Friday, December 3, 2010

A Good Way To Deal With Bad Things

I have been raised with the idea that there are good and bad things.  Sunny days are generally good, rainy days are bad.  Having to work is bad, but play is good.  Selfishness is bad, generosity is good.  Anger is bad, happiness is good.  Life is an array of contrasts, with most of its experiences falling neatly into one or the other category, and the rest to an ambiguous and often neglected space of indifference.

Who made up these decisions on what is good and bad?  I learned them all so long ago that I really couldn't say if they are my own or another person's opinions that I picked up along the way.  What I do know is that certain emotions, topics or situations give me immediate feelings of joy while others instantly raise my hackles.

When I get cut off in traffic, I get angry.  In that moment I consider both the cutting me off and my anger about it bad.  But it is just something that is happening.  I don't have to judge it.  To stop judging the action as bad, and my having to slow down as bad and annoying allows for more space in my being.  What I mean by this is that I feel a lot more relaxed and open to what is going on around me when I am not angry and upset.  My muscles aren't clenched, my mind isn't spinning around the annoying situation.  Everything is OK and I slow down, or change lanes, or whatever seems like a good next step from there.

Even in this writing, I am using good to denote an action or state of mind that allows forward momentum, or peacefulness.  Good and bad are so ingrained in my culture and thought that I don't know how to describe my world without them.  But what if I could accept bad things happening without getting upset about them?  Or good things without getting terribly caught up in what it all means and why I am deserving or undeserving of them? 

Sometimes I think that this kind of acceptance would be very boring because on the surface it looks like the person who is accepting of everything doesn't feel very deeply about anything.  I suspect that isn't the case.  Perhaps it is more of an allowance of everything, including one's own strong emotions, without having to get caught up in believing that we are those emotions.  It is just something that we are going through; an experience that like all experiences will come and pass.

Yesterday I was thinking about how we all want to be good and have good things happen all the time, and because we dislike pain we want to avoid that and all things "bad."  When bad things happen, we get caught in a cycle of thought (or at least I do) that frets over where it all went wrong and led to the bad thing happening, or the bad feeling about what is happening.  I get stuck in backwards thinking about the past and how all the bad things could have been avoided and how maybe I suck because I didn't avoid them this time.  But if I could do it over again. . .

This can go on for a long time.  My whole life can get rewritten in my head just to avoid one lousy situation that actually doesn't need to be dwelt on.  Because I am so convinced that it is bad, I give it a lot of attention and remain stuck in it.  It becomes the most huge important thing to ever have happened on planet Earth and how will I ever go on?  So I fantasize about reliving my life from some random point in my history knowing what I know now, and how I will use my clever gained experiences to avoid the pitfall when it comes up again and somehow end up in a shiny sterile "happy" new present or future based on simply avoiding any and all pain.

I think we write our friends and lovers and family members into roles of angels or demons as well, to make ourselves out to be good guys all the time.  We find it painful to think that we are bad, even a little bit.  There is always some outside reason that we did a bad thing, or thought a bad thing, or stumbled into a bad thing.  It had nothing to do with the core of our being - it wasn't our fault, we are immaculate and would never do anything deliberately bad!  This thinking is subversively causing us more pain than just admitting that we did something bad.  Now we have to look at everyone around us as a potential enemy, out to do us harm or take advantage, leading us astray into an expereince of annoyance or sadness or fear.

Life is painful.  We hurt.  It happens.  Why cause more pain by constantly looking for who is responsible when usually it doesn't matter all that much?  If we were able to actually feel the pain instead of leaping past it and looking for someone or something to blame for it we might find it passes pretty quickly.  It loses its hold on our attention once it is experienced.  We can let it go.

I am finding that letting go of pain is both easier and more elusive than I anticipated.  If you dive into it and feel the misery of things as they happen, or feel the pain of past hurts that you are holding onto, eventually you get tired of it.  The feeling passes and you want to move on and have a hamburger or read a book.  Playing a finger pointing game doesn't really matter to you anymore, when up until that moment it was the most important thing you could possibly do.  We do all sorts of crazy things to avoid pain.

On the other hand, it is hard to realize you are caught in the cycle.  It's so comfortable to be in our thoughts and we believe that our thoughts are who we are, so we like to defend them even to ourselves.  We put a lot of energy into them and they grow larger and more solid to us, even though they are just thoughts. Perhaps the first thing to let go of is thinking about ourselves as good or bad.  If we can start to do that, the other judgments also stop having such a grip on us.  The energy can start to flow again.

An idea that I read in a book recently spoke about how our faults are tied to our gifts, and we can't have one without the other.  Being a procrastinator can produce a remarkable ability to get things done in a flash, which is a great gift.  Being a daydreamer can lead you to miss a lot of conversation or miss the point of what's happening around you, but can also result in some spectacular inventions and creativity.  An inability to turn down requests from people can make you tired, but your industriousness is admired.  Everything we love about ourselves we would not have if we didn't have our faults.

Getting to know our faults can be scary because we fear that if we admit having them we are bad people.  But learning them allows us to use them better.  We can operate in the world knowing where we are likely to trip up and allow for that.  I think that this is a better way to act that simply burying our heads in the sand and believing that we are perfect or totally dysfunctional.  We are both.  And so is everyone else.  The difference between someone who knows and works with their faults and one who does not lies in their ability to roll with them.  They might also think of others even as they know that their faults will come into play.

Would this be a good way of working with bad things?  Probably.  As I float towards equilibrium, I am trying to see myself more and more clearly, and become less attached to who I think I am because of my actions.  It certainly feels better than the frantic emotions I felt around every action before.  Being less worried about being the best person is allowing me to be a decent person again.  And I think that's enough for me.  At least for now.

No comments: