Life without anxiety

We went to the art gallery today. No stress, no fuss. Just went, found a park, went inside and looked at the art for an hour.

I never longed to do stuff like that, but I did dream of being able to do it with ease. That’s another milestone to appreciate: feeling so good that a modest outing like that is taken in my stride.

And my wife was pleased 😀

Feeling really good all day

I thought I was feeling good before, and I knew there were levels of good feeling above me.

But the feeling of relief that comes when I let go of my story is just fantastic.

According to the Abraham-Hicks teachings, this good feeling is exactly why I’m here in this life, and embracing it will not only make it more consistent but will also allow my circumstances to change and reflect this feeling.

I’m so glad I finally took the time and swallowed my pride enough to investigate these teachings. Two years in, I’m no longer depressed and I’m doing things that would have once seen me struck down with anxiety.

I’m beginning to feel like a different person, living a different life.

Can everyday life be joyful?

I was taught as a child that I could only relax when all my work was done for the day.

I was taught by example that everyday life is full of unwanted chores that you put off as long as possible until you can no longer ignore them.

I learned that it was impossible to feel good so long as these chores awaited you; and yet they were endless.

On my own I concluded that there was no joy in this kind of life. But at the same time I accepted this “daily grind” as reality, something that had to be escaped or overcome.

This is my resistance to everyday joy

In order to find joy in everyday life I must let go of these beliefs. Yet when I do, I face the underlying thought that these chores must get done, and by refusing to shoulder the burden I am being lazy, selfish, and inflicting harm on others.

If joy comes, I can’t accept it unless all my “work” is done. And my work will never be done – it restarts each day and some of it carries over.

So joy is simply not compatible with everyday life, unless my circumstances change somehow.

First change your thoughts

I’ve been working for two years at learning to feel better, so I know already that changing my thoughts is more powerful than trying to change my circumstances.

So what thoughts can I change to feel better and let go of my resistance?

I’ve already shown myself twice before that supposed burdens can be transformed if I look instead for what I want, what I appreciate.

For example, instead of thinking that the dishes have to get done and no one else is going to do them, I started to think about how much I love a clean and tidy kitchen. If I then choose to clean, it’s for the sake of something I love and appreciate, rather than a burden I must bear or else be labelled lazy, selfish and somehow morally deficient.

Another recent example was getting my 1yo daughter to sleep. For a year I could only think of it as something necessary, regardless of how difficult or burdensome it might be. I was the only one who could rock her to sleep, so it was up to me to shoulder that burden or else be totally irresponsible, selfish, and a bad parent.

What changed was that I found a thought that felt good: I’d love for her to learn to soothe herself to sleep. I was able to set aside my resistance for the sake of this positive goal, and help her learn to soothe herself.

Extrapolating to everyday life

The stuff of everyday life can be transformed if I allow myself to find positive thoughts instead of old patterns that feel burdensome and self-accusatory.

Starting at the beginning of the day, my morning routine can be because I love getting up early, feeling clean and refreshed, and enjoying my coffee, rather than the burden of being up early enough to get everything done.

I can enjoy my kids’ company early in the morning, and get my son ready for school because I want him to feel secure and safe and cared for, and to learn by example how to care for himself.

I can enjoy the walk to school because it’s lovely to be outside for some exercise with my kids, stretch our legs and get some fresh morning air.

I can enjoy taking my son to school because I want him to enjoy learning and interacting with others and working out his own preferences in life.

I can come home and enjoy relaxing in my home with my wife and daughter. I can write blog posts that inspire me and work on articles that feel good. I can do research into things that interest me and work out my own preferences and where I’d like to go next.

I can tidy the house – if I want to – because I love having a clean and tidy home. It’s not a burden that must be shouldered, it’s not something for which I am judged and criticised. I love the feeling of a clean and tidy home, but it’s okay for it to not be clean and tidy. And it’s okay to let my wife tidy if she wants to.

I can plan dinner because I love our evening meal together. I love cooking for my wife and kids. I love their enjoyment of my food. But it’s also okay to let my wife cook if she feels like it. And its okay to get take-out occasionally too.

I can pick up my son after school because I love being there for him, to hear about his day and how he feels, to say hello to some friends and bring him back home. But I can also let my wife do it sometimes if she wants to.

And the evening together can be a time when we enjoy watching things together, playing games together, reading stories together. It can be a time for fun and enjoyment rather than the last hours of burden and work.

Finally, we can put the kids to bed and get some sleep ourselves, not because we are worried about tomorrow’s burdens, but because sleep is so good for body, mind, and spirit. Sleep is true rest and it’s something we can love and enjoy for itself.

