“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.”
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.