Here’s how lucky I am: even on the rare occasion that I actually feel low, I still get to be grateful, which in turn makes low not-so-low. Because a lot of my students are seeking a strange uniform sort of happiness they tend to feel relieved when they learn that I’m more like them than they might imagine. So me feeling bad helps them feel better, which in turn makes me feel better—which is why I never stay there for long. I would guesstimate that I would have about two or three notably sad periods a year. I’m sad more often that that, but I’m talking about the times where I’m sad and I wish I wasn’t. They never even last a full day—usually about 4-5 hours, and they’re generally brought about by extreme conditions like extended periods of little sleep, poor diet and maybe pain.
I’m currently waiting for dental surgery, my schedule’s been intense, and that busy-ness has lead to me losing about 4-5 kilos (10 lbs) over the last couple of weeks. Those things combined to lead me to sad thoughts, which I entertained for about an hour before I noticed them. I was about to switch out when I realized that it was a rare occasion and that it could be quite useful for my writing—hence this. It’s not often I get to write to you when I’m feeling low so this is a great opportunity. The only trick is, that realization makes me grateful, and that’s already starting to take me out of this state of mind, so I’d better be quick.
When I’m feeling the way I usually do, I see other people’s lives from their perspective. The writer in me instantly imagines—if I wrote that character, what kind of reaction would they logically have? This is why I’m compassionate when someone’s suffering, and also why the world looks so wonderful to me. Many exciting and incredible and fortunate things happen to people all day long, so if that’s what you’re focused on, you’re connected to those people and to those positive experiences.
On the other hand, when I’m feeling like I have been the last hour, I instead look at other people’s lives and I think of me. So rather than focus on their good fortune, I focus on how I did not experience that good fortune or that I’m not currently experiencing it. The creation of an “I” to have suffered is contained in that narrative. I build me by telling myself a story about how I am lacking this or that. In short, I create a me and that me can only exist in a context of wanting. (I’d read those last two sentences again and make sure you understand them.)
Hey, this is going pretty good. I wouldn’t have thought of putting it like this if I wasn’t feeling low. See? By engaging with my low-ness openly (as opposed to defining it as undesirable), I don’t make it real-er by self-talking it into reality by opposing it. Instead it’s just another part of life. And in other parts of my life I don’t have this strange belief that I can’t change from this emotion to that one. I can recognize my freedom if I’m picking sandwiches. But I lose sight of it when I’m making choices that I perceive are more important to my happiness.
Is this making sense? Because I’m quite pleased with this explanation of a very abstract concept. Sadness is comparative. You create a you and then you define a want and in the crux between those two ideas is your suffering. That’s the fabric from which you weave your narratives of disappointment and loss and regret and jealousy and and and. And you get the neurochemistry that goes with that thinking and that’s why you feel the way you do. Fortunately it goes the same going the opposite direction.
Just do what I’m doing. It might feel easier to me because I’ve been doing it so long, but you’re entirely capable of this. Spend less time allowing your mind to discuss you and more time focusing on the good fortune that others around you are experiencing. Trust me, there’s plenty of good things going on in this world. If you’re focused on those you will feel incredible.
Happiness is no big deal. Neither is sadness. Don’t be overwhelmed. It’s a moment by moment choice to think this or think that. And if you find yourself in a negative loop, don’t panic. Just watch the loop and get to know it and witness how you’re actually creating a you to suffer through your comparisons of that you to others. You’ll wish you were married, or that you had kids—or that you weren’t married and that you didn’t have kids. You’ll wish you were born into a rich family or that you weren’t so shy, or that you were smarter or that you had bigger boobs. You’ll compare. And it’ll hurt. So instead, pay attention. The world around you is bountiful, exciting, inviting and worthwhile. But it’s always doing its thing. It’s you that has to stop focusing on your internal egocentric narratives and instead be in this world at this time to have these experiences. Do that and you will love your life.
And now I have to stop because I’m not the least bit sad anymore. Love you guys. Take care. And thanks. 😉
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own over-thinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.