Letting go of old resistance

I can retell the story of my day and like a miracle transform endless burdens into continual joy.

I can gently remind myself as often as necessary that these daily activities are only as burdensome or routine as I make them out to be in my thoughts.

I live and work and think and play and sleep at home. I’m home so much, it’s time to let home be the place of joy and love and happiness I’ve always wanted it to be.

I want my everyday life to be joyful, and I think I know now how it can be.

I don’t feel depressed anymore

Last night it suddenly hit me that I don’t feel depressed anymore.

I’ve been so focussed on feeling good I didn’t even notice. But there it is: I don’t feel depressed!

Twenty something years of focusing on things that felt bad, enough to make my emotional “average” a negative one.

Two-ish years of learning to feel less bad, then better, ramping up into my thirty day Happiness Challenge and now my easy-going “feel good all day” theme.

So yeah…there it is. Who would have thought that the secret to no longer feeling depressed was to focus on feeling good instead?

It’s obvious in hindsight, and it also seems incredibly easy and straightforward now too. I know it didn’t always look that way, and that’s also testament to this amazing change.

For anyone else suffering from depression, well, I was deeply cynical about this “positive thinking” stuff too. But I can appreciate now that I have steadily and consistently trained myself to focus on thoughts that feel better and better, with the promise that it’s my thoughts alone which create my reality.

A cynical view is that my depressed perspective was “reality” and I’m now simply deluding myself.

But I can’t pick out a single thought that would constitute “delusion” now, nor is there a single thought responsible for my better mood.

I just feel better without even trying, but I know that this is due to all my work retraining my thoughts to uplift me rather than bringing me down.

Temperament and introversion vs feeling good

I found the perfect Abraham-Hicks video discussing what “low energy” really means, but first here’s how I found the term and its associations with temperament and introversion.

Energy vs social interest

One of the historic two-factor personality theories used combinations of energy and social interest to describe what are essentially the four temperaments.

Melancholics are low energy, low social interest and I love this depiction because it captures my past experience in ways I otherwise struggled to convey.

After all, “I’m tired” implies to most people a prior cause of tiredness, but I would feel tired even if I had done nothing that day.

“I’m always tired, for no reason” implies to most people some kind of chronic ailment 😅

But “I’m low energy” is unfamiliar enough of a term to wrong-foot people and it immediately implies the converse: some people are just “high energy”.

“Social interest” is equally brilliant because I’m too polite to say “I don’t like socialising” and anyway it’s not strictly true. I just don’t feel the “pull” that some people evidently feel to be surrounded by others.

And keeping energy and social interest distinct is brilliant too because cholerics will get it immediately and stop asking, recognising themselves as “high energy” but also “low social interest”.

But that’s not temperament!

Here everything gets turned on its head, because if you’ve ever seen me in full flight of ideas and inspiration you would never consider me “low energy” and if you ever saw me with the right person at the right time you wouldn’t peg me as “low social interest” either.

That’s why I referred to the Abraham-Hicks video at the beginning, because in it a woman describes her life-long struggle with feeling low energy, depressed and suffering physical pain.

In other words she sounds like a melancholic.

But the Abraham response is not that some people are simply low energy by default.

Feeling low energy is the feeling of resistance.

Abraham uses the analogy of sitting awkwardly and cutting off the blood flow to your foot or leg. It feels weird and uncomfortable because you’re impeding the flow of blood and life-giving oxygen and nutrients to the cells in that part of your body.

Likewise, feeling low energy, depressed and in physical pain are symptoms of negative beliefs about various subjects or about life itself. These habits of thought are obstructing or limiting the flow of energy, which is the essence of good feeling.

Personality differences

Nonetheless Abraham does mention that some people are especially focused with their thoughts. The woman in the video just happened to have gotten off on the wrong foot earlier in life, and had devoted her highly focused mind to resistant thoughts instead of good-feeling ones.

So there is evidently some degree of individual difference. It would take perhaps more time for this woman to change the direction of her focus, to train her powerful mind in better-feeling thoughts.

But as Abraham gets her to acknowledge, it’s not as though every moment of her life has been full of consistent and unrelenting depression or low energy or pain.

And I recognise that in myself. There are subjects where I’ve felt so good my feet don’t touch the ground. There are social interactions I do seek out and enjoy.

There are countless moments throughout the day where my once iron grip on misery slipped right off. There have even been times when I’ve had to work hard to regain that deathly serious focus on feeling bad!

Even a melancholic can be happy and “high energy” if their day consists of one exciting and satisfying subject after another.

And all it takes is some practice and some focus in the right direction, retraining our powerful minds for happiness.

