Monday, March 18, 2019

The Luxury of Discontent

I'm learning more and more just how often I am searching, yearning, craving, obsessed, tortured by the idea that I am somehow missing out on life. I lead a full and rich life that is, by all standards, pretty fantastic. It's true! But, I don't always feel fantastic. In fact I often feel far less than fantastic. And, there are times, when I feel down right crummy. For no good reason. I even fantasize that it would be easier if I could just have a massive problem in my life to justify my malaise and rev up my engines for action. But, that is a terrible idea because my life is already incredibly full and certainly I don't want life to get crummier. It is already in a state of disharmony that is worth writing a blog about.

So, what is the issue?

The issue is that I have the luxury of comfort which leads me to the unanswerable existential questions. Why am I here? Who am I? What does it all mean? Every Ted talk I have listened to in the past couple months (in my search for relief of my discontent) talk about purpose. But, when we get really existential about it. Purpose is dependent on our having an established perspective on the value of our existence. Existential questions have lurked in the back of my brain/body my whole life. I have routinely found myself frustrated with not getting "it." What "it" is exactly is unclear, but certainly, there should be something to "it." Right? Maybe?

Or, maybe not. My world is brilliant and mundane. It stable and imbalanced. It is hard but rather easy (in that suburban way). It is a mixed bag to say the least. What drags me down the most is the sense that there is something more out there. I have serious FOMO. Not that i fear missing out on what exactly other people are doing, but I fear I am missing out on living life fully. Shouldn't I be more excited about life? It seems everyone else is (ok fine, at least some other people are) jumping out of their beds in the morning celebrating the "good vibes" and "simple pleasures" in a blissed out state of feel good. There is a line in a Buddhist chant called the Loving Kindness Sutta.

 "This is what should be accomplished by the one who is wise, who seeks the good and has obtained peace. Let one be  strenuous upright and sincere, Without pride, easily contented and joyous. . ."

Easily contented and joyous? My goodness! Such a tall order for this life! I have been feeling anything but content these past few months. And, the worst part about it is that nothing is wrong! Except, life. This is what we are here to do. This experience of discontent is "it" as much as anything else. This is the richness of life. But, not in a special "blissed out" way; rather in the way life as a human is messy. Life is morning that turns into afternoon that turns into evening that turns into night. It is both remarkable and entirely unremarkable. 

My current lesson is that this can't be fixed. There is no "it" to fix. No fixing will change things because, this is as life is. This is what we are here to do.  I can choose to surrender to the need to fix and find solutions. What would I do with my time if I weren't constantly trying to feel better all the time!? I can allow things to be what they are (which again is pretty darn good in my case). Will I ever have a sense of great optimism again? Maybe. I don't know, but, chasing after it is not going to bring me any closer to it. I will just be running away from myself again and again. 

So, I'll just be over here. Allowing "it" to be what "it" is. Letting go of the hope of something more special and embracing the mishmash that is life right now. It's ok.  "It" is just fine as it is. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

But, I don't GET angry!

At least, I don't get angry very often. . . I much prefer the joy of agreeability and harmony. In general I am pretty laid back. Generally. Which is why it is always a surprise when I find myself in a state of fury! How did this happen? It is like a little monster that sneaks up behind me and then pounces unexpectedly. It bites its razor sharp teeth into the neck of my joy and sucks out every last drop of my remaining life force.

Well, that is an approximation. But, you get the idea. For those of us who don't like to get mad. Anger is a scary and dangerous beast!

The truth is I get angry. Things make me mad. But, I learned that you don't act it out. Quite rightly! But, just because we don't act on it doesn't mean it is not there. An interesting book called the Language of Feelings by Cal Banyan notes that there is always a message inside anger. Anger is like a little voice inside declaring there has been an injustice of some kind, real or perceived. And, here is the thing, we must be able to recognize injustices in order to best rectify them or make reparations. What we don't need is to then turn into a victim of the moment and lash out like a cornered animal. Feeling angry is part of being a healthy and discerning human being. 

