How the Fear of Rejection Can Destroy Relationships

2017-01-18

Image by Chirag Rathod

by Paul Garrigan

Hiding Mister Nice

A friend once told me I had this vibe about me that pushed other people away. I was hurt by this comment, and it bothered me for years afterwards. Why couldn’t other people just see I was a nice guy? Sure, I could be a bit arrogant, and I was cautious about those who felt like a threat to me (almost everyone), but surely those who knew me could see beyond that to the ‘real me’.

It seems so obvious now, but it took me a long time to understand that people judged me based on how I behaved rather than how I saw myself. If I acted cold and judgmental, it meant others would just assume that was who I was and they would probably not want to be around me too much. It was unreasonable to expect others to understand I was just protecting myself – it was unrealistic to just expect people to see beyond my defenses.

The Fear of Rejection

The feeling of rejection can be one of the most difficult things we have to deal with in life. The fear of it may be hardwired into our psyche over millennia because in the past rejection could easily mean death (e.g. it may have been almost impossible to survive if you were kicked out of your tribe).

One study at Columbia University used an MRI scan to see what changes occurred in the brain when people experienced rejection. The results showed the parts of the brain that lit up were the same as for physical pain. Rejection really does hurt us.

Handling Rejection Badly

The fear of rejection is likely within all of us and perhaps the main way we differ is how we handle it. Some of the strategies I used over the years included:

• Using alcohol to numb the pain of rejection
• Keeping people at a distance
• Never fully opening my heart to friends – always holding something back
• Arrogance
• Regularly changing social circles
• Reverse-snobbery (e.g. believing educated people had no common sense)
• Pre-emptive ending of relationships if I felt there was a risk of rejection
• Ignoring people if I suspected they might ‘look down’ on me
• Always ‘doing my own thing’ even when it meant being lonely
• Pretending I didn’t care what people thought even though I actually felt incredibly sensitive

These strategies may have seemed to work at the time, but it also meant damaging my relationships. It meant I didn’t develop long-lasting friendships, and I never felt fully comfortable around even those I considered friends. My reaction to the fear of rejection impoverished my life, and I could never find peace until I found better strategies for dealing with it.

How to Deal with the Pain of Rejection

The following two strategies allowed me to better deal with the fear of rejection

• Self-soothing the somatic feeling of rejection when it arises and not getting lost in the story of what has triggered it
• Realizing that it is far more important for me to like others than for them to like me

I will go into more detail about these strategies in the next post

Motivated Reasoning

2016-11-19

fog_surrounding_standing_man

by Paul Garrigan

Building a Case for Relapse

I remember during one of my early attempts to quit alcohol developing an interest in research and testimonials related to ‘controlled drinking’. I had been sober around 20 months at this stage, my life was going well, and I had started my nursing training. I told myself this sudden interest in the topic was purely academic, but I was unconsciously collecting evidence to support an unspoken desire to relapse.

The more I researched the topic, the more evidence I found to support my theory that I would be able to safely use alcohol again. This was during the early days of the internet (1996) but even back then, there was plenty of websites willing to provide evidence to support almost any cause. I also had access to medical and scientific journals at my university, and if I looked at this material the right way, there did seem to be rational support for an experiment with controlled drinking.

I built a strong case for relapse so this meant that when I eventually took the plunge a few months later, I felt rationally justified – even though my gut was screaming ‘no’. I did manage some controlled drinking for a few months, but it wasn’t something I could maintain and my life began to fall apart again. So much for the evidence.

Motivated Reasoning

It used to feel troubled and dismayed at the way seemingly intelligent people could arrive at such different conclusions about life. Surely, if we all just calmly examined the evidence, we would all see things the ‘right’ way. It is only in recent years that I have come to see how intelligence and evidence are no guarantee of a consensus.

One way to explain why equally intelligent people can end up on different sides of a debate is motivated reasoning. When it comes to certain topics, it may not even be possible for any of us to look at the data in an unbiased way. For example, our personal sense of right/wrong gives us a bias as to where we stand on issues, and we will be more favorably inclined towards certain arguments and conclusions. This means there is going to be an unconscious motivation to find evidence to support our worldview and downplay evidence that doesn’t.