This new understanding of “low energy” doesn’t negate differences in temperament. In fact it raises the truly exciting question of what life might look like for a melancholic who has learnt to stay in alignment with his or her own energy!

Stop doing that thing you keep doing

Our favorite analogy is the cork that bobs on the surface of the water. And when you hold it under the water, it is unnatural. It is natural for you to let go of it, and it is natural for it to bob. But when you take hold of a thought that does not feel good, and the negative emotion sweeps over you, you remain in an unnatural state for as long as you hold your attention upon it. – Abraham Hicks

I’ve been keeping a journal or notebook for a number of years now, where I write down the problems I’m dealing with and try to analyse them, look for solutions, or just get some perspective on them.

I’ve been doing this for a while but I wasn’t sure how long until today, when I found an old notebook from my Honours year in philosophy back in 2003, full of the kinds of personal musings and reflections that have since filled many notebooks and scraps of paper.

I opened it by chance to 19/03/2003 the exact day that I realised I was actually depressed, and had been for a long time. Up to that point I’d assumed everyone felt kinda the same way, and my personal struggles were just part of a bigger spiritual reality we all face.

The notes are so familiar. I wish I could say that they weren’t; yet the style and content barely changed in the 16 years that followed: analysing fears, worries, tension, hypervigilance, and trying to reconcile it all with the spiritual ideas that captivated me.

16 years of trying to work it all out, the frustration showing again and again but always returning to square one, as if I could make sense of it all…if only I could find the right question!

I get the feeling my life improved over those 16 years despite rather than because of my obsessive attempts to find an answer.

Because although every line of my past writing strives toward a satisfying conclusion that is never final, the truly lasting impression is in the tone.

It’s negative. Negatively framed, because I’m always trying to escape from misery and suffering; negatively directed because I’m unflinchingly self-critical lest I make the mistake of going easy on myself and shrinking from “hard truths”; and negatively realised because it never ever ended.

16 years of self-analysis and reflection didn’t arrive at an answer, but they did lend my negative thoughts powerful momentum.

Don’t go digging

One of the challenging messages of the Abraham Hicks material was that we aren’t well served by going digging for answers, focusing on our problems, or revisiting painful subjects.

This makes sense if you consider that our goal is to come into alignment with our inner being, the presence of God within us, and God doesn’t focus on unwanted conditions past, present, or future, real or only worried about.

Further, whatever we focus on becomes active in the filtering and creating of our reality. The more I focused on my suffering and misery, the more my suffering and misery persisted.

In the past year and a half I’ve been reading the Abraham Hicks material and using it to become less of a pessimist, and to actually enjoy my life. Yet my desire to “dig in” and analyse obstacles and problems persisted.

It’s slowly grown weaker, and finding this 16 year old notebook has given me the opportunity to see how little the analysis and “problem-solving” really contributed, other than to perpetuate itself.

The irony is that I don’t have better answers to the questions my past self was asking. I never did find the answers I was looking for. But I’ve quickly realised it wasn’t about the questions or the answers, but the awful and depressing thoughts I was so intently focused on.

Stop doing that thing you do

Abraham uses the analogy of a cork floating in the water to describe our emotional state. We would be bobbing happily at the surface, if only we didn’t focus on things that hold our cork under water.

If we aren’t finding alignment and appreciation in our lives, then we are doing something, maybe a couple of somethings, that keeps us from feeling better.

I’d often wondered what I was doing. I probably even wrote it down in hopes of finding the answer. I think I know now what it was!

So I’m going to set an intention to no longer repeat, rehearse, or reiterate problems and negative points of view, especially not to write them out and give them so much attention.

That in itself is a very encouraging and hopeful thought: that I have learned something after all. Not simply another run through the cycle of analysis and flawed conclusions, but a substantial change that brings relief and helps me feel better.

The Emotional Guidance Scale

One of the most useful tools in the Abraham Hicks material is the EGS or Emotional Guidance Scale.

The idea is that our emotions provide guidance as to how well aligned our thoughts are with the perspective of our inner being.

In Christian terms, if we accept that God is love and God’s providence rules all things, then we will find love, peace, and joy growing within us as we embrace God’s loving will in our lives.

The EGS

In the Abraham Hicks system, our emotions exist on a scale or spectrum from despair, depression, fear, at the bottom, to joy, love, and appreciation at the top.

So far so good, but what makes the EGS especially valuable is that it plots other points in unexpected ways.

For example, insecurity is one step higher than fear and depression. Jealousy is another step higher, hatred or rage is above that.

If you worked your way up the scale starting at fear, you might go through hatred, revenge, anger, blame, worry, doubt, disappointment, all the way up to boredom, before arriving at the tipping point of contentment.

