Pleasure? Pain? Suffering?

How many times have you eaten that second piece of cake just to be in pain after? How many times have you bought to much on amazon because you can’t be in your own mind? How many times did you scroll through your newsfeed to laugh at a different meme over and over again, and ignored your children?

I have done all of these things and more for many years. Unfortunately I trained my mind to avoid pain at all costs. I think we should take a second and talk about pain. For some this may be chronic pain, others an emotional trauma, some sickness, or the loss of a loved one, ect. You get the idea, it is one specific event. It is painful and you feel it in your core.

When we feel this specific pain we find a coping skill. Some of us may find healthy coping skills others unhealthy. Either way we find a way to “manage”. For those of us that find unhealthy coping skills like overeating, drugs, over shopping, dating apps, ect. We start a thought in our brain that says “nope! This sucks I need to find a way to feel pleasure and fast!” So we search for these coping skills. In return we create habits painful situation happens and we already know how to cope. Amazon prime is right there waiting for me along with my glass of whiskey.

Now let’s pause and explain suffering. Suffering or Dukka as we call it in Buddhism is that gnawing, aching feeling of I just can’t get enough of that cake, or enough products off of amazon, or the whiskey bottle ran out. Suffering is on going torment.

So now that we have talked through the difference of pain and suffering let’s discuss a way to learn how to handle the pain that occurs in life.

First learn how to recognize pain as pain. Pain is impermanent, it won’t last. Suffering is when we tell ourselves that it will last forever. Or better yet our mind tells us that. I promise you, pain will not last forever and so often if you sit and accept the pain or maybe even ask yourself questions about the painful experience it will get better.

This leads to the second part of handling pain. We allow pain into our life and our present moment without pushing it away. Accept that in this moment you are experiencing pain. See if after you accept it, you find it lessons.

Then investigate the pain. What is the pain? Is it from the past or the future? Is it physical? Mental? What is the truth about this painful emotion or sensation?

Lastly nurture yourself. Can you bring compassion to the pain of this experience. Don’t beat yourself up if you had that second piece of cake. Notice if you can bring mindfulness practice to your day and just be kind to yourself.

Today let’s start recognizing that pain is a natural part of life and we can learn how to accept and heal from it.

Courage

I was thinking about courage today, I often think of fear and how to relate to my fears or make friends with my fears. I don’t often think of what courage means. The action after recognizing my own fears and choosing to continue to live in the moment even when it is difficult or scary.

Courage to me is being willing to look clearly at any given situation. Courage means being honest with myself and leaning in to the things that are uncomfortable.

We need courage to truly live in the present moment to live through the pains of life and to see the beauty always.

I have lost a lot of loved ones the past year, it created a fear in me. I looked at myself differently as I fought through the painful emotions of loss. I continued to push myself forward but I was living in survival mode. Continuing life the best I knew how but possibly not truly living in the moment.

Courage means I not only am going to get thrown out of the nest but I am going to jump out. Love each moment for what it is and look for the beauty in everything.

Courage is how we overcome fear. Courage to accept life as it is one breath at a time.

The masks we hide behind

I was having a conversation with a few people the other day about the masks we put on for survival. Yes, we put them on for survival. In Buddhism we talk about seeing clearly or the truth of the experience. To practice this self reflection we have to look at the different masks we use to protect ourselves from actually seeing the truth of the experience. So often when triggered by something we put on our mask, it may be a mask of defensiveness, or anger, maybe manipulation, but either way it is a mask to help keep us safe from the threat we are now triggered by. When we see things clearly however we see that the mask is taking us away from the truth and not allowing us to see if the threat is really there. The mask takes us away from mindfulness and only allows us to see through one lens instead of different lenses. When feeling attacked we often get defensive, but was it really an attack or did we perceive what the other person said as an attack because of our mask of defensiveness? See, what I’m saying here?

I often take inventory of my masks, I have survived for years with different ones. The ones that say “I’m tough ill fight anyone” “leave me alone, I’m fine alone” “I don’t cry, things don’t bother me” “I’m fine, I’m focusing on the positive” “I don’t need anyone” “I can handle it I’ve been through worse” “You don’t deserve it” The masks we put on kept us safe so we could not be harmed by situations in the past, and now we keep reliving the same situations because we are putting our mask on as soon as we our triggered.