In his book ‘The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion’, the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt talks about how we reach our conclusions about life. He uses the ‘rider on an elephant’ metaphor to describe the relationship between the conscious rational mind (the rider) and the unconscious irrational mind (the elephant). The elephant is far more powerful than the rider, so the rider must learn to work with it.

Our way of seeing the world is strongly governed by our inner elephant (unfortunately, most of us feel disconnected from our elephants, so there is a lot of miscommunication.). When it comes to morality and beliefs, it is the job of the rider to promote and defend the elephant’s sense of things. This is where motivated reasoning comes in. It explains how I could convince myself that controlled drinking was possible even though there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

How Understanding Motivated Reasoning Helps Us

It can be easy to see how motivated reasoning is used by other people, but it is harder to admit we do this ourselves. I have concluded that if I can’t understand the perspective of the other side, it is only because of my own biases. It is not good enough to console myself with the idea that those who think differently from me are ‘stupid’ or ‘evil’ because none of us are free of bias and all sides have a point to make.

So, one of the ways an understanding of motivated reasoning helps us is by making it easier to appreciate the other side in a debate. It is not intelligence our ‘goodness’ that causes us see things differently, but our experiences, culture, and maybe even our genetics. I have become far less interested in what people believe and more interested in why they believe it because there I can discover some common ground – this has made me less judgmental and more compassionate.

It is important that we are aware of how motivated reasoning can get us into trouble. There may still be a part of your thinking that is attempting to build a case for a return to addiction or other maladaptive behaviors. For example, if you go looking for evidence to support a relapse, you will surely find it, but this doesn’t change the fact that it is most likely a terrible idea.

How Imagined Realities Create Dissatisfaction with Life

2016-11-16

Image by Alan-Cottey-W-M

Image by Alan-Cottey-W-M

by Paul Garrigan

It Shouldn’t Be Like This

“Insanity – a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.”
R.D. Laing

The best word I could use to describe my mental state prior to discovering alcohol at age 15 would be ‘awkward’. I tried my best to fit in with the world around me, but the harder I tried, the more uncomfortable I felt. The cause of this uneasy relationship with reality was the persistent feeling that ‘it shouldn’t be like this’ or ‘I shouldn’t be like this’.

As a teenager, I mistakenly decided this feeling of ‘it shouldn’t be like this’ was unique to me. It turns out this sense of awkwardness is common – it may even be universal. I suspect there are varying degrees in how we experience this disconnection, and those of us who are at the more severe end of the spectrum are more likely to turn to drugs, obsessions, or develop mental health problems.

So, what is the source of this alienation? Why do some of us feel so uncomfortable in our own skins that we need to be chemically anesthetized to cope? I’m convinced this discomfort arises due to the difference between how we perceive reality and our ideas about how reality should be.

Imagined Realities

I recently came across the book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari. It’s a fantastic read that is packed with insightful ideas about how humans have made it this far. The part of the book that particularly stood out for me was his claim that most of the important things in our world only exist in our imagination.

The ability to work with ‘imagined realities’ is what has allowed humans to become the dominant species on the planet. Our modern world is based on things that only exist in our imagination such as money (e.g. the value of paper money is purely subjective and gold is not that practically useful as a metal), honor, culture, and laws. It is our ability to move between subjective left-brain reality (fantasy) to objective right-brain reality (what our senses is picking up) that differentiates us from other animals.

Yuval Noah Harari’s description of ‘imagined realities’ fits in nicely with my own realizations about why I felt so disconnection with life as a teenager. The problem wasn’t that reality was wrong, or I was wrong, but that my ideas about how things were meant to be were based on fantasy. There is a downside in having this ability to function in two realities because it can become a source of conflict in our minds.

The imagined realities that governed my life meant my family appeared dysfunctional because it didn’t match some ideal family that most probably never existed, my friends seemed second-rate because people could never match my expectations of what real friends are meant to be like, and my life felt dissatisfying because it didn’t match my picture of how life ‘should be’.

