO, or the president. I thought about ending wars, saving the environment, and changing the economy.
I was also short on patience. I punched back. I showed off. I overlooked people. It was only after I was brought so low by pain, when I saw no way forward, that I dropped my illusions and really thought about how to move forward in the world. When I felt there was no hope, I stopped contemplating the horizon and instead looked right in front of me.
For maybe the first time, I really saw the people who came into my life and got to know so well who had wronged me, betrayed me. Rather than cursing them or begrudging them, I thought about how they got the way they were—their being bullied or even molested as children or abandoned as adults (true stories!).
I thought about myself, put upon by my siblings and ignored by my parents. And I realized what a difference it would have made if even some minor character in any of these stories would have taken the initiative to break that cycle of pain.
Everything that happens in life is the result of an unknowable series of chance events that happened over centuries. You are here right now because some peasant in the fields a thousand years ago smiled at one of his fellow laborers or some seamstress took the risk of getting on ship bound for America or someone crossing the street didn’t get hit by a car.
Likewise, the gang member might not be in jail if that teacher had taken a chance on him. The cheerleader might not be bulimic if someone had taken the time to notice her eating habits or cared enough to say anything.
Even when we aren’t causing it, so many of us shut our eyes and turn our heads to other people’s pain because we’ve been hurt ourselves and don’t want to face more pain if we can avoid it.
To come to and maintain the level of consciousness necessary to actively counter the cycle of pain requires a spiritual vigilance that is profound and yet so simple. To break and not perpetuate the cycle of pain, to purify and not pollute our emotional environment is so mundane but can be so impactful. To me, this is what it means to be the change I wish to see in the world.
Once I recovered from the deep, crushing, suicidal depression that I suffered, I left my high-flying job. I moved countries. I extricated myself from destructive relationships. Coming from a life in which I interacted with senior politicians and CEOs, I instead dabbled in coaching and tutoring and other endeavors I saw as making a small difference. I slowed down and, instead of chasing grand visions, became much more conscious of what I was doing each moment.
This was a difficult transition to make, and it is a challenge each day to remember the cycle of pain and my role in it, and, more importantly, not to perpetuate it. Nevertheless, I find life so much more rewarding now. Though my path is littered with mistakes and small failings, most days I am able to see the incremental positive differences that I make.
I don’t know what all of this will amount to, but what I do know is that I feel so much more rewarded and empowered.
About Joshua Kauffman
Joshua Kauffman is a recovering over-achiever and workaholic. Leaving behind a high-powered life in business, he has become a world traveler, aspiring coach, and entrepreneur of pretty things. Amateur author of a recent memoir Footprints Through The Desert, he is trying to find ways to share his awakening experience, particularly to those lost in the rat race like he was.
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