Addictions to Pain
Why are Joy and Ease so Hard?
Our Conditioned Mind
Thoughts after 2 intense days of yoga teacher training.
Addictions to Pain
Why are Joy and Ease so Hard?
Our Conditioned Mind
Thoughts after 2 intense days of yoga teacher training.
What brings you joy?
This question can strike fear into the hearts of some people. If it has been some time since you experienced either spontaneous or cultivated joy, you may feel scarcity or grief.
If you have been living someone else’s idea of a “good life” but not your own, you probably feel a lack of joy. Or if things seem to be not going as planned in your life, and you feel a sense of numbness or sadness, joy seems far away. You may be like a poor kid looking through the windows of the candy store, knowing that joy exists (not in the form of candy, actually) but believing you cannot have it.
However, joy can be a daily practice as much as a feeling or an experience. I first learned about this from Martha Beck in her book The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. I pulled out her book from my shelves last summer and started cultivating joy more intentionally when I realized my work life was no longer bringing me joy. For years, it had provided me with growth, challenge and satisfaction.
Then it seemed the minor annoyances I was tolerating started to grow into major annoyances. The bureaucrazy (yes, this is Freudian slip, and also deliberate) felt more overwhelming. On balance, the joy did not outweigh the suffering anymore. I no longer felt I belonged in that place, in that position.
I started finding joy in doing art projects at home, meditating, writing, doing yoga, reading books, and listening to podcasts that fed my brain new ideas. I started taking more joy in my relationship, planning my wedding (which took place last September). Instead of working late, I left the office early, enjoyed evenings on the patio, which is quite lovely in Minnesota this time of year.
My focus on finding and appreciating joy daily led me to the place where I am now. I feel healthy and more balanced than I have in years. My sleep has improved considerably, with much less insomnia than before. My eating habits have improved, and I struggle less with fighting cravings for sugar and junk food. Those things had been a “buffer” to my feelings and did not allow for me to sit with the reality of the change my soul was calling forth.
Joy is always not in the big, bright moments of happiness. These can be a part of a joyful life. However, it is often in the small, quiet moments of gratitude for the abundance that surrounds us. Joy exists in moments of internal peace and in finding our center. Sometimes there is suffering embedded in joy, and it is an almost bittersweet experience. I would not trade it for any material thing.
What brings you joy?
One of my favorite guided meditations is spoken by Sarah Blondin on Insight Timer called “I would like to give you permission.” It is about the ways in which we tend to hide our true selves from the world, and I think it was originally recorded for the Live Awake podcast.
Sometimes we have a good reason we hide our true selves (Martha Beck would call this the essential self vs the social self). Most of the time it is because we have been taught to act “appropriately” or to hide our feelings. These are often well-intentioned pieces of advice, but they may not serve our highest good.
There is a line in this particular meditation that moves me: “Force no pain away, for it is all conspiring to bring you home.” What I like about this is the fact that we must embrace our feelings, admit them to ourselves, in order to be fully human. To push them away, or not to acknowledge our sadness, pain or discomfort, is to run away from our experience. We often do this in an attempt to be more positive, or because we think we should not experience negative emotions.
But emotions are just vibrations in the body, and we are likely to experience about half and half, positive and negative. It is the contrast between these emotions that makes joy so sweet. There is nothing wrong with us when we experience sadness or grief. These are normal and appropriate parts of being human. Getting angry at injustice can help us realize when we need to take action, for example.
When I consider how my emotions bring me home to myself, and I understand what thoughts drive these emotions, I fully claim my experience. There is no need for denial or resistance of these feelings. Indeed they provide the compass for a live well lived.
I love early mornings, when I sit with my coffee and write, sometimes with a cat on my lap, sometimes just with a few fresh ideas in my head. After a good night’s sleep, my mind is clear, and sometimes the remnants of a dream come forth. Very often I forget them right away, and that is okay. My subconscious lets me know when I need to remember them.
