We live with two motivations: avoiding what we don’t want, and seeking what we do want.
Inherent to this approach is disappointment, failure, loss, self-criticism and depression. So why do we do it, and is there another way?
From about two years old, we begin to understand that we are separate from our mother, and start the process of creating and protecting this thing we call ‘me’. Tantrums arise when we see this me-focused model fail, and when others, especially big people, have all the control. So growing up is mainly a process of developing strategies so that what we want to happen, happens.
Even now, as adults, we get a glow of smugness when that contract gets won, when someone congratulates us, when we find we can buy that new car, or when the underfloor heating makes walking barefoot really nice. When we lose the contract, get insulted, can’t afford a new gearbox, and get chilly, we have a modified tantrum, like drinking too much, blaming someone, or feeling low. Did we actually grow up at all?
Getting underneath this never-ending push and pull, means taking a good look at ourselves. First thing is to recognise the truth of it. So even if things are going swimmingly, be aware that your satisfaction comes from your own sense of success. If you feel it’s all going pear-shaped, be aware of the indicators that trigger this feeling. A key tool here is to have the patience and courage to let yourself face the bad feelings, and equally, to be aware of the good feelings and their dependency on getting what you want.
Getting life just right, with this model, means walking a tightrope. Unfortunately, we will inevitably fall. We all get ill, get old, die, and lose everything (yea, Buddhist killjoy in great form!).
So dealing with it, and establishing a new model, requires an attitude of curiosity, and creating a level of certain distance and perspective. The best way that I know to do that is to establish a regular meditation practice. At some point in this practice, you will get the insight that at our core is just consciousness, being aware of all this experience of living and the impact that it has on our body sensation and thoughts. It creates perspective, and more than that, it reinforces the feeling that almost anything can happen, out there, yet we’re still fine, in here.
When that is experienced, the sting gets taken out of the disappointments. You recover an even state of mind more readily, and moreover you can live more fearlessly knowing that if something doesn’t work, it doesn’t really matter.