So Why Are Some of Us More Affected by Imagined Realities Than Others?

I guess for many of us, the gulf between actual life and what we have been conditioned to expect from life becomes too obvious to ignore. This sense of disconnection may begin as a painful clash with reality such as childhood trauma or it may be that some of us are just less able to be comfortably conditioned into our societies. When it happens, it is unlikely we would even consider that it is our expectations of reality that is the problem, so we blame ourselves, other people, or our society and look for a way to ease our pain.

The 7 Factors on Enlightenment

2016-10-08

Marble Buddha

by Paul Garrigan

Seeing that Frees Us from Addiction

I used to wonder if my brain was deliberately working against me. How else could I explain the regular transitions from sincere determination to quit alcohol one minute to deciding to go on another bender the next? I now understand it was not that my brain was defective or trying to harm me, it had just fallen victim to a trick.

My brain had been tricked in much the same way as a naïve investor might get caught out by a sophisticated pyramid scheme. The saddest thing in this situation is that by the time investors become suspicious, they are usually too heavily invested to pay heed to these suspicions – it’s the same with addiction.

Knowing your brain has been the victim of trick may be helpful, but it is usually only when we understand the trick that we can fully escape and avoid falling into the same trap again in the future. The goal of mindfulness/insight practice is to give us the ability to see how we have been tricked.

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

If you wish to protect your brain from harmful delusions, you will need to gain insight into how you are being tricked. This type of understanding is far more likely to arise in a state of mental clarity, focus, and non-reactivity (i.e. we need to put aside our tendency to habitually react prior to investigation).

The easiest way to promote the growth of insight is to meditate regularly. This needs to be done in a certain way if we hope to achieve the best results. The ‘7 factors of enlightenment’ are attitudes and mental states that together will greatly increase the likelihood of insight during meditation and include:

Mindfulness means recognizing what your brain is doing at any given moment (e.g. fantasizing, getting angry, or listening)

Curiosity means investigating what is arising in our mind in a fresh way

Energy gives us the ability to make progress towards insight (it can be increased through other factors such as curiosity and joy)

Joy arises in meditation as we develop deeper concentration (see my previous post on jhanas). Focusing on this joy can move us even into a deeper state of single-pointed concentration.

Tranquility arises as we calm down mental activity through concentration and equanimity

Concentration requires keeping your attention on the object of the meditation (e.g. the sensation of the breath). Concentration is like a lamp, the stronger it is, the more of the mind we can see

Equanimity is the non-judgmental and non-reactive mind state that facilitates curiosity, concentration, and tranquility

Is Your Frame of Reference Leading You Back to Addiction?

2016-10-05

Image by Nieuw

Image by Nieuw

by Paul Garrigan

The Struggle to Recover from Addiction

One reason I struggled to remain free of alcohol was my aspirations and values were heavily wrapped up in the drinking identity. Alcohol was more than a drug for me, it was a way of life.

When things got bad enough, I would develop the willingness to ‘quit the booze’, but it was much harder to let go of the worldview that supported the behavior. So long as this old ‘frame of reference’ remained intact, staying sober felt like a struggle because it meant I felt incomplete and lacking in a key component necessary for my well-being.

Frame of Reference Explained

Have you ever noticed how two people can witness the exact same situation yet come to different conclusions about what has occurred? When this happens, how do we decide who is seeing reality the ‘right way’? Well, I’m not sure if we ever can with certainty.

This conflict in perception arises because none of us experience reality exactly as it is. Instead, we filter what we see through our beliefs, conditioning, biases, and assumptions. It is this frame of reference that gives our life meaning and structure, but it also means we are experiencing reality in a biased way. It acts like an invisible prison because our way of experiencing reality means we focus on evidence that supports this view.

Love

image by Leon Brocard

The Frame of Reference that Supports Addiction

I once believed a ‘good life’ had to involve the consumption of alcohol and drugs. I now see this as an incredibly sad way of looking at things, but at the time, I was convinced because all the evidence seemed to be backing it up.