So often I say to myself “make friends with your mind”. The masks will never allow us to make friends with ourselves, they will continue to allow us to stay hidden and afraid forever.

So what would happen if you let your mask down? What masks do you use? What would happen if you looked at the experience from a different point of view?

Perception and the truth

So often as humans we want black and white answers or I sometimes like to say the period at the end of the sentence. We get stuck on the perception of our truth. This comes down to many factors, our ego, our culture, upbringing, our biases, our education, our trauma, and many other things.

The beginning of practicing right view or right understanding starts with looking at ourselves first. What really matters to us? Can we see and accept that life is fleeting and impermanent? Can we let go of the craving to control things outside of us?

Right understanding really is a practice of insight into our own soul, we must dig deep and ask ourselves, where is this thought coming from? Is this my judgement mind? Am I holding a bias because of a past experience or trauma?

There is no right or wrong truth my perception based off my experience may look different than yours. One week I may see things one way and after time in meditation I may see it differently the next.

Impermanence really comes into play here. Also we must stop and look at the our feeling tone when we express our understanding. Am I angry? Am I projecting? Is this triggering a past trauma?

To see clearly we must look inward with compassion to understand the truth of what is there.

Awareness builds in this practice and eventually we will greet our different mind states with compassion. Hello judging mind, what am I seeing here?

I learned my perception is often wrong when clouded by outside or past experiences, I get stuck in my judging mind. To see clearly I sit and peel back the layers to recognize the truth.

Why is this making me upset? Where is this craving coming from? Why do I feel hurt? It is not to minimize my feelings in fact it creates more space for compassion when I look deep to see what is really present.

Always with compassion we look at ourselves never judging just sitting and making friends with the experience.

The Freedom in groundlessness

One of the things I struggle with most is the fear of not being in control. The idea that I can control my experiences has led to most of my suffering in life. The Buddha taught that flexibility and openness brings strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain.

However the key is awareness when we start running from or start trying to manipulate and control are experiences. If we notice when we are uncomfortable we can simple state “This is uncomfortable hello anxiety, fear, boredom” or whatever feeling tone is showing its face.

Without awareness we will continue the cycle of running and grasping. We try to grasp on to things that will never be permanent like relationships, jobs, financial status, and even life. We want certain things to stay the same forever. We try in vein to control and end up hurting ourselves worse.

This is not to say you cannot plan or think about your future, just to be aware and live in the present moment every day.

Another thing we do to control is to try and numb out or escape. What behaviors do I use when I am depressed or lonely? What ways do I numb out when the change is to much to handle? Awareness of this allows room for growth and change.

This was exactly what I had to do to get through the mud, sit in it and feel, feel everything.

I started out using self harm as a tool to control my life at the age of 11, It gave me a sense that I could control my own pain instead of the pain I felt from my experiences. I don’t blame myself I was a child I didn’t know any different. Now I do though and now that I am aware I have the responsibility to be healthier.

The key is to never run just be in the experience, to feel is to be alive. I promise it’s worth it.

Sitting with it

So many times in my life I have run from painful emotions, turning to unhealthy coping skills. The hardest teaching I have ever been given is to “sit with the feelings and navigate through to find the root cause and the truth of this particular painful feeling”. The interesting thing about my emotions and feelings I have to ask myself more times than not is, what am I so afraid of feeling? What is it that I don’t want to experience and why is it so scary to me?

We could navigate back to my childhood, where I felt like I didn’t have a voice, or to the abusive boyfriend who never comforted me when I was sad, or maybe to the Christian faith I was raised in that told me anger was wrong.

Needless to say I never learned how to sit with the emotion or let out my feelings and now as an adult who is in recovery from substances that allow for complete numbing out of emotions, this is a brand new experience.

Sometimes when I experience emotions I have to look at the question of “who do I think is involved with the painful emotion” “what happened before I experienced this emotion” and what am I doing to accept the emotion/feeling and be kind to myself.

So often for me simply investigating and giving myself space to feel whatever is present helps. Accepting that my angry, sad, self deprecating feelings are just like all feelings and emotions they will come and they will go.

I get lost in this process of thinking “this will always be this way unless I do something to get myself out of it” this always creates so much more suffering and pain that really needed to happen. However it is also a good learning lesson for me to sit and look at how I could of reacted to myself differently.

