Practicing happiness 07

The answers come when you surpass them.

When you feel good, answers come without effort.

Last night I managed to feel better by letting go of my old internal struggle, and within minutes I discovered something remarkable.

If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know I’ve been obsessed with mysticism for more than twenty years, and in the past week or so I’ve been writing about disorganised attachment.

So imagine how I felt when I came across this study into mystical experiences among people with disorganised attachment.

The paper argues that people with disorganised attachment have a propensity for mystical experiences due to trait absorption.

I just found my deeply personal lifelong efforts to transcend the paradoxical injunction of disorganised attachment written up in a Swedish psychology paper.

The authors are at pains to say this doesn’t delegitimise mystical experiences, in fact they argue it may be a worthy therapeutic goal.

For me it validates my deeply felt need for transcendence, and at the same time it helps me release that need a little.

Once again I credit my persistent work at feeling better for this insight. I can enjoy the insight because I feel better, not the other way around.

Practicing happiness 06

This series is a way of keeping me focused and honest with myself. Am I really practicing feeling better? Or am I going off on interesting tangents?

Tangents are fine, but the habit of ignoring how I feel is not fine.

Feel better is the bottom line, and it deserves to be my primary focus.

Over time it’s becoming clearer that I’m just not used to feeling better. Used to running off intellectually? Yes. But that hasn’t brought me the lasting happiness I desire.

Perhaps intellectual escape served me for a time. Perhaps it was better than the alternatives. But I have new alternatives now.

Maybe it sounds strange to say I must get serious about feeling better. Yet it’s an easy work and a light burden.

All it takes is practice. And my unwillingness to practice will dissipate in time.

Unresolvable problems: the paradox of disorganised attachment

The paradox of disorganised attachment is that we have a biological need for closeness, security and comfort from parents or caregivers even when those parents or caregivers instil terror and a sense of threat in us.

Children with disorganised attachment are placed in a “paradoxical injunction” by the caregiver, according to Professor Erik Hesse from UC Berkeley, activating both an approach and a move away tendency in the child.

The search for answers

Spiritual teachings promising freedom from fear don’t necessarily work for people suffering from a disorganised attachment.

In my case, the search for spiritual truth and “answers” is an attempt to overcome the paradoxical injunction; yet the answers I found were too generic or insufficiently tailored to my circumstances of temperament and upbringing.

But it’s not just a matter of insufficient answers: the very act of searching can be seen as part of the disorganised dynamic…trying to overcome the feelings of fear and satisfy the need for secure attachment albeit in a highly abstract and intellectual way

Searching is therefore a symptom or expression of the paradoxical injunction, and is itself paradoxical – a search for answers that is never complete.

When I search I feel like I’m approaching a resolution. But in fact I’m acting out my approach, sublimating the desire for secure attachment with a caregiver into the desire for a spiritualised state of freedom and peace.

And that’s why it fails, because from within that dynamic I can only conceive of such a spiritual state as implicitly very difficult to attain.

The search is my attachment.

Resolving the unresolvable

How can this unresolvable problem be resolved? I think the only way to stop the cycle is before it begins, to stop feeding it with my search and acknowledge how I’ve kept it alive all these years.

I already know from my Abraham-Hicks work that I can feel better easily. And the more I practice feeling better, the better I feel.

I’ve also observed that my need to search for answers has been disruptive, making me feel worse in the long run despite the allure of finally finding a resolution.

On the most basic level I have an association of love with terror and security with instability. Things that are “safe” don’t offer the deepest happiness and things that offer happiness are beset with obstacles and threats.

But I can be mindful of this association now. I can observe it, see the pattern, and begin to let it go, instead of acting on it and thereby keeping it alive.

Practicing happiness 04

When you feel like crap “just feel better” is the most unhelpful-sounding advice. After all, there are reasons why you feel bad right now, it’s not simply a choice, right?

Well that’s true: it’s not simply a choice; it’s also a practiced habit. That’s why feeling bad comes easier than feeling better, at first.

As I’m learning about attachment theory, I can see how feeling better is like a child turning to his or her parent or caregiver for security, comfort, reassurance and affection.

Perhaps the sense that feeling better is trivial or not enough is related to our attachment style? If we never learned to find genuine security and comfort with a parent or caregiver then we implicitly never learned to value simply feeling better when we feel bad.

Bitter self-reliance

For me the inability to find reliable security and comfort in my attachments led to a kind of resignation towards suffering, and self-reliance in seeking to avoid future suffering.

That’s why “feel better” seems insufficient to me…I never learned how. Ingrained in my childhood was more of a “endure until it goes away” approach to suffering, followed by an intense search for deeper answers that promised to help me “overcome” suffering forever.

And that pattern has helped shape my life. Alongside my perennial search for “answers”, I’ve done my best to avoid suffering as much as possible while also silently enduring whatever conditions I consider unavoidable.