In my old frame of reference, the pub was at the heart of every community. It was the place to go to escape the pressures of life – a venue where socializing felt easy. I saw alcohol as a vital component when it came to romantic relationships because I needed a drink to meet girls, get to know them, live with them, and get over the hurt of losing them. Alcohol was my reward and consolation – if I didn’t have it, what was the point of anything?

It was only when I started to question my old frame of reference that I began to get free of it. I began to see how my way of looking at the world was keeping me trapped, and that I had been deluding myself.


You Can’t Get There from Here

I empathize when clients tell me they can’t imagine life without drugs. I see how there frame of reference makes any other way of living appear impossible. It is hard to convince a person to leave their prison cell when they can’t even recognize they are being held captive.

One of the great gifts of mindfulness practice is we begin to question our beliefs, assumptions, perception of reality. We start to appreciate how convincingly the mind can trick us, and this creates cracks in our frame of reference. When we realize how this way of perceiving reality has contributed to our suffering, it becomes easy to let it go.

Once we have understood that no frame of reference is ultimately true or real, it gives us the flexibility to adopt one that better serves our purposes. A new frame of reference can completely revolutionize the way we experience reality. It can mean chemically numbing our brain no longer feels like an attractive proposition – there is no longer any sense of loss or lack so remaining free of drugs is easily sustainable.

I also discuss the importance of letting go of the addictive identity in this post – Real Recovery Require More Than Being a Caterpillar with Wings

How Mental Absorption (jhana) Can Free Us from Addiction

2016-09-28

Hope Rehab Center Thailand Meditation

by Paul Garrigan

What is Jhana?

Jhana (Thai: ฌาน/chaan) is a strong state of concentration we can learn to enter while meditating. Once we are able to access jhana, we can then deepen it through a process of letting go.

Jhana covers a spectrum of meditation experiences which can be broken up into stages. These stages are traditionally labelled as first jhana, second jhana, third jhana, fourth jhana (there are another five jhana states to explore, but the first four are sufficient for our purposes). As we progress from one stage to the next, the potential for developing insight increases.

How the Jhanas Can Help Free Us from Addiction

The jhanas are delightful. When we first encounter them, we are usually amazed such states of consciousness actually exist – it is like living for years in poverty, but then finding a huge casket of gold under your bed.

The Jhanas can help keep us free from addiction (and ultimately free us from all types of suffering) because:

• It allows us to safely experience states of concentration that are more pleasurable than drugs (and without the nasty side-effects)
• It allows us to experience happiness that is not dependent on external conditions
• We discover the freedom of a still mind so we become less obsessed with external experiences as a way to make us happy
• We stop blaming other people for our suffering once we gain insight into how we create our own suffering
• From this stillness of mind, we develop can other insights that completely change our relationship with reality
• We know without doubt that the more we let go, the more freedom we enjoy

How to Use Jhana Effectively

I would say there is no danger from jhana so long as we don’t access these states as a way to avoid our life. This is a mistake I made. I began experimenting with deep states of concentration as a teenager, but I was using it as a way to escape family problems. Even though I would occasionally fall into light jhanas, I didn’t benefit from the experience because my intention was wrong.

Luangpor Teean (หลวงพ่อเทียน) advised us that jhana without insight is like placing a rock over weeds. While the rock remains, the weeds won’t grow, but as soon as we remove the rock, the weeds will come back. It is perfectly possible to become skilled at entering wonderful meditation states, yet still behave badly when we are not meditating.

To get the most out of the jhana experience, we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve. We need to have the right intention or we could end up completely lost. So what would be the right intention? Our minds have been tricking us, and this is why we end up so lost in addiction, so I would suggest the right intention would be to learn how we are being tricked – this is something we will see more easily with deep states of concentration.

 

Meditation program at Hope Rehab

The Subjective Nature of the Jhana

The jhanas are subjective experiences, and this makes it problematic when it comes to discussing them. The situation isn’t helped because there is so much disagreement among the experts about what clarifies as a jhana (e.g. some meditation masters would say there should be no experience of external sound in the first jhana and for it to be a ‘real’ jhana we should be able to sustain it for three hours).

