Free Therapy # 34: We are as blissful as we allow ourselves to be

“The person who can freely acknowledge that life is full of difficulties can be free, because they are acknowledging the nature of life – that it can’t be much else.”

Shunryu Suzuki

It has been my observation that I suffer when I have what I don’t want or want what I don’t have. I do this, I think, because I believe my own thoughts. If I am hungry and don’t have food, I can suffer if I choose. And it is a choice.

If I choose to fast, I might interpret my hunger as a spiritual benefit. I might even experience some serenity or peace in the decision to not consume food. Or I can dwell on the fact I am hungry and create strong, negative emotions around it and destroy my own tranquility. I can see myself as a helpless victim or I can take responsibility for what I’ve created in my life at the moment.

We seldom think about our thinking. We are too busy focusing on external conditions and rarely see our thoughts as separate from who we are. When we step back and listen to the mindless commentary, we might discover how pointless it is.

Many of us live in a court-room mind. This is the judgmental, evaluative and critical part of our brain. This right/wrong, good/bad mind is very useful in the physical world. For example, this mind helps when it comes to discriminating healthy food from products that only pretend to be nutritious.

In this mind, we too often view ourselves and others through a prism of guilt and innocence, blame and defense, prosecution, persecution, crime and punishment. All of this leads to great suffering. It is all about struggle and competition, winning and losing, justice, injustice, truth and lies. When we think this way all the time, we are seldom happy.

In our relationships, this mind is often judging and finding fault while feeling blamed and misunderstood. When two people have court-room minds, they battle like attorneys over what is true. One might win but at what cost? Too often our relationships suffer as we score points against our friends and loved ones.

There is another way. In the mind of the science lab, each day is an experiment, not a trial. We aren’t judging, blaming or condemning; we are running experiments, testing theories and increasing our knowledge and understanding of ourselves and others.

In the courtroom, we enter with an agenda. Our mind is fixed as if entering a battlefield. There is risk, threat, tension, animosity and antagonism. We are at war.

By contrast, we enter the science lab with an open mind, ready for surprises; ready to fail; ready to learn. We control what we can as we let go, observe and notice the uncontrolled phenomena before us.

In this mind, it is never about right, wrong, good or bad. Instead, we view the world through the lens of workability. Does this work? Is it helpful, useful, and effective? What happens under these conditions? What occurs when we change this variable?

In the courtroom it is all about rigid, unforgiving laws, evidence, shoulds and expectations. In the science lab, however, reality is flexibly accepted as it is without complaint. It is what it is. We accept the sky is blue and grass is green and things fall to the Earth because of gravity.

Each day we run our experiments and evaluate our results – not according to goodness or badness, which are unhelpful judgments. Instead, we can ask if this helps or hurts in our effort to live a vital, meaningful life.

I can think you should not do something or I can ask myself how it helps or hurts me to think that thought. I can blame and criticize you or I can seek to understand and validate you. I can be defensive or non-defensive. I can empathize or personalize. If I want to have rich, rewarding relationships, which mind is the best? Which one is most effective?

If I judge others and myself much of the time, I will probably feel frustrated, resentful or guilty. If I have a Zen mind, however – an open, childlike and willing mind – I can keep my mind on my mind, not the minds of others. I can see how I see and think how I think and take care to not cause harm to myself or others.

We are as blessed as we want to be. We are as serene as we choose. We are as blissful as we allow ourselves to be and it has little to do with external conditions over which we have very little control. Inside our mind, we are in charge. This suffering is ours. Is it working? All of us complain about it, and yet, when we accept and own it, we can learn its lessons and move on.

Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 25 years. He believes in magic and is a Sacramento Kings fan.

Douglas Craig
Doug Craig graduated from college in Ohio with a journalism degree and got married during the Carter administration. He graduated from graduate school with a doctorate in Psychology, got divorced, moved to Redding, re-married and started his private practice during the Reagan administration. He had his kids during the first Bush administration. Since then he has done nothing noteworthy besides write a little poetry, survive a motorcycle crash, buy and sell an electric car, raise his kids, manage to stay married and maintain his practice for almost 30 years. He believes in magic and is a Dawes fan.
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5 Responses

  1. Avatar Gerrine says:

    Thank you! Your courtroom and science lab illustrate the issues beautifully.

  2. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    I’m sorry. When you are hungry and have no resources except for dumpster diving, life looks so different than when you have resources at hand; someone from whom you can borrow money, a home where you will be invited to have dinner. John Stossel said, in a video many years ago that money fails to bring happiness after the essentials needs of a family are met. And truly, there is no glory for a woman with kids in poverty. A solid message should be universal. For a moment I forgot that you were talking only about people with enough money to spend on therapy.

    • Point taken about the very most unfortunate among us; completely void of hope and resources.

      However, regarding your last sentence, just a reminder that the idea behind Doug Craig’s column title, “Free Therapy”, is the availability — at no charge — of a gifted therapist’s insight and wisdom for anyone who has access to a computer.

  3. Avatar Dorothy says:

    Doug, Another article I will print and read again. Always have appreciated your free therapy. Keep up them coming.

  4. Avatar Joanne lobeski-Snyder says:

    Doug, I apologize. I look forward to reading your articles because they are wonderfully written and I appreciate your world-view. You have a lot to offer. You give sound advice. I went on one of my tangents, went over the line and was pretty rude. Again, I apologize.