Happiness now, not later

How to embrace pain and rise above it

Embrace pain? Yes. Here’s a serious method for going beyond pain, taking full control of your actions, and finding peace and happiness at the same time.  But first, a story.

     There was once a man who died and woke up in the afterlife.
     He knew immediately where he was, because the evidence was all around him: luxuriant gardens, marble mansions, tubs with gold taps, grapes and candied artichokes, harps to sleep him, nightingales to wake him, and a giant feather bed for him and all his loving women.
     So, he enjoyed the most perfect pleasure and comfort, day after day… after day… after day… until…
     One morning, he noticed that his plate of brandied truffles was empty. And—as usual in such moments—another full plate appeared before him. Instantly. Always, without fail, his slightest whim was satisfied faster than the blink of his eye. But this time, he just stared at the plate and thought about it, and the more he thought about it, the worse he felt. So he turned to the nearest servant.
     ‘You know,’ he said, ‘Just for once, I wish that perfect food would not appear the moment I think of it. I would like to work up an appetite.’
     ‘Oh no,’ said the servant. ‘You might suffer from hunger. That’s not allowed.’
     The man’s frown became a scowl. He looked out the window at the perfect weather and complained, ‘And just for once, when I go outside, I wish it could be raining.’
     ‘Oh no,’ said the servant, ‘You might suffer from cold. That’s not allowed.’
     The man became angry and pointed rudely at his bed, where seven perfectly gorgeous, naked women were waiting for him with perfect love in their eyes. And he snapped to the servant, ‘And just for once, I wish I could wake up without them.’
     But the servant laughed merrily. ‘Oh no. You might miss them and suffer loss and grief and pain. That’s not allowed.’
     So the man shouted at the servant. ‘Look, this just isn’t working for me. I don’t like it here. I want the other place. I’d rather have hell.’
     ‘Really?’ said the servant, ‘Where do you think you are now?’

Perfection needs to change its publicity agent. The idea that perfect happiness requires a sky free of pain-clouds is simply nonsense.

Do you know how to get the best experience out of eating and drinking? Do without for a day or two. Want the best shower you’ve ever had? Do without for a few days. Likewise, the full experience of hot must contain the experience of cold. Up has no meaning without down. A coin’s value is in both faces. You appreciate light best when it’s been dark, and starlight as the mist melts away. You hold more happiness when sadness has hollowed a cavern inside you. You feel friendship more deeply when your friend has been away and come back. Nothing can be fully experienced, appreciated or understood or have any meaning without its opposite or lack, or contrasting partner.

Yes, partner. The Tao symbol has two halves, black and white intertwining, each holding the seed of its opposite. Taoism understands the intimate, dynamic, oneness of the dualistic universe.

Think of pain and pleasure as partners holding hands as they look at you. Think of them together, because it’s a delusion to think that one must follow the other. Happiness never comes tomorrow, because it is never tomorrow, around the corner, or when the ship comes in. There is only now. Many people pass their lives in a semi-permanent state of anxiety—about past and future—fleeing pain in pursuit of the happiness that stays always beyond reach.

But happiness offers itself to us in every now, even as we experience the bad times. To achieve it we have to turn, not away from pain, but towards it, embracing it as a partner in our journey. I don’t mean that we should deliberately seek pain—that would need a word with the people in white coats—I mean that when pain happens we should accept it like the weeping willow that accepts a gust of wind, bending, straightening, strengthening. Only then can we then fully embrace the other partner, the patient one—happiness.

That’s what I aspire to. And I have found a useful device to help me. It’s called viewing the movie of you. It works for both mental and physical pain.

But let’s stay with mental pain for now. Let’s suppose you’re experiencing the pain of… say… anger. It might help here if you think about someone who makes you angry. You’re about to view the movie of your angry self. One thing before you start: to make this work you must decide not to turn away from your anger. Don’t deny it, block it or fight it. Don’t judge or label it or yourself; to think this anger is wrong, this pain is terrible, or  I must be a bad person for being angry simply nourishes the pain.

 Ready? Okay, here’s how to make viewing the movie work.

 First, Allow. Allow yourself to feel the anger. Accept its existence. Say to yourself, ‘This part of me feels anger.’ Even in this first stage, you will notice a difference, because most suffering comes not from pain, but from resistance to pain. Resistance comes from fear, and fear is what makes pain hurt.
     Second, Observe. Close your eyes. Strongly, vividly, imagine that you get up and stride a few paces away from your angry self then turn to look back at it as if it were playing on a screen. Say to yourself, ‘That part of me feels angry’. Notice the distancing shift from ‘this’ to ‘that’.
     Third, Release. Release the anger-ridden self on the screen. Let it dissipate in its own time. Don’t push it away; it’s not a rejection, just a letting go. Say to yourself, ‘That too will pass.’ Now you are standing back, viewing your full self, with a mind free to control your next thought or action, consciously directing the new scene. And feeling less pain.

Allow, observe, release. Now, now you can feel the happiness which is inherent in all of us, even in the difficult and challenging times. Now you’re in a state where you can master yourself, take command of your next actions, and allow the remaining pain to bid farewell.

It’s more than a state of mind. It’s a state of consciousness, a silent all-inclusive awareness in which you can discover that colours are brighter, sounds sharper, tastes more exotic. You can also discover the exquisite richness of the present moment, with past and future anxieties fading away. And you may well experience a surge in compassion.

Compassion? For whom?

Well, you, for starters. But it’s also possible that you will feel compassion for those who gave you the pain, and understand that they have their own pain and their own seeking of happiness. And what is compassion but oneness? I know that when I view the movie of me, that’s when I feel closest to that One being that has many faces, many adventures, many sorrows and many joys.

When my son Sam was a small boy and stubbed his toe on a rock, he wailed. That’s what children do, they wallow in the pain. Pain and the outrage of pain fills their world. But we found a useful trick. We would talk severely to the rock. “All right, rock, if that’s how you’re going to behave you’re not coming to Sam’s birthday party.” Instantly a smile would beam through the tears on the cheeks and soon the sniffles faded. You see it, don’t you? His awareness shifted from inside pain to outside pain. (Incidentally, it fascinates me that even toddlers understand the joke.)

Well, instead of verbally abusing a rock, try viewing the movie of you. It does work just as well for physical pain—try it at the dentist. Don’t abuse the dentist.

I would love to hear how it goes for you. You can leave a message below, or send me an email directly to michael (…at…) findingthefield (…dot…) com

May you become a talented director of the movie of your life.


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