This is significant because many of us have been taught that these negative emotions are bad or wrong. We often find ourselves feeling fear, but resisting the shift into jealousy, hatred, anger, or blame even though they are higher up the scale.

That’s not to say that blame is a good place to be, but it’s a much better place than hatred or depression. Blaming others when you are depressed feels like relief.

But too often we get to something like anger and immediately shut it down, telling ourselves that anger is wrong, that it’s better to be depressed than angry.

Of course you’re not meant to go out and act on your jealousy, anger, revenge, or hatred any more than you should act on your fear and depression.

It’s enough to recognise that these unpleasant emotions are nonetheless a step in the right direction. Allow yourself to feel anger if that brings relief, and know that it’s not permanent.

Working with the EGS

We can use the EGS to identify where we are on any given subject, and then find thoughts that feel like relief, noticing how that relief takes us up the scale towards the more aligned emotions.

For example, if you feel depressed and powerless on the subject of not having a job, it’s because your thoughts on this subject are out of alignment with the providential, loving perspective of your inner being.

You might be thinking something like “I’ll never amount to anything” while your inner being is thinking something like “everything is working out perfectly”.

But it’s not easy to go from thinking “I’m useless” every day for twenty years to then thinking “everything is perfect” consistently.

That’s a big leap and not easy to maintain.

Instead you might go just one step higher to a thought like “I have no idea what I’m going to do”.

It’s not a happy thought, but it’s a little better than “I’ll never amount to anything” because at least it admits uncertainty. So it might feel like insecurity rather than depression or despair.

With practice it’s possible to work up the scale quite quickly, though I have no idea how long it takes other people.

Our next thought that brings relief might be jealousy at all those people out there who have found their calling or easily arrived at enjoyable, fulfilling, or lucrative careers.

Don’t shoot down the jealousy. Accept it as a source of relief, of feeling “less bad” and then see if you can find another thought that brings further relief.

It won’t necessarily be hatred/rage, nor revenge. It’s okay to naturally skip some emotions.

Anger might be the next point of relief. You might find relief and energy in angry thoughts at the economy, the education system, your past choices. You might angrily think “this sucks, I hate this situation” and although it’s not a good feeling it’s already much better than insecurity or despair.

Blame

It feels good to blame others, but we’re frequently told it’s unhealthy and fruitless.

Well it is if we never move on from blame, but too often people never pass through blame on their own. They get to blame and then tell themselves (or are emphatically told) “stop blaming other people for your choices, take responsibility for your own life!”

But if you find some relief in blame, then blame your heart out. You could blame the economy for taking away your job or not offering more prospects. You can blame your education for not preparing you for the current workforce. You could blame your parents for undermining your youthful passions and hobbies. You could blame the government, blame your country, blame your third grade teacher, blame your family for holding you back.

Problems only arise when people act on blame, or when they refuse to take the next emotional step towards relief.

We’ve all met people who like to tell everyone about their blame. They blame their ex, their boss, their parents, their more-successful siblings and so on.

The problem isn’t the blame, the problem is that they refuse to move on.

What comes after blame?

It might be worry. Some people recount that after wallowing in blame for a while they realised that blaming others wasn’t making their life any better. Maybe they went into worry?

Or maybe we can move from blame into doubt? Doubting that it really was other people’s fault, doubting that we really know what made our life turn out the way it did, doubt that blaming people is getting you anywhere.

Again, moving from blame into doubt might seem counter-intuitive because blame offers certainty whereas doubt sounds very uncertain.

But that uncertainty is also more open to possibilities, less fixed in telling the same old story about how your evil step-sister screwed you out of your inheritance and that’s where your life took a wrong turn.

Or maybe even doubt that things are as bad as you thought. Maybe you meet people or hear of others in your exact circumstances who’ve made things work, or perhaps you notice that you have more to be thankful for than you first considered.

Follow relief, not the scale

In my opinion it’s not the best approach to try to feel everything on the scale. The whole point of the scale is to help us recognise that relief is taking us somewhere, and that is up the scale. It’s to reassure us that anger or jealousy or blame are not permanent locations but just a section of the path to appreciation and joy and feeling genuinely good.

If we keep looking for thoughts that bring relief we will eventually find ourselves closing the gap between how we see the world and the providential, loving perspective of our inner being.

At the heart of the Abraham Hicks material is the observation that whatever we desire, we desire it because we think we will feel better when we have it. But it is not having things that makes us feel better, it is alignment with our own inner being, God’s presence within us.

Yet life is not static, it is expanding. Our desires expand, and the perspective of our inner being expands with it. To stay in alignment is not an act of standing still or clinging to a single definitive answer.