I would advise against getting caught up in the debate about jhana (or as the Buddha once described it, ‘the thicket of views’). I prefer the approach to this advocated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (inspired by his teacher Taan Por Fuang ท่านพ่อเฟื่อง) which involves a ‘post-it note’ approach to mapping the mental states we experience in meditation.

Once you understand the ingredients of a jhana, and you feel you have experienced this state, you can provisionally label it (your post-it note) – if it turns out later that you were wrong, you can move your post-it note to a new location.

Preparing the Mind for Jhana

There are three basic conditions for the mind to be inclined towards jhana:
Vittaka (Thai: วิตก/wi-dtok) – maintaining our attention to the object of the meditation (e.g. the breath)
Vicara (Thai: วิจาร/wi-jaan) – examining the object of meditation closely
Upekkha (Thai: อุเบกขา/ubek-kha) – a non-judgmental attitude as we observe the object of meditation

At Hope, we use the physical sensation of metta as our object of meditation. We bring our attention to the area around the heart (this is vitakka in action) and focus as closely as we can on the sensation there (vicara). Observing these lovely sensations can lead to the arrival of piti (Thai: ปีติ/piti) which is a the experience of physical joy and sukha (Thai:สุข/suk) which is emotional happiness.

The arrival of piti and sukha is so attractive to the mind that we develop a particularly strong type of one-pointed focus called ekaggata (Thai:เอกัคคตา/eck-ka-kata). We have now entered the first jhana.

Moving Through the Jhanas

The process of moving from one jhana requires letting go more and more. We move from the first to the second jhana by easing up on our effort – i.e. once we have stabilized the first jhana we no longer need vitaka and vicarra (it is like we are suddenly coasting along).

Mindful Communication

2016-09-21

Image by Alvesgaspar

Image by Alvesgaspar

by Paul Garrigan

One of the things that attracted me to alcohol was it seemed to improve my ability to communicate with others. It didn’t do this by magically transforming me into a charismatic speaker and ‘good listener’ – instead it gave me a false sense of confidence (or at least made me numb me enough not to care what other people thought of me).

I never actually developed my ability to communicate, and the same seems to be true for most of us who have used alcohol or drugs as a substitute. This means it is usually something we need to work on in recovery. Mindfulness can be of great help in this regard:


How to Speak Mindfully

In the playground we learn that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me’. It may be a nice ideal, but for the majority of us, this saying is more like wishful thinking than actual experience. We can feel hurt by what others say to us, and the things we say can potentially cause a great deal of harm to others.

It is irresponsible to just expect people to accept the things we say without taking offence or feeling hurt. A verbal attack can cause as much damage as a physical attack – especially if the other person is vulnerable. Here are some suggestions for how to speak more mindfully:

• It is often the stuff we say to break the silence that is most likely to be harmful (e.g. we might use gossip to fill the void)
• Observe the person’s body language to get an idea about how our words are being received
• It might be best to avoid conversations when you are overwhelmed by an emotion like anger – get this emotion under control first because otherwise you may say something you later regret
• When we speak from an attitude of openness and authenticity, we are far more likely to communicate skillfully
• Check your motives before you speak (e.g. are you being manipulative or deliberately hurtful?)
• Ease up on the self-promotion – it can make people less interested in us rather than more
• Increase your awareness of any patterns in how you speak such as frequent negativity – once we become aware of these habits, we can begin to let them go

How to Listen Mindfully

I once believed being a good listener was all about keeping my mouth shut until it was my turn to speak. As the other person was talking, I would be having a conversation in my head about what I was going to say. This was a very ineffective way of listening, and it frequently meant I got the ‘wrong end of the stick’ or ended up saying the completely wrong thing. It was probably also obvious to the other person that I wasn’t really listening.

Mindful listening means giving a similar amount of attention to what the other person is saying as we do our own thoughts. It means being genuinely interested in the words of others so we are willing to give the appropriate amount of attention to these words.

