The art of creating problems for ourselves
It fascinates me how the mind can cling to a topic like a magnet and not let go of it.
You read or watch something, have a frustrating conversation, perform badly, etc, and afterwards your mind is left reeling. Attached to the story of what just took place. Replaying the scenes over and over again in your mind.
I call this the “problem of the day.”
Whenever I sit down to meditate, there’s usually the “problem of the day” – a topic my mind has chosen it wants to think about, and thus throws mental bait at me in hopes it will stick and I’ll give it some attention for a bit.
For example if I make the mistake of looking at my phone in the morning before I meditate – WHATEVER I looked at will pop up at some point. There’s a good likelihood it will pop up a few times. Especially if it’s an email at work or a message from a cute girl – the engine has been kicked into full gear and the prediction machine is roaring full speed ahead!
Don’t get me wrong either – even when I don’t look at my phone before meditating, some thought from the previous day or some random shit I need to do will pop up – guaranteed.
Meditation teaches us to try and look at these thoughts as a patient observer – look at it with a sense of detachment and curiosity. Instead of getting wrapped up in thinking, try to take a step back and examine the thought objectively.
When I did this I began to notice how my body PHYSICALLY responds to thoughts. I tensed up when certain topics arose. My breathing changed and became shallow and fast. I clench my jaw. My heart races.
It was the first time I realized that I can stress myself out while sitting still and doing nothing.
Think about this – many of us actively try to relax – and we can’t.
The brain is in problem solving mode and it wants me to use this quiet time to search for solutions to whatever the problem of the day might be.
It made me realize how I stress myself out by obsessively thinking about certain topics. Replaying events of the day in my mind. Trying to think through alternate endings and imagining how the future could have been different.
It taught me that much of our suffering is created in the mind. Dwelling on the past or getting anxious about what might happen in the future. Beating ourselves up for under performance. Holding onto grudges.
It all happens in the mind. And everything that happens in the mind has a physical feeling associated with it, so whenever we’re thinking about these unpleasant things, we’re accidentally feeling stressed as well.
This is what I call self inflicted stress –
Being mentally magnetized to a thought tangent that you can’t let go of and creating a problem where there is none. Creating suffering for yourself.
Maybe you anticipate conversations that haven’t happened yet. Or are mentally angry at someone who isn’t even in your presence. Or thinking about how someone mistreated you earlier and how you’re going to handle it. Or just worrying about the uncertainty of life. Or your ruthless inner critic is running amuck ripping apart every weakness and flaw you have.
This is all self created stress. Creating a problem where there is none. Needlessly stressing yourself out or creating anxiety.
The buddha defined enlightenment as “freedom from suffering”. To live in a state where we are no longer reacting to pleasure with desire, or pain with aversion. To be able to accept the present moment as it is, rather than as we want it to be.
The Buddha understood that suffering is created in the mind. He understood that pain is mandatory, but suffering is optional.
So if we take responsibility for knowing that we are the cause of our own suffering, we can CHOOSE NOT TO SUFFER!
We can choose to engage in our problems, but not suffer while working through them.
Enlightenment isn’t some goal you have to sit in silent meditation for years to obtain. Enlightenment exists right here, right now, if we wake up to our own responsibility for creating the present moment.
If we stop creating stress for ourselves, we’ve reached enlightenment. If we can live in a state where we don’t mindlessly react to the situations of the day, but remain internally unwavered, we’ve reached enlightenment.
We are the creators of our own experience. While we might be going through problems in life, we have a choice of how we want to respond to them. While there might be problems of the day, we can work through them with calm and clarity instead of anxiety and confusion.
Try to take inventory of where you are causing needless stress and anxiety for yourself. Notice where you’re resisting or being defensive. Pay attention to how certain thoughts, people, or situations make you FEEL.
Don’t make things harder on yourself than they need to be, they’re already hard enough as it is.
Don’t create self inflicted stress. Live life with a smile 🙂