This morning I had fragments in my head of a song by Tori Amos that I have not hear in years, possibly decades: “Why do we crucify ourselves?” So that was fascinating. It is a good question though. Why indeed?
Isn’t it amazing how some music imprints itself upon us in a way we cannot explain. This particular album was introduced to me by my best friend in college. The Little Earthquakes album was a staple of our music mix in those days.
“I gotta have my suffering so I can have my cross…”
Yeah. I guess some of us were taught to use Jesus as an example of behavior we should follow. I am going to risk offending people in this post, and probably confess my beliefs here and how they have changed over the years.
I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, perhaps even a savior in a way. But I always puzzled at people who are so self-sacrificing that they neglect their own self care. The Bible says that Jesus died for our sins, that his suffering was our redemption. So why do we insist on suffering more than needed?
Every human being suffers. It is part of our DNA. It is part of what helps us have empathy for others, the understanding of sadness, of grief, of anger, of any depth of emotion. And yet when we are young, some of us are told “don’t cry, it will be okay” or “honey, don’t be sad.”
It reflects possibly our parents’ inability to deal with their own emotions that they asked us not to express our own. Everyone has sadness, anger or loneliness at times in their life. It is okay. Nothing has gone wrong. These emotions help us to connect with ourselves, and with others, and to let us know when things may need to change in our lives.
Anger is how we SHOULD react to injustice. It is something that can motivate action, though not necessarily sustain it. And yet many of us were taught not to express anger, but to fear it. Or we were not shown that it was okay to be sad sometimes. But being angry or sad is part of the human condition, nothing that should shame us.
When we resist or deny our feelings, that is when they cause more suffering. Our feelings are like vibrations in the body. They come, they move through us, and they complete themselves. Probably no other practice has helped me understand this than yoga and meditation. Every emotional state is temporary. Many of these states are a result of our thoughts rather than anything external.
Simply by feeling our feelings, possibly naming and acknowledging them, we allow them to move through us. They can be a guide to let us know we should reach out to friends and connect with loved ones. They can help us know when we are moving toward danger or toward joy.
As more people develop emotional intelligence, they may learn to identify and embrace their emotions rather than “buffer” them away with alcohol, food, Netflix or other addictions. Instead of piling on the guilt and shame over feeling sad or angry, they can release this added suffering and feel more peace.
I certainly have not mastered this, and have had to deliberately practice feeling my feelings, and identifying the thoughts behind them. But it has allowed me to stop crucifying myself over mistakes, or my own shortcomings. That serves nobody. I am pretty sure Jesus would agree with me on this one, and allow me to forgive myself.
To continue along a theme I started yesterday on the power of internal thoughts and dialogue on your feelings and behavior, I decided to go into another personal example.
Some of you know that I have struggled in the past with getting enough sleep. But in the last couple of years I have truly started to understand the difference that getting good, consistent sleep makes for me. It allows me to be less distracted, more engaged, less triggered in terms of emotional volatility.
Good sleep allows me to be more creative, more flexible in my thinking, and more generous in spirit. It helps me keep my weight stable and gives me more consistent energy. Sleep allows me to make better decisions and to pause before responding to stimuli. It “cleans up” the toxic stuff that builds up during the day.
But for years I struggled with periodic insomnia. Notice how I define that in the past tense? In truth, I still struggle sometimes. But I was considering the difference in telling myself “I suffer from insomnia” and changing that thought too: “I am learning to master sleep.”
It may seem like a subtle difference. But when I consider the feeling that results from “I suffer from…” it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel defeated. When I instead practice the thought, “I am mastering sleep” I start to feel hopeful, as though I am making progress. It means I have not yet figured it out, but that I am getting there. Actually, that is what is true for me.
Back when I started tracking all this stuff with the Wellbeing Finder about a year and a half ago, I really struggled. Knowing that getting better, more consistent sleep was the goal, I could see what factors led to better sleep. So I experimented with different things, like powering the devices down at least an hour before bed. I was shifting my drinking and eating patterns too. I quit alcohol and cut way back on sugar and flour.