But, the second point of interest is the notion of anger signaling an injustice whether real or perceived. Our nervous system sadly doesn't know the difference (hence waking from a nightmare in a sweat--It was so real!). Our bodies respond to negative emotions the way they are designed to respond when we feel threatened: fight, flight or freeze. It's not an ideal situation, but it is the nature of our human biology. 

The challenge of being angry at a perceived rather than real injustice is that we can't always address and resolve it like we might an external issue that is fixable. The perception is by nature internal.  So, we are challenged to face the reality of ourselves and the often completely "unfair" nature of human existence. "Unfair" because we all suffer from something as humans which thus makes the universal nature of problems more or less "fair." But, of course, the severity and nature of our affliction or situation inevitably feels "unfair" because of its unique manifestation. Our ego shouts out "I shouldn't have to deal with this!"

The question is, what are we to do when we feel life isn't fair, but in fact, it is just part of the reality that "Shit (sometimes) Happens?" In order to walk a middle path between lashing out and stuffing our anger response in a closet-- I think we have to start with an honest account of what makes us angry -- even when we "know" it isn't personal, or unique to us, or even alterable for that matter. Detailing the issue(s) at hand can be extraordinarily helpful.

Here is my current list of things that make me mad (but which are not necessarily real injustices):

I am angry that I am tired.
I am angry that students don't know how to take notes or study or practice effectively.
I am angry that my two year old is quitting his afternoon nap.
I am angry that I suffer from unpredictable and sometimes uncontrollable depression.
I am angry that there will be dirty dishes everyday.
I am angry that the value of the arts and humanities in education is downplayed because their study doesn't make money.
I am angry that my computer runs slow.
I am angry that I can't do everything I want to do because there simply isn't enough time.
I am angry that my jaw and eyes are tired and painful because I hold my unspoken stress there.
I am angry because life doesn't always provide clear answers to my questions.

Now, some of these things are more ridiculous than others. On the other hand, some might actually have validity and could be at least indirectly addressed. But, the point is, that for someone who doesn't like to feel angry, I still suffer occasional and situational anger.  This is ok. This has to be ok. Otherwise, I would sink into nihilism and be a potential hazard to myself and everyone around me.

This is where grace enters. In the form of hope, and faith, and love. We will experience rage, anger, and frustration at ourselves and the world. This anger can be so embarrassing for some of us that we would rather stifle it than risk revealing it. We fear we might lose hold of the tether and lose it all together. We stifle it and it shows up in other ways, in our bodies mostly, chronic hip pain, chronic headaches, addictions, depression and more. This is the work of David Schechter and his predecessor John Sarno who identify that roughly 90% of all chronic pain is psycho-somatic. Now, psycho-somatic does not mean that the pain is not real. Psycho-somatic pain is real pain, but it is triggered through our nervous system feedback rather than a physical injury.

Anger processing is one of the best inroads for "curing" chronic pain according to their work. And, I am apt to agree with them. Seeing our anger for what it is a much needed first step in healing ourselves and making ourselves whole.

What then is the antidote to our anger? For many of us it has to start with self-love and self-acceptance. We have to trust that we are not our anger and that we have worth even when we feel rage. When you are down in the dumps, it is hard to have faith in the tenant of inner goodness.  Our Buddha nature seems far away in these dark times. But we can commune with others we can trust when we can't trust ourselves. We go to them for a meaningful reminder of hope and love. And when we can't find any person, we go to our animal friends or the tree in your garden or the fountain at the park. We commune with a life energy, until we can remember for ourselves that we have inherent worth and dignity. That we are worth a little forgiveness and a lot of love. That we can play a meaningful role in the world for ourselves and for others.

Hope is a precious thing. It is the pilot light that keeps us going in our darkest hour. 

May you find peace today.

May you feel loved and valued.

May you have hope and may you shine your light for the world.