If we find the answer, life will give us a new question. Alignment is therefore dynamic, and keeping up with it is the nature of the work.

Looking back at my own life, I thought alignment was static. I thought there was a single unchanging answer that I needed to find, and I grew despondent and discouraged as each time I found the answer turned out to be insufficient or temporary.

It’s like wanting to own the most powerful gaming computer available. You could do all your research, write down the specs, but if you wait too long before ordering it’ll no longer be cutting edge.

Our happiness is cutting edge, or leading edge in Abraham Hicks jargon. We have to keep up with it, and it’s said that the real satisfaction and joy lies precisely in the keeping up.

Alignment is a moving target, but hitting a moving target is more fun and more satisfying than hitting the same old target again and again.

 

Choosing how we feel

Having the attitude that “everything is perfect exactly as it is” feels good.

For melancholics in particular it may be an expression of providence: the knowledge that all things are working towards the good.

If all things are working towards the good, and we know it, then it follows that everything is perfect exactly as it is.

Not perfect in the sense that it is complete, but perfect in the sense that we are where we are meant to be, everything is as it is meant to be.

This isn’t a question of judgement or assessment, it’s about attitude and feeling.

If you have the attitude of recognising everything is perfect as it is, then you will feel that everything is perfect as it is.

And by contrast, if you don’t feel good, you must be thinking or believing that not everything is perfect.

We see this reflected in the story of the fall of man. Genesis tells us of everything God created “and God saw that it was good”.

Everything was good, and the first humans lived in paradise, right up until the moment they accepted the serpent’s contention that things were not perfect after all.

The first humans heeded the serpent’s doubt, and that was the cause of their fall.

False beliefs as choice

If we don’t feel good, then we must not be thinking that all is perfect as it is.

For years I sought to identify such thoughts and correct them. Talk myself out of my fears and worries and doubts.

But although it can be helpful to change such beliefs, it isn’t necessary to convince ourselves that they are false, or to try to work out the truth.

Otherwise there is potentially no end to all the little beliefs that would need correcting.

Instead we can view these bad-feeling thoughts not as the cause of our unhappiness but as reflections or elaborations of a bad-feeling focus.

For example, a depressed person can come up with many negative thoughts that match the feeling of depression and hopelessness.

These thoughts aren’t necessarily stored up in our heads, rather we uncover or create more and more of them to match our depressed focus.

Sometimes changing a belief or thought changes our focus as well, but it’s not always the most effective way to feel better.

By contrast a change in focus will always cause us to feel better (or worse depending on what we focus on).

It is possible to recognise that when we don’t feel good, we are harbouring an attitude of doubt or fear instead of an attitude that everything is perfect.

With practice we can actually change our focus from a bad feeling state to a good feeling one, without having to argue with or analyse or reprogram our thoughts.

Before thought

In the Abraham Hicks material, thought and “vibration” are used interchangably. They might just as well have used the word “spirit” but that it is too loaded with preconceptions.

Our verbalised thoughts and beliefs are expressions or elaborations of the “vibration” we are focused on. We translate this vibration into thought, and it is further reflected in our feelings and then our external circumstances.

An analogy from the Abraham Hicks material is that of a radio dial that controls the frequency our radio is tuned to. If you change the frequency (vibration) you receive different signals (thoughts).

Learning to control our focus in this way is superior to trying to argue with ourselves or debate our thoughts in hopes of shifting that dial. You could petition a classical station to play more jazz, but it’s more effective just to turn the dial until you find a station where jazz is already playing.

Choosing to feel good

I initially struggled with the idea of ignoring things that feel bad, or getting off difficult subjects.

My negative feelings were heavy and persistent, so I assumed I needed something equally firm and concrete to dislodge them.

But feeling good is light and easy. You don’t need to dislodge or destroy bad feelings, just stop focusing on them and they’ll dissipate.

I’m coming around to the idea that I don’t need to prove to myself (or others) that everything is perfect as it is, because this attitude just feels really really good.

I don’t need to logically or even illogically convince myself that fears and doubts are unwarranted, because I’ve gradually accepted through experience that it feels much better to feel good than to feel bad, and it seems that I can choose to focus in ways that feel good rather than feeling bad.

So whatever issue seems to conflict with “everything is perfect exactly as it is” can be deactivated. I can simply focus back on perfection and ease in the same way that I can relax a tense muscle.

We are the ones who determine the contents of our own minds by virtue of what we focus upon. For most of us this is only a theoretical control, but with practice it can become actual.

The ideal is to be able to feel good, find relief, soothe ourselves by choosing where we focus, and thereby create a happier and more fulfilling reality for ourselves and become part of a happier and more fulfilling reality for others.