In order to listen mindfully, it is suggested that you:

• Be aware of your body language (e.g. do you appear distracted or uncomfortable?)
• Give your full attention to what the person is saying
• Plan what you are going to say after the person has stopped speaking
• Withhold judgement until you have heard the full story
• Avoid speaking unless it is to demonstrate your attentiveness (e.g. “I see”) or to seek clarification (e.g. so you went there because…)
• Try not to speak right away when the person has stopped speaking as they may not have completely finished (this is particularly important if it is a serious conversation)

Luke Richardson – Therapist and meditation coach

2016-08-20

DSCF6981

Luke is a therapist and meditation facilitator from Sydney Australia

He spent his early career working as an Electronics Engineer. In 2005 after a period of darkness his study focused on Meditation and Personal Development.

Luke is certified in Neuro Linguists Programming, Meditation Facilitation and has a Diploma of Energetic Healing.

From 2009 onward Luke has been working one on one with clients all around the world to take charge of their lives, become conscious of their emotions and feel at peace with themselves.

Luke is a therapist and meditation facilitator from Sydney Australia.
He spent his early career working as an Electronics Engineer. In 2005 after a period of darkness his study focused on Meditation and Personal Development.

Luke is certified in Neuro Linguists Programming, Meditation Facilitation and has a Diploma of Energetic Healing.

From 2009 onward Luke has been working one on one with clients all around the world to take charge of their lives, become conscious of their emotions and feel at peace with themselves.

Luke’s body of work has developed through many years of study, personal practice, teaching classes of meditation and spiritual growth as well as running a clinic offering one on one session. In this time Luke has come to see that there is no division between the mind body and spirit. The thoughts we think affect the way that we feel and this plays a role in the way we move through life.

Your psychology stores in your biology. When heavy emotions and times of stress continue on for many years these can sit in the body and become forgotten. Meditation and present moment awareness are great tools to use to become conscious of the thoughts and emotions that make up the way that we feel.

In the early 2000's Luke was largely involved in the personal development movement and the phrase "all of the tools and recourses you need to overcome your challenges are right there inside of you".

It has taken many years to master this technique and its broad understanding. CBT is a tremendous example of how this process of discovering inner recourses is carried out.

Right there at anyone moment is a life affirming belief, a moment of happiness and understanding. These tremendous inner resources can be found just behind a thought or emotional response that doesn’t feel good. A response from the personality that feels a little down or less than positive is the very stone you must over turn on your adventure of discovery of those amazing inner resources.

With all of this in the tool kit, Luke brings great joy into his sessions as he knows that in any moment a new inner recourse will be revealed. He has come to firmly believe that life’s struggles are their greatest gifts for they focus intent towards reaching within to know more happiness love and joy.

3 Mindfulness Tools That Will Transform Your Life Straightaway

Mindfulness Toolbox Image by Janekpfeifer

Mindfulness Toolbox
Image by Janekpfeifer

by Paul Garrigan

Knowledge About Mindfulness Is Not Enough

Learning about mindfulness can provide a new framework for understanding our experiences, but this knowledge alone is unlikely to do much to improve our life. It would be like learning about sky-diving when you have no plans of ever getting in an airplane. Here are 3 mindfulness tools that will transform your life straightaway if you start to actually use them:

Focusing on Physical Sensation

One of the things people tend to do when they are mentally distressed is to pace up and down. We intuitively know we will get some relief if we move our attention away from our thoughts to something physical. This simple tool works because our attention can only focus on one thing at time, so by focusing on a physical sensation, we discover a sanctuary no matter how troubled our thinking becomes.

There were periods during those early years after I quit alcohol when I struggled to maintain a meditation practice or do any of the other things that I knew were helping me. The one thing I was always able to do was to focus on physical sensation, sometimes only for a few seconds at a time, but it was enough to prevent me from being overwhelmed by life.

If you can get into the habit of focusing on physical sensation, it will make a huge difference to your life. It will mean you too will have a refuge to turn to no matter how bad life gets. It only requires noticing whatever sensations are arising in your body right now (this is sometimes referred to as interoceptive awareness), or if you prefer, you can create your own sensations by performing some type of movement (e.g. walking, qigong, or yoga).