Securely feeling better

That’s why feeling better is ultimately such a powerful thing to learn and practice especially when I feel like it’s “not enough”.

Every moment of intentionally feeling better is retraining my mind and body into a completely new pattern capable of maintaining equilibrium and balance.

Imagine what a difference that makes, to go from an attitude where suffering is inevitable (and can only be overcome through extreme effort) to one where suffering can be quickly and effectively neutralised and soothed, and the opposite – genuine good feeling – can be developed and grow.

That’s why those moments where I feel bad, and feeling better seems insufficient, are the most valuable moments to practice.

Practicing happiness 03

You can’t get ahead of where you are.

I used to be so impatient. If someone told me to take a walk each morning I’d refuse just because it didn’t sound like enough.

I’ve learned that a morning walk improves my whole day, but I arrived there so reluctantly!

I’d think “what’s the point? It might feel better, but that’s not enough. It’s pointless, it doesn’t change anything. I need something inspiring, something game-changing!

My old attitude would see me reject modest improvements because they were modest; but the dramatic changes were just too big.

It was a catch-22: I wanted something so huge that it would change my life. But something so huge was, by definition, out of reach.

Instead of walking around the block each morning, I wanted to climb mountains.

That’s what feeling better is. Just feeling better is a modest step that improves everything. It’s achievable because it’s so modest.

I wasn’t satisfied with such a modest step. I wanted to feel amazing. I wanted to feel great. And I wanted life to shore me up with circumstances that would make me feel that way.

That yearning still comes up, but I’m better at seeing through it now. It’s a false promise that anything can feel better than simply choosing to feel better. It’s just like refusing to walk the block because I’d rather do something more challenging.

The only reason I desire anything in life is because I believe it will make me feel good when I have it. But feeling better is a step-by-step path to genuinely feeling as good as I can feel in this moment, and doing so in a reliable, practiced, sustainable way.

Practicing happiness 02

Systematic happiness

We tend to focus on happiness via outcomes and circumstances, getting things the way we want them.

But it’s much better to approach happiness as systematic instead, practicing feeling better consistently and continuously regardless of the circumstances.

Sometimes we even value specific outcomes more than feeling better. In my own search for happiness I’ve found that I tend to put so much value on finding “the answer” that I forget to feel better, and can end up struggling and striving instead.

But ironically when I practice feeling better systematically, answers just come to me anyway without any struggle.

So just practice feeling better and over time you’ll see that nothing else is as effective or consistent in finding happiness.

What is self-esteem?

Someone asked me recently about self-esteem and I admit I fudged it.

My answer was along the lines of self-efficacy…which is more about recognising that I’m good at certain things.

So what’s self-esteem then?

I’ve been thinking it over and I’ve read plenty about it before, but self-esteem has to be more than just words.

Self-esteem isn’t about your skills, talents, or other qualities, but your intrinsic value. Specifically, it’s feeling good about yourself for no f***ing reason whatsoever other than…you’re you, and it feels better this way, and it makes everything easier and more enjoyable.

Baseless, irrational, and subjective…in a good way!

That’s what really threw me about self-esteem. I grew up thinking we were supposed to value objectivity and truth and give reasons for what we believe and reasons for how we feel.

But if you apply those criteria to how you feel about yourself…you’re pretty much screwed because there’s no objective basis for feeling good about yourself. You either already feel good, in which case you’re merely gilding the lily with fresh excuses to proclaim your wondrous existence; or you already feel crap, and there is nothing on earth that will overcome your crappy feelings and convince you to be otherwise.

Self-esteem is not objective. And yet it is vital and life changing, because if you can find a way to feel good without reason then that good feeling goes before you like a holy aura and changes everything around you.

If you can find a way to feel good without reason, then everything feels good the moment it comes into your presence.

Find a way to feel good without reason? More like remember the good feelings you’ve already had, feelings you probably crushed or put away because they seemed unreasonable at the time, as if you were going to be graded on the realism of your good mood.

That’s what self-esteem means to me. It’s not about holding myself in high regard, that’s just how people try to explain why they let themselves feel good for no reason. I prefer to see it as acknowledging that there’s no reason to feel this good, so there’s no reason not to. Life isn’t waiting on me to accomplish something that justifies these good feelings. If anything it’s the other way around.

How to do it

I don’t know if a “how to” will work, but for me my good feelings were all tied up with the fantasy novels and superhero movies and anime and manga that inspired me so much. Feelings of freedom and empowerment and adventure and excitement, love and authenticity and, yeah, worth, and the sheer joy of the characters at the height of their powers.

These are the things that speak to me. Why the hell shouldn’t I use them? Why shouldn’t I take those good feelings and carry them with me? Because I’m old enough now to know that none of the people with “strong” self-esteem I’ve met in the past had any real justification for how they felt. There was not an iota of considered, objective thought behind those people’s bias in favour of their own value. They just felt good because they’d felt good more often than not in their young lives and knew nothing else.

