We humans are peculiar in a number of ways; many of them being a direct result of our high powered brains. For instance, we share the stress response that other animals have, but we have the unique ability to store those events in our brain and bury the subsequent tensions deep in to our tissues, which can lead to future suffering and angst.
One of the peculiarities that stands out to me the most, however, is our ability to willingly ignore and/or relinquish our power, especially when it comes to choosing how we want to feel. Despite all we have learned, via both philosophy and science, we seem more than happy to give up happiness to feel anxious, angry, and crappy. On a daily basis.
Over two thousand years ago, when the Buddha declared that life was suffering (technically, dukkha), he added that the root cause of that suffering was due to our desire and ignorance regarding the nature of life.
Without going in to all of the philosophical bits (we will do that on another post), the immediate take-away is that it is not life, inherently, that is “suffering,” but rather our misguided ideas about it. This knowledge, rather than being depressing, should be liberating, but it typically isn’t, because rather than choosing a different relationship with life…one that might bring about more happiness…we resolutely dig our heels in and fight back against it.
Even modern day brain science and psychology are showing us that yes, happiness is more a by-product of a conscious decision, rather than the result of external circumstances.
But we still fight it; as if we find some pleasure or satisfaction in feeling angry or anxious. So we refuse to let it go and find the happiness (or at least contentedness) that lies within our reach.
First, let’s be clear…
If a person has had some trauma in their background, the idea of “choice” gets more complicated. A host of psychological and biological processes hijack our volition and instead we are taken for a ride that is difficult to recover from. I would argue that this is not the case for most of us, however.
Additionally, I am not of the mindset that we always need to be happy. Most times, feelings of anger, sadness, anxiety, etc, are indicators that something is out of alignment. These feelings are valid, and should be expressed appropriately.
But how long do we hang on to them?
Because more often than we would like to admit, we hang on to them far longer than we need to. And that’s the peculiar piece…when we choose to hang on to them by refusing to acknowledge that we can choose differently.
There are many different thoughts and ideas as to why we do this. I will address these in upcoming posts. For now, here is my challenge to all of us:
When you catch yourself in an inner space of anxiety, or worry, or anger, first ask yourself why, so that you can take the appropriate action to change any circumstances that need to be (and can be) changed or addressed. Then, give yourself permission to let the negative energy go and see if you can find a more joyful moment.
That moment is accessible to you right now, at any time. If you don’t want to find it, that’s fine, but ask yourself why you are choosing differently. What are you getting out of holding on to it? How is it best serving you? The answers to those questions might lead you to a great deal of insight regarding how you feel throughout the day.