When I practice breaking down my feelings they become less scary, when I accept that it’s okay to feel this way I start to heal.

The next kind thing

I have always struggled with being kind to myself. I think I am probably my harshest critic. I turn 31 in a few days and I still strongly battle an eating disorder that pops up more times than not. I have battled self-harm and alcoholism for the better part of my life as well. I have always found it so easy to be kind to others and not myself. So much so that I don’t stand up for myself sometimes for fear of it hurting another.

If I actually take time to slow down and break down what the next kind thing to do is I am bringing compassion to myself. For example if I get into an argument with someone and they hurt me I could practice sitting with that pain instead of resorting to an unhealthy behavior like self harm and my ED.

Part of this lack of kindness to myself is my personal need to try and control my own pain. If I make myself feel worse than that person makes me feel I give myself a false sense of control.

So often being kind to myself is simply pausing. Taking some deep breaths and letting the pain happen. However this is the struggle. I don’t always like feeling pain.

I spent most of my life treating myself like garbage and I am just now learning how to be kind to myself.

I always bring this to mind though, what is the next kind thing I can do for myself when I feel this pain or urge to control?

How can I use kindness to help me recover from this painful situation?

The kind thing for me to practice often is to practice nonattached appreciation. I know this good moment won’t last forever and by trying to make it last is unkind to myself. Then I resort back to the unkind acts that happen when I try to control an experience.

Breathing in I accept breathing out I let go.

How mindfulness helps us not fall into the same trap again and again

One of the areas of mindfulness we practice is to remember what we learned in the past and to bring it into the present moment. In order to practice that we have to be mindful of all sense foundations in the present.

For example in recovery we experience a craving sometimes after we experience a familiar smell or drive by an old place. Either way something triggers a memory and we can get stuck in the memory from the past which creates the craving for that experience again. This brings the past to the present moment experience. If we are not careful to be mindful about where we are now we can get lost in the storyline our mind creates.

Here are some tools to help with this experience. Be aware of the body sensations ask yourself why do I feel excited? What about this past sensation makes me excited? What happened before when I gave in to that excitement or craving? Was this a healthy or unhealthy experience? Can I let go of the past storyline and keep myself in the present?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the stories of our past we think we will end up with a different outcome but most of the time when we chase cravings the outcome is still unpleasant.

To truly live with mindfulness we practice being in the experience fully each moment. Accept all things in that moment and live from one experience to the next.

Nonviolence

As Buddhist practitioners we take a vow of nonviolence this means a practice of setting the intention to not cause harm every day. Some of these ways are obvious we practice not partaking in any physical acts of violence or killing. We understand the laws of karma and know that a negative action will have a negative result. However another way we have to remember to practice nonviolence is in our speech. Unkind words, gossip, and lying are all acts of violence to another being. So we set the intention to practice kind speech and not participate in unwholesome words or gossip. So often we get caught up in the moment and may partake in unkind words about other people especially those who we may think deserve it. I urge the practice of loving kindness to all beings even the ones we find it difficult to be compassionate too. The vow of nonviolence is a practice of being kind also to ourselves. How are we talking to ourselves? Is it kind and compassionate or are we being harsh or negative? It’s important to practice compassion to ourselves first because that will mirror to the world. We are all connected and to truly practice nonviolence we must send love to ourselves and all beings. Set an intention to ask yourself daily will this cause harm to myself, or another being?

May we all learn the practice of nonviolence in our actions, words, and daily life.

What is true happiness

This morning I was looking around at all the buildings taking in the scenery and watching people hurry from one thing to the next. I similarly wake up every morning get my coffee, shower, and rush into work. I spend my days helping others and using my energy to find balance in the chaos of life. At the end of the day I always ask myself this question, was I happy in each moment of my day?

This brings me to talk about the truth of where we can find happiness. Happiness is not always present when things are going exactly how we want them too. Happiness is not always the moments when we feel we should be happy because our days are going as planned. What I have found to be true is that happiness is a state of mind that deep inside our hearts we keep open.

I can be happy in the painful moments and the wonderful moments. We train our hearts in joy and compassion and when we bring compassion to all life experiences we can find true happiness. Happiness is when we accept pain as pain and joy as joy.

True happiness is found in the hearts willingness to be present with all experiences.