It turned out some of those factors were much more relevant than I thought in getting a good night’s sleep. Now that I am used to receiving better quality and quantity of sleep, I am a total convert! But I need to realize this is a skill that can be mastered. Even though I suffered from insomnia in the past, I am gaining mastery over good sleep.
If you are mastering sleep, do consider what language you use as you learn to embrace this beautiful and restorative habit. Imagine if you used kinder language to describe the process of change, and describe the issues as relevant to the past but not the present. Perhaps that will help you, as it has for me, to let go of the need to be perfect. Mastery is an ongoing process but so very worthwhile.
I would like to make a toast to the end of patriarchal rule in America. Why?
It seems to me, with the almost daily revelations of men who have inappropriately groped women, or used their power to threaten and intimidate those with less power than them, we are reaching a new consciousness in our culture. It is a consciousness that will help women and men to feel empowered to fight the power structures that do not serve us.
I told my husband yesterday that I have recently discovered that about 99.9% of my women friends have had at least one (most more than that) of the following traumas in their lives: 1) being groped or harassed; 2) being intimidated, bullied or abused; 3) hating their body or suffering from an eating disorder. It is really astonishing.
All of these traumas are ways women (and men) are held hostage to a patriarchal power structure. But to me, bringing all of this out into the open, revealing it, confronting it and discussing it, is the first step to healing. The balance of our planet has been disrupted. The yin and yang of feminine and masculine energies need equal measures to be most effective. We must move away from toxic masculinity toward a more inclusive world view.
Strangely enough, I think the shock of electing a president that has a history of woman abuse may have unleashed a powerful tide of feminist action. After the initial shock of the election, some of us realized we would need to get to work in a more deliberate and strategic way to start dismantling patriarchy in any and every way we can.
For me, I had to take some time to reflect, journal, take care of myself and do some checking in with what types of activism will sustain me over the long haul. Back in my 20’s I was the campaign manager for a successful city council race. Despite being an introvert, I had the fire of Wellstone’s recent death in my soul. My desire for more progressive leaders to carry on the work fueled my efforts.
It was exhilarating, exhausting and satisfying. It cost me more money than I had, my career as I took time away from work to campaign, as well my family (a year after that my husband and I divorced) and possibly my sanity. I would not trade that experience for anything. But at the same time, I knew direct action in politics could not be my choice this time.
This blog is a part of my activism and commitment to be part of some larger story of the evolution of our culture. I work in a corporate patriarchy right now. While there are amazing efforts made to recognize that diversity drives innovation and better decision-making, it is still highly masculine in its structure. I do my part in creating an inclusive culture where I work. Sometimes I have to confront the “machismo” of the Latin American cultures as well in my quest.
Overall though, what I know is that patriarchy and corporate bureaucrazy do not serve us. These concepts are linked in my mind and I will explore the connection in a future post. When our political and organizational structures are not designed for inclusion, we all suffer. When women cannot be heard, or men must suppress their feelings in order not to appear weak, we all suffer. When we cannot fulfill the totality of our human experience because cultural norms teach us this is unacceptable, we all suffer.
I will be happy to toast the sunset of patriarchal rule because we are ready now to step beyond it. As a human species, we continue to evolve as we grow and change and develop new understanding about our interconnected natures. When we fully embrace all genders and all people as valuable and with potential for contribution, we all succeed. When all do better, we all do better. Women and men. Yin and yang.
I am not naive about this process. Like many movements, it will have a dance: two steps forward and one step back. So many of us believed our nation had evolved significantly in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President. It is true, we had evolved since the turbulent 60’s when civil rights were at the forefront. But then, it felt like we stepped back again in 2016 when we regressed to a person who’s treatment of women is unacceptable.
But I find hope in the fact that his 62 million votes was 3 million less than her 65 million votes. Only a patriarchy would find a way to “invalidate” the math of the majority in an artificial way of maintaining the states rights slavery preservation that originated the electoral system…but I digress.
Will you join me in toasting the sunset of the patriarchy?