Fixing a melancholic

Harry Potter is an excellent allegory for how a melancholic engages with the world.

The contrast between “normal” life and the melancholic search for meaning is wonderfully depicted in the revelation that a secret world of witches, wizards, and magic exists alongside, but carefully hidden from the muggles.

The quick derogatory explanation that Harry’s aunt, uncle and cousin are muggles – that the whole of Harry’s small world up to that point is a muggle world – immediately validates Harry’s deep dissatisfaction with life.

Breaking a melancholic

Melancholics correspond to the MBTI types ENFP, INFP, INFJ, and ENFJ. The combination of intuition and feeling typifies the melancholic temperament.

For NFJs, feeling is externally oriented, seeking harmony with others. For NFPs, feeling is internally oriented – arguably the most mysterious and introverted of the cognitive functions.

INFPs have introverted Feeling (Fi) as our dominant function. It’s hard to describe, but imagine your feeling state dominating your conscious experience prior to, and seemingly independent of, any other aspect of experience.

Imagine watching a movie with an intense soundtrack that dominates and overwhelms everything else, including dialogue and visuals.

This soundtrack is inescapable.

The health of an INFP might be viewed as a function of the coherence between the soundtrack and the rest of the movie. If the two don’t match, there is dissonance that reverberates through the score, and the INFP is then caught in a feedback loop where the only option is to shut down, retreat, sleep it off.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to live “normally”, while the soundtrack plays heavy, leaden themes that wear me down. The thought of living a “normal” life….the thought that a normal life is all that there is, all that is possible, is deeply destructive.

The soundtrack of introverted feeling informs me constantly that this is not what I want. But through my formative experiences and my subsequent worldview I’ve persisted in this unwanted direction.

Suppressing the dominant function

A dominant function can’t be truly suppressed in the sense of eradicating it. But if a soundtrack continues long enough in monotonous tones of protest, you can learn to ignore it for the most part.

The functional stack of an INFP is introverted Feeling (Fi) , extroverted Intuition (Ne), introverted Sensing (Si), and extroverted Thinking (Te).

Learning to ignore my Fi, I turned to the lesser functions and tried to live through Ne, Si, and Te.

This matches the common experience of neglecting one’s dominant function in favour of the inferior function, a stage of life that IIRC corresponds to the 20s-30s.

My inferior function of extroverted Thinking is all about efficiency and goals. Te-dominant people revel in achievements and outcomes; but Te in the inferior position is a far more modest and limited version.

Ignoring my Fi, I tried to view life through the lens of Te. This translated into a very uneasy, irritable and stressful form of goal-directed motivation, and an intense, acute, but wearying analytical mindset.

I describe this as a “problem-solving” attitude to life. At one stage I even looked to problem-solving as a possible strength or “vocation” in life. But problem-solving didn’t leave me with any lasting solutions. I could critique and analyse and deconstruct, but it wasn’t fulfilling, and it wasn’t creative.

Rehabilitating introverted Feeling

What I’ve been working towards (now that there’s nowhere else to go) is the rehabilitation of Fi.

Positive-thinking has been instrumental and life-changing in this respect; it might be more accurate to call it “positive-feeling” since how I feel is the first indicator and measure of the thoughts I am thinking.

But the goal-oriented mindset has been deeply ingrained in me. I even approached “feeling better” from a goal-oriented, problem-solving perspective.

Yesterday I realised that like everything else, engaging in a problem-solving attitude doesn’t bring me lasting solutions, it just attunes me to further problems. If I really loved solving problems, the good news is that there is no end to the available problems to solve.

But since a problem-solving attitude is wearying and detrimental and ultimately unsatisfying, it’s time for me to find something else.

Enjoying life

You can try to enjoy life as the solution to a problem, or to achieve the goal of “feeling better”. But to really change, I have to stop trying to solve problems or achieve goals and instead start enjoying life for the sake of enjoyment.

The difference is profound. Seeking to enjoy life tunes me in to all the things I can enjoy. It lets me forget about “keeping score” with whatever problems I’ve been trying to solve or goals I’ve been trying to achieve.

I feel physically different, because ignoring Fi introduced unnecessary tension into my mind and body, and employing Te was an additional effort.

I can honestly say that in the past 20 or so years I haven’t “let go” of that problem-solving attitude except for occasional instances of revelry or relaxation.

20+ years of internal conflict, unnecessary effort, and unremitting tension come to an end when I choose to enjoy rather than solve, and appreciate rather than answer.

I feel rejuvenated, because I’m judging by different criteria now. The considerations and concerns of extroverted thinking don’t matter at all to introverted feeling. At most, they’re my fourth priority instead of my first.

Is it okay to be happy?