The benefits of focusing on physical sensation:

• By moving your attention away from thoughts, it allows your thinking to slow down. If you have a problem, you are far more likely to get a solution from a clear mind than a troubled mind
• Obsessive thinking can turn our brain into a ‘pressure cooker’ and eventually the pressure becomes so high we explode. Focusing on physical sensation releases some of the pressure
• By moving our attention to something physical, we are actually practicing meditation – it means we will begin to reap the benefits of improved concentration and mental clarity
• This act of ‘resting in the body’ introduces us to a new way of being. We start to notice how a deep sense of well-being is our default state when we are not caught up in thinking

DSCF6621


Opening Up to Feelings and Emotions

Most of the bad stuff (including addictive behavior) we do is a result of trying to escape unpleasant feelings and emotions. We never seem to notice that the ‘cure’ is far worse than the ailment – we can go a lifetime without ever even considering what it is we are trying to get away from. It can come as a huge shock when we realize it was never the feelings that were the problem but our overreaction to them.

Self-compassion is the ability to just allow unpleasant feelings and emotions to arise and pass. When we do this, we begin to notice that these feelings are nowhere near as scary as we once imagined them to be - we have been running into the arms of monsters in order to escape a yapping puppy.

Loving What Is

Mindfulness means being aware of what is happening right now in an accepting way. It is an act of devotion that can completely transform our life. The word ‘love’ tends to suggest a gushy type of sentimentality, but the love we are talking about here involves complete acceptance of what is. If we can bring this type of devotion and full-commitment to our current experience, we will find happiness and peace right now (it doesn’t require you become a ‘spiritual person’, meditate for thousands of hours, or complete any type of self-improvement project).

Absolute Cooperation with the Inevitable

2016-08-17

Go With The Flow! Image by Photnart

Go With The Flow!
Image by Photnart

by Paul Garrigan

The Way Things Should Be

It is our ideas about how things ‘should be’ that makes life so difficult. This puts us in a confrontational relationship with reality. It is a battle we can never win. The only way we can ever know true peace is by letting go of our ideas about how things should be – or at the mystic Anthony de Mello once described it, ‘absolute cooperation with the inevitable’.

The thoughts ‘that shouldn’t have happened’ or ‘that should have happened’ can make it impossible for us to find contentment. This would include beliefs such as ‘my parents should have loved me more’, ‘he shouldn’t have done that to me’, or ‘I should have been treated better’. These thoughts lead to unnecessary suffering because reality doesn’t come with a rewind button – what is done is done, and the only helpful question is ‘this has happened, so what do I do now’.

Another source of unnecessary pain is the idea ‘this shouldn’t be happening’. If we argue with what is happening now, it puts us in state of anxiety and contracted thinking, and this makes it hard to deal appropriately with the situation. We can’t change what is already here, and now is never going to change just because we don’t approve of it, so we can save ourselves from useless suffering by working with reality.


Stop Barking at the Waves

It is common to see wild dogs on the beaches here in Thailand, and one of the things they like to do is bark at the waves – I’ve seen dogs do this for hours at a time. Barking obsessively at waves like this can’t be good for a dog’s throat, and it seems a bit pointless if you ask me (it’s not like it is going to make the waves stop)– yet it makes as much sense as our ideas of what should and shouldn’t be happening.

Image by Vincent

Image by Vincent

Stop Fighting Reality and Find Peace

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
Lao Tzu

Life becomes effortless when we go with the flow rather than trying to force reality to fit our image of how it ‘should be’. This act of surrender is only authentic when we fully accept how hopeless our situation is – we can never win a war against reality, and to continue with the fight is just too painful. It is not about accepting reality so we can get what we want but about accepting reality so we want what we get.

All conflicts in the world arise because we try to impose our idea of ‘how things should be’ on reality. It is a hopeless situation because the things we do in response to this rejection of reality (e.g. getting high, believing in fantasies, or arguing with others) ultimately just makes reality seem increasingly unsatisfying. It is unreasonable to expect reality to meet our criteria before we become willing to accept it – when we do this, it means we are choosing to suffer.

Life is what it is. Being alive can be an absolutely wonderful experience, and it is only our ideas about how things ‘should be’ that prevents this.