Where do you live? Not where geographically. I mean where emotionally. You revisit various situations in your life more out of habit than anything. But if you become more conscious about the tone of your emotional day you will find one of two things.
The first is that you have an opportunity to make an internal shift. You can drop your expectations or surrender your attachments or shift your mind to the state of others etc. This will stop your wanting and you will have taken action to feel better. This is an extremely useful life skill in situations you must be in but don’t want to be in.
The second involves the situations you chose to be in. You can assume that you don’t have a lot of choice about much of that but that’s where you’ve fallen into the trap of what the Buddha calls the illusion. Even connections like your marriage or your relationship to someone being a parent is more an idea than a thing. You can’t touch brotherhood. It’s a concept. Marriage too. So people will say they aren’t free, but what they mean is they don’t want to get divorced or quit their job or abandon their kids.
It might at first seem heartless to live in a world where everyone knows they’re free. Everyone would be free to leave basically any situation. But then if they stay, everyone’s sure that’s where they really want to be and everyone’s having more fun.
Of course the price for leaving a situation could be as high as death or as low as nothing, but you are still free. The Nazi’s could not change Viktor Frankl’s thoughts. They could lock up Frankl’s body but not enter his mind. They couldn’t make him think anything, they could only give him incentives to think what they hoped for. What they expected. What they were attached to. You lead an emotional life. You do control your thinking but that doesn’t mean you should necessarily walk into the belly of a lion for no good reason.
Start figuring out where you have fun. You don’t go to your best friend’s because you have to. You go there because it feels safe and supportive and enjoyable. Big surprise it usually feels good there. Meanwhile, awhile back I met a guy who couldn’t stand his boss. He bitched about him all day at work and also when he got home.
I reminded him that if he hated the owner of his store so much that it was ruining eight hours a day, maybe he should consider a different job? But no, some thought-combination of pride and fairness and right and wrong lead him to treat those things like actual barriers that were holding him inside the store when clearly there’s no law against quitting.
His roommate saw what I meant and pointed out that his happiness was more important than pride or fairness. Happiness you felt, pride and fairness are manufactured in complex thinking. They lead to emotions not feelings. Better not to be emotional about work. But he felt we were being unsupportive by wanting him to be happy so he argued with his roommate illogically because he was really attached to choosing anger and pride regarding the subject of work.
You choose almost everywhere you go. If you can’t stand it somewhere then either Frankl your thinking (if he can do it in a concentration camp you can do it at work), or leave the situation. But to voluntarily stay when you dislike a situation is pretty strange if you want a happy life. Sure, endure some shorter term suffering for the belief in the future value of a place, but at a certain point you’re just digging yourself in deeper.
Where can you change your thoughts and where should you change your choices? Stay conscious for an entire week. Note where you actually are. If staring at your own face in a mirror is something that makes you insecure, then don’t do it. You’re going to be you either way.
Express your freedom. Choose a happier life. It won’t entirely remove pain and suffering, but it will reduce it to the point where you don’t mind feeling it at all.
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.