Some of my clients come to me with specific needs like addictions, marital problems, grief over a death etc. Others are already relatively happy but they’re still curious about further spiritual development either within or without a faith. But the vast majority of people come to me with some form of a woe-is-me story. They’ve had something bad happen. I don’t like hearing about these things. They’re sad and they involve these very nice people being hurt.
Yep. That’s me. I’m the mental health professional that doesn’t want to hear why you’re sad. I know enough about that already: you’re human. So the details of your flog I don’t care about. I’m focused on making sure that flogging itself is carefully regulated. Don’t be sad or insecure for unconscious reasons. If you’re going to have those experiences then do it consciously, so you can gain something, like some kind of growth or expansion of yourself.
Look, there are two paths through life. You go the ego route, which means you lead a life of constant striving while you forever adjust your goals to things outside of yourself. It’s a life of comparison and competition and image. Or, you go the natural way. Yes, that path includes triumph and tragedy inevitably, but in return for living the tragedies as poignantly and consciously as we do with our triumphs, we are rewarded with no striving. There’s no “who should I be?” whether that’s a cultural ideal or an effort to avoid a religious punishment. You can just follow your own instincts and that will constitute success.
The ego route is busy and conflicted and tortured and frustrated and angry, while The natural way is easy, light-hearted, focused, friendly and fun. The problem with the ego route is that you never feel like you belong. You’re always trying to get in, or to be cared about, or loved. So while you strive to believe that you belong, those going the natural way operate without questions as to their acceptability. Rather than a hope or a belief, they have a faith that they are a part of the things around them, so there is no reason to judge their existence via their personal thinking.
People tip towards ego because they’re afraid to have the full experiences that living fully entails, and yet at the same time they don’t mind those emotions when they’re watching movies or TV shows. People seek them. They’ll watch horrors, tear-jerkers and tense thrillers. Because they tell themselves it’s a movie and not their life. But you really have to ask, what’s the definition of your life? Because you’re saying to me, “Scott, a movie is a movie and my life is my life. When a movie’s over it’s over, but in real life I have problems.”
I would say back to you, “Your life is a series of experiences you have within your consciousness. These are generated by your thoughts, whether those thoughts are about a character on a screen or about your own life, the emotional experiences are identical because they are based in the same brain chemistry. So being scared or happy at a movie is the same as being scared or happy with your own life.”
So of course you will have experiences that last longer than a movie, like a sick child or a law suit or a divorce. But those things don’t happen every moment. In fact, they can often take up very small amounts of a given day. The problem is that we choose to think about them all day. So it’s not like most mothers have to deal with their children’s issues all day long. It’s that they potentially might have to, and so they voluntarily think about it when they don’t really have to, and in doing so they lock themselves in the theatre with the horror playing.
The lock’s on the inside, so they can open it whenever they choose to leave that theatre and go down to where the comedy is playing. But they don’t. Because they think that’s inappropriate, when in fact nothing could be more appropriate. The parent of a sick child needs recuperation time of their own. They need to recharge, and lighten their soul so that they might carry more weight for their debilitated child. So far from feeling guilty about enjoying other aspects of life, they should do so with zeal and vigour, because that intake of energy is what they will be pouring out to the child as they deal with the challenges.
Don’t lock yourself in a movie you dislike unnecessarily. Yes, if you have to go through a law suit, you will have to go to Discoveries at some point. If you want to divorce you will have to learn to sleep alone. If someone you love is sick, you will have to deal with that, but your worry won’t come from those events, it will come from you idly imagining bad outcomes. So be where you are and do what you’re doing.
Don’t let your mind wander to low spots in your existence. Don’t let your consciousness pool around some unpleasant event or circumstance. Let it linger on the light and enjoyable. For that is like recharging the battery of your soul, and it will attract other people that do likewise. Laugh, and sing and relax. For whether you seek it or not, life will deliver tragedy. And the only defense is to cushion ourselves with wise choices in the moments in-between. So in the most serious, important way: go have fun.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.