Becoming Comfortable in Your Skin
I spent the more significant part of 20 years on a quest for spiritual enlightenment. if you would’ve asked me what I was looking for, my answer would have been, “I don’t know.” The truth is, I didn’t want to suffer anymore; I desperately wanted to find peace.
I knew what it was like to find temporary peace. I knew what it was like to put something in my body that made me feel good or be with a person who temporarily made me feel better. I was familiar with the ephemeral rush from someone saying, “Kent, good job,” but those experiences came and went, and in the end, I always had to face the pain that I carried everywhere I went.
In those days, I found myself not wanting to be alone. Looking back, I was quite an escape artist. I would use anything that I could to help relieve myself of the pain that I felt inside. I suppose I would still be using those methods now, whether alcohol, relationships, new places to live, etc. However, those substances, people, and experiences ended up turning on me. My alcohol addiction gave me withdrawals. When the newness of a relationship or an experience either wore off or became troublesome, I was left with my depression, anger, and confusion.
The Gift of Failure
I consider myself lucky to have become so miserable in the first 25 years of my life. It may sound strange that I would say this, but I learned without having to go through the spectrum of successes and failures (that many find in middle-age or on their deathbed), that most of the things that society says will fulfill you ultimately doesn’t. Because of my extreme suffering and utter inability to relieve it, it became clear that nothing on the outside – no ”thing” would fulfill me. No job, no spouse, no amount of material goods or wealth – nothing would fix me. I’m not saying that outer success did not matter to me, but it was completely clear from my failures that happiness was an inside job.
For someone as stubborn as I was, I had to be completely broken inside to look for another way to live. The word that people seem to use nowadays for this brokenness is “surrender.” I don’t know if you have had moments In your life when you say to yourself, “my way just ain’t workin’. I give up!” but I can tell you, they are pivotal moments, and they are a gift when they happen. As Leonard Cohen famously sang, “there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” I think the reason the legendary musician’s euphemistic lyric resonates with so many is that most of us know what it’s like to be beaten into submission by our own selfish or ignorant behavior. And In retrospect, we can see that out of utter failure arises new possibilities.
The Dependency of the Mind
I have found in my work with people that most of us have a similar approach to life – we are all looking for happiness in what does or doesn’t happen. It is quite a precarious position because we are entirely dependent on a constantly changing world for our satisfaction. When someone or something does provide you what you desire, you are afraid you will lose it, and when you don’t get what you want, you are likely to become reactive.
We can always trace our unhappiness and unreasonable behavior back to one fundamental thing – a sense of lack that we carry within us. When we live in this way, this moment will be a threat, and a means to an end. We human beings have developed this tendency to experience this perpetual unease by losing touch with awareness in the present moment by being wholly identified with our thoughts and feelings. The feeling that something is missing is usually not conscious, but we see our lives’ repercussions. We wonder why we overeat, become needy in relationships, abuse substances, become workaholics, isolate ourselves, and the list goes on.
How do we become free of the bondage of our human condition? The first step in finding peace is to bring awareness into habits of thinking that cause suffering. Understanding is the key. There is a reason that we call becoming peaceful and happy, ”awakening,” or being ”conscious.” To become satisfied, no matter what happens, we must become aware of reality rather than believing the imaginary scenarios constructed by the mind. In other words, we must be mindful of what’s happening rather than being completely lost in thought.
The excellent news is, there is a way out of suffering, and it is direct and straightforward, but it does take a lot of practice. As you “awaken,” you are pulling yourself out of the state of “unconsciousness” (lost in thought) that humanity has been in for so long. There are several steps.
Here is something that you can try right now: First, take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Now feel the energy in your body. If the mind tries to go into thinking, put attention back to the breath and into the body. Would you say that you have a sense of ease and “okayness” in your body, or is there an uneasiness? Most likely, there is a feeling of dissatisfaction and uneasiness if you look closely enough. You inherited this unease as part of the human condition. There is undoubtedly no wrongdoing that could be attributed to you, so don’t blame yourself; just feel it. Putting attention on the feeling will keep it from taking you over and is the beginning of letting it go.
What to do now: Here are some exercises to help you out of the habitual fear and desire thoughts into the present moment’s reality.
- Look at your life and see the places you need something (desire) from others to be OK. You may need approval from colleagues and “higher-ups” in your career, or you may need attention in romantic relationships, for example.
- Look at the places in your life where you feel threatened by others (fear). You may feel competitive with the other people in your career, or you may be afraid of being rejected by someone, for example.
- Now, look at the people, places, and situations where you experience happiness and peace. It may be when you are with your best friend or lover or taking walks on the beach. See that this is a lack of trying to control. Grasping and clinging are absent in these situations. There is not something being added, but rather, you allow extra mind activity to be relinquished.
- Rather than being dependent on a person, place, or situation, start to practice letting go and being present in the times that are generally unpleasant. For example, sitting in an all-day board meeting, or for me, it would be picking up a few days worth of dog poop in the backyard from my three giant dogs. Think of activities that aren’t hellish, but you would just rather not be doing them. Practice letting go of the need for things to be different and make the action or experience a mindfulness practice. Notice the mind’s desire to escape through daydreaming, wishing things were another way, and bring attention to what is happening. With practice, you’ll notice a peace that becomes present wherever you are.
- An advanced practice is to bring relaxation, acceptance, and awareness into any painful situation. For example, You didn’t get the promotion that you wanted, your child is in a lot of trouble at school, or the “wrong” official was voted into public office. Rather than letting the mind go into drama land, stay present and watch it.
With practice, your understanding of life will “flip”. The realization that you will have is you will find the happiness that is deeper than what we like or dislike. Most importantly, you will realize that happiness is not dependent on what we are doing but rather on how we are doing what we are doing. Seeing this will transform your life.
Letting go of trying to manipulate life to find happiness is utterly compatible with achieving goals. When we relinquish the overseriousness that our need to control causes, there begins to be a joy in what we do. We all know that people tend to be repelled by neediness and attracted to joy. I know for myself that when I was younger and wanted a girlfriend, it was challenging for me to have one, but when I didn’t care, things tended to work out much better. In my former profession, sales, I would often do well when it didn’t matter whether I closed the deal or not. When I let go of the need to get what I wanted and naturally focused on the other person, I quite often succeeded. When you cooperate with life, life cooperates back. Cooperating is not an activity; it is a non-doing. All you need to do is stop fighting and trying to control – act from that place.
If you want to find sustainable happiness and real meaning in life, ground yourself in the reality of this moment, find the joy beneath the agitation, and your natural inclination to connect and give to others is always beneath the fear. If you make everything in your life a means to an end, you will frustrate yourself and those around you, so enjoy the journey instead. We are built to want to improve our lives, and this is a great thing! We all want to experience more pleasure, avoid pain, and evolve. Growing and learning is part of the adventure of life! Only when we lose touch with the present moment and become obsessed with results that life becomes difficult. As 38 special sang back in the ’80s, “Hold on loosely but don’t let go.”