What I’m getting at is that we may not have had that foundation, but we did have inspiration and we still do. Knowing that we create our reality, how we feel is far more important than we ever knew, and it now makes complete sense that every time we put aside those good feelings we delayed their fruition into something more.

No, we had no reason to feel that good, but if we do it anyway, indulge in those wonderful feelings of freedom and empowerment, everything must give way to that.

 

 

 

 

Accept where you are

Sometimes the very thoughts that inspire us also lead us to frustration when we cling to them with an all-or-nothing attitude.

Learn from your life’s patterns

Two great obsessions of my adult life have been mastering the martial art I practice and finding spiritual enlightenment. These two subjects have unfolded concurrently, with remarkably similar patterns.

I recognised it sooner in my martial art: 20 or so years of striving made harder by my determination, and my belief that mastery was always within reach yet forever elusive.

If I had found a way to relax and enjoy it, accept where I was, and just let the practice evolve, then I think the same journey would have been a pleasant one instead of an increasingly unhappy struggle.

Still, something shifted recently and I was able to stop approaching it with so much intensity and demand. I’ve found the progress I longed for, but only after I stopped needing it. I understand so much more now, but only after I stopped insisting that this understanding would change everything for me.

Accepting where I am

Spiritually, I have had the same all-or-nothing attitude. Life is nothing, enlightenment is everything; I just need to somehow get there from here. But how?

That attitude has inspired me at times and definitely kept me motivated, but it’s also blinded me and kept my journey volatile and unstable.

It doesn’t really make sense to say that life is nothing and enlightenment is everything, because life is clearly varied and slow and gradual and nuanced.

Wanting enlightenment to transform me is like wanting my practice to immediately give me mastery; but if that was how it worked, why did every master who’s ever lived spend their lifetime training?

What I’ve done is use the ideal of enlightenment to motivate, inspire, goad and cajole myself for years. But the premise was wrong. There is no “enlightenment” that will manifest like magic and transform my reality in a moment. That would be a repudiation of what reality already is, in the same way that mastering kung fu quickly and easily would deny the circumstances that made me desire it in the first place.

Accepting where I am means recognising that I’m not on the verge of “getting it”. But I am always on the verge of feeling better (or worse) than present.

If I had accepted that every training session improved me a little, that would have been enough. Instead I beat myself up thinking that every session was a chance to find “the answer”…and I hadn’t found it.

Methodological modesty

In fact it’s not possible to take what Abraham-Hicks people call a “quantum leap” from terrible circumstances or feelings to amazing ones. That’s not how life works.

To “need” a quantum leap implies desperation. And desperation cannot produce satisfying results. In fact no amount of effort can produce results because you can’t be anywhere other than where you are right now, and from where you are only two things are possible: Feeling better or feeling worse.

If I break it down, the real drivers of my experience are contrast and desire. Both arise naturally, but it’s up to me how I welcome them. Fixating on enlightenment is not a separate ingredient or game-changer. It’s gotta be either contrast or desire and my feelings about it will tell me which it is.

My problem has been taking the inspiration I feel about enlightenment and trying to make that my benchmark for life, when in reality it is a desire. With my desire so clear, I could welcome contrast for what it is: a sign of expansion and good things coming. Instead I treated contrast as a sign that I had failed to achieve enlightenment.

I don’t control desire and I don’t control contrast. Yet every moment of my existence I’m focused on one or the other, and I can focus negatively on how remote my desires seem and how unwanted contrast is, or I can focus positively on how good desires are and how contrast means more good things are coming.

Like kung fu, in the end there are no quantum leaps or sudden transformations. But if you practice you improve, and if you accept that and even welcome it, the journey can be satisfying and progress assured.

What are feelings anyway?

As a writer there are words I really like, but don’t use because it never seems appropriate. When do you need mellifluous in a sentence? When does communication justify apogee, let alone demand it (outside astronomy)?

But if you know these words, you can use them! You are the master of your own vocabulary and you don’t need an excuse or a chance to use words you love to read and sound.

Favourite feelings

Life has introduced us not only to wonderful words but wonderful feelings; yet we treat them in the same way. I once felt exquisite joy, and maybe one day I’ll be lucky enough to have an excuse to feel it again!

Circumstances once dictated a buoyant felicity but lately things have been utterly crap so I’ve put that good feeling in the archives for now.

These days everyday life seems to demand a grinding slog, so I keep that feeling near at hand to save me having to go look for it.

Feeling good is the goal

We’ve fallen hard for a big mistake: we think our feelings are by-products, epiphenomena, of material causes. We think things make us feel a certain way.