In a couple of decades living with anxiety and depression I frequently wondered about the correlation between my mood and my view of the world.

I’ve always valued the search for truth, and part of that search was to understand anxiety and depression themselves. But what if this “search” is itself a symptom of anxiety and depression?

What if looking for answers is just putting a positive spin on endless rumination?

Depressive realism

Sometimes it seems like happy people live in a bubble, unwilling or unable to grapple with the grand humane and existential challenges of life.

The popular notion of “depressive realism” offers a kind of perverse satisfaction in being miserable: the idea that depressed people see the world more clearly, or that happy people are buffered from harsh realities by self-serving delusions of competence and optimism.

If you find it difficult to be happy, you can console yourself with the idea that happiness is just for dumb, superficial, or morally unserious people.

But is this kind of depressive realism any better than a sour grapes attitude toward happiness?

Ironically, this consolation is itself the fostering of a self-serving delusion aimed at making us feel better, as we pride ourselves on being both willing and able to face the harsh realities of life.

When life hands you lemons, sure, you could make lemonade…but a real man will just eat that lemon and grit his teeth against the sourness, because lemons are supposed to be sour!

Intentional optimism

In the past few months I’ve made a conscious effort to change the way I think about life, in order to improve my mood.

In the process it’s become clear to me that despite all the suffering implicit in decades of anxiety and depression, despite being desperately unhappy, I couldn’t honestly say that I wanted things to be different.

We all want to be happy, but our desire for happiness is typically framed and delineated by very strict conditions.

We want to be happy in certain ways, under specific criteria; we want happiness on our own terms, even if those terms are largely unconscious in daily life.

When I first considered changing my thoughts in order to improve my mood, I immediately worried about becoming “delusional”, like one of those dumb, superficial, happy people who lives in blissful ignorance of life’s deeper meaning and struggles

It was very important to me that I maintain a sense of my own realism, honesty, and clarity about the nature of life; so important that I was more comfortable being deeply unhappy than risking a change to my self-image.

I put limitations on my pursuit of happiness, limitations that turned out to be based on little more than crude stereotypes.

Crude stereotypes of happiness

If I was truly honest with myself, wouldn’t I have to acknowledge that those supposed “dumb, superficial, blissfully ignorant people” were just a fantasy?

In all those years of looking for answers, I hadn’t once gone out of my way to examine people who were actually happy, preferring to think that I understood what superficial, derogatory happiness looked like.

In fact, my own experience belies the notion that happy people are ignorant or deluded. I don’t know anyone who matches the caricature that exists in my own mind.

People who are genuinely happier than me tend not to go around thinking and talking about their depressing problems, but to cast that as a moral failing is misguided.

I’ve met others similar to me: deeply depressed, yet repulsed by the thought of having to “delude” themselves in order to feel better.

Such people would never have the audacity to claim that they are free from “delusion”. They might say that they try not to delude themselves, but it’s more a statement of values and ideals than an objective assessment of their overall knowledge and beliefs.

It’s as if we’ve tried and failed at just “getting along” in life, and instead of admitting the failure, tried to redefine the parameters of life itself until those who get along well are the ones who’ve failed the test of moral seriousness.

Temperament defines happiness

The problem is that we aren’t all the same in what excites us and makes us happy, and therefore we can’t and shouldn’t try to “get along” in the same ways.

Those of us who struggle most with anxiety and depression seem to have an (un)healthy dose of what ancient proto-psychologists called melancholic temperament.

Melancholics are excited by meaning and ideals, and not much else. Yet we inhabit a society full of people who find happiness and fulfilment more easily accessible – in the pursuit of power and prestige, the enjoyment of sensual pleasures, or in simply being left alone to do their own thing.

Meaning and ideals are hard to reconcile with a world ordered to more tangible and readily accessible pursuits. That alone is enough to explain a depressed and anxious outlook.

But if we can at least recognise that meaning and ideals are what motivate and fulfil us, and that we are not all motivated by the same things, then we can dispense with attempts to universalise happiness and justify our own preoccupations.

In other words, it is not superficiality that makes others happy; they are happier (in general) because they have greater ease in identifying and accomplishing the things that make them happy.

Likewise, we are not less happy because of our bold embrace of harsh truths and discomforting realities; we are less happy (in general) because we have not succeeded in identifying and accomplishing the things that make us happy, and have in fact gone to the other extreme of denying our need for meaning and ideals.

Putting meaning and ideals first

I think the most important thing is to recognise what it is that makes us happy as individuals – whether that be meaning and ideals or something else – and seek to enlarge that aspect of our life.

For melancholics the initial challenge is working out that it is meaning and ideals that excites us, and the subsequent challenge is learning how to approach meaningful things for the sake of the meaning they provide.