And even with the Abraham-Hicks material we can persist with this mistake, believing that our thoughts make us feel a certain way.

That’s not the worst interpretation to hold, but how about this instead: Feeling is what makes us feel a certain way, and reality helps inspire us to better and better feeling, but it doesn’t make us feel.

If you like the word mellifluous then use it wherever and however you like. If you like the feeling of freedom, relief, and peace, you can find those feelings and indulge in them anytime.

If we could take the feeling as prior and substantial instead of subsequent and ephemeral, then life would be very different. If I had sought feeling as the spiritual treasure instead of using it to keep score of how well I was doing, then I’d be there right now, feeling good and not caring about anything else.

What are feelings anyway?

I’m not going to launch into some deep-dive philosophical or historical, but I’ve been fascinated by past glimpses of the old view of human emotions in the medieval and classical world.

Back when I used to read Aquinas, he would describe, as if it were obvious, how feelings of love and joy are physically expansive and warming of the body, while in sadness and fear the vitality is suppressed or shrinks as evidenced by cold and shaking in the extremities and loss of colour in the complexion.

It’s fascinating not only that they had such a holistic view of the mind and body working together, but that joy and love were synonymous wth vitality whereas sorrow was directly opposed to it!

Feelings could be interpreted not as some messy and unnecessary mental by-product but as the very experience of life expanding and shrinking in response to our perceptions and experiences.

Consider in that context the significance of divinely infused love and joy, life eternal that did not shrink from worldly circumstances but trusted in the undying nature of the spirit that sustained it.

Participation in life, felt as joy and love, or to put it another way: the realisation that love and joy are our human experience of life itself.

Feeling is life itself

If we could understand our feelings as our experience of the life in us, the spirit that animates us, then reaching for and allowing good feelings to flow is literally the substance of our life and happiness here and now. And (to tie it all back) what could be more mellifluous than that? 😄

Meta-beliefs: is the game of life worth playing?

I’ve spent a lot of time using the Abraham-Hicks teachings to feel better, largely by changing my thoughts.

But much of this work has taken place in the domain of everyday living, or on subjects like money, relationships, health and so on.

If life were a game, these thoughts and subjects would be the contents of the game – all the stuff the players play with.

Yet despite my progress in feeling better about the contents of the game, it turns out I have some strong thoughts or beliefs about the game itself.

At a relatively early age I doubted that the game was worth playing at all. I started to think it was a pointless, meaningless game, where none of the rewards were worth the effort required to attain them.

Nonetheless I felt I had no real choice but to play. Sometimes I was coerced or conscripted into playing, sometimes the pressures of the game forced my hand.

Once you start playing a game, you can’t help but feel invested to some degree, even if your overall attitude to the game is negative.

But it’s impossible to love playing the game while hating the game. It’s impossible to feel truly excited about winning while also thinking that winning is pointless and not worth the effort.

In Abraham-Hicks terms, this is some major vibrational discord.

Changing your meta-beliefs

A lot of the Abraham-Hicks methods are for people who struggle with a subject like money, and it helps them to recognise their conflicting thoughts: I’d love more money vs money doesn’t grow on trees, for example.

If you only have good-feeling thoughts about money you won’t resist or sabotage opportunities. Money will become an easy subject for you.

I haven’t found as much teaching on the meta-subject of life itself or existence itself. I think I’m slightly unusual in having embraced existential pessimism early in life, and ended up living in the shadow of those negative thoughts.

But all the same principles apply! Thinking that life is meaningless, pointless, and not worth the effort, is just another set of thoughts on a subject that can be soothed, softened and shifted gradually.

Life could be worse. This is not the most absurd and painful of all possible worlds. Parts of it are not as bad, some parts are better than others.

And what if “meaning” is not the only thing that gives life value and makes it enjoyable? What if there is more to life than meaning and purpose? What if enjoyment were the point of life?

If my thoughts create my reality, then haven’t I very likely experienced a whole lot of confirmation bias that life is not worth the struggle? Would I like to revisit this old belief just in case my youthful assessment was not as accurate as I thought at the time?

Reconsidering the game

Whether this game of life seems worth playing or not depends on what I think about it. How I feel about life is, in A-H terms, guidance as to the alignment or misalignment of my thoughts about life. Thinking the game is not worth playing feels bad because my inner being does not share that view.

When I know what I don’t want, I implicitly know what I do want. What I don’t want is for life to be a meaningless, pointless game where the rewards aren’t worth the struggle. Therefore what I do want is the opposite of that: I want life to be a meaningful and pointed game where the rewards are more than worth the struggle.

I asked for this many times over, yet instead of staying tuned into that desire I kept turning my attention back to the bleak unwanted perspective that inspired it.

I can change my reality if I change my thoughts, and focus now on what I have desired. I want this game of life to be fun, meaningful, pointed, rewarding, easy and enjoyable.