I used to study philosophy, but I couldn’t really articulate that it was the search for meaning that drove me to it. So I tended to go along with other people’s perspectives of what philosophy is and why it is meaningful or important.

There came a time when I ceased to find philosophy meaningful. And it turned out that I didn’t really care all that much about the other aspects of philosophy that people find valuable. I didn’t really care very much about critical thinking or rationality or asking big questions or seeking answers generally.

Ironically this makes a melancholic surprisingly pragmatic in a way that can even resemble a choleric. A melancholic is like a choleric whose ambition is finding meaning, and everything else is subordinate to that goal.

I think that’s what drives my interest in mysticism, philosophy, and religious practice and thought. I’m looking for a pure meaning that can encompass and imbue all of life.

Enlightenment and Depression

So…if your sense of self is really just a bunch of thoughts and impressions created by your mind – or more profoundly: the mind, Buddha-nature, God, consciousness, Brahman – then doesn’t that mean experiences of negative mental states like anxiety and depression are also products of this same mind?

All thoughts and impressions come from the same place. So although on the relative level your depression can be viewed as your reaction to negative life-events, on the absolute level there is no difference between “you” and “your reaction”. Both are products of mind.

Which is pretty weird, if you think about it.

It’s as if you’re a character in a story, and you think the things that befall you are due to your beliefs and choices and actions. But in fact both you and all the circumstances in and around you are created by the author. You have no control, because “you” are just another part of what is being written.

So when “you” start thinking about this, it’s not as though “you” are exercising your autonomy and control over your thoughts and circumstances. It means the author has gone from writing “you – who doesn’t think about this stuff” to writing “you – now thinking about this stuff and realising how weird it is”.

Likewise, these mental states like depression and anxiety; it’s not that “you” suddenly become afflicted by anxiety or depression. There’s no central, coherent, unified “you” who suffers those states. Instead the author has gone from writing “you without depression” to writing “you with depression”. If the depression stops, it will be because the author is now writing “you with depression stopping and feeling relieved about it”.

So what’s going on? Is the author an arsehole? Why is he or it inflicting so much suffering on everyone?

Well, the weird thing is that there is no “everyone” on whom suffering is inflicted.

There are temporary thoughts and impressions, some of which contain the belief that there is an “everyone” who is suffering.

But there are other temporary thoughts and impressions that recognise all thoughts and impressions as coming from the same place.

The thoughts that are full of suffering only think they are full of suffering. They aren’t actually full of suffering.

In other words, if you are depressed, but you then recognise that all thoughts and impressions come from the same place, then it’s not that you would stop being depressed, but that the “you” who feels assailed by depression would no longer be a separate, distinct, enduring entity who can be assailed by things like depression.

If the author writes a character experiencing depression, it’s not as though he first writes the character and then assails them with depression. No, the author writes the character-with-depression as one thing. Then later he writes the character-after-depression as another thing. There’s no actual, continuous character who exists from beginning to end and is assailed by depression, then recovers from it.

Moment by moment, our thoughts and impressions are coming from the same place. They don’t linger. Like the frames in a movie. Some objects in a movie scene might appear to stay still while others, like the actors, move around. But in reality we are seeing continuous individual frames. The sequence is composed of individual frames, and for an object just to remain static in place it must still be reproduced one frame at a time in every frame.

On the relative level we all have individual reasons for the negative mental states we experience. But on the absolute level, our negative mental states are all due to one thing: we mistake the “self” of our thoughts and impressions for an actual entity.

But who commits that mistake? Isn’t it too a product of the same author?

This is why there is such ambivalence about the nature of delusion in Buddhism, and the nature of evil in Christianity. If God is all powerful, is he also responsible for the existence of evil?

One thing is clear: despite the ambivalence over causation, delusion will be overcome and evil will be vanquished. There is no ambivalence about the end. Delusion and enlightenment, evil and good, they are not viewed as equal and opposite pairs.

Depression is a horrible experience, but when we recognise that both the experience and the apparent subject of that experience are products of thoughts and impressions that arise from the same place, then both the suffering and the one who suffers are transcended. The son of man has nowhere to lay his head.

At the same time, there comes the realisation that even this realisation itself has come from the same place as all the other thoughts and impressions. The quality has changed, but not the source.

And at that moment there comes the realisation that this realisation too is coming from the same place – that the author is now writing himself into the story as the author. And everything it took to arrive at this point – all the suffering and confusion and striving and grasping and gradual realisation – that too was the author, writing everything.

And when it stops, when realisation is replaced with forgetfulness and the door closes once more and it feels like “you” have returned to normal…who do you think is doing that?