Unnecessary Suffering

blog boundaries Feb 16, 2021

So much of human behavior is tied to morality, even if we aren't a card-carrying member of any known religion. Be a good boy. Good girls don't. We want to do something because of the way it will make us feel. And we are shamed out of doing it with the threat of feeling the opposite. Manipulating the feels is big business. The music I grew up listening to had lyrics like "How can it be wrong when it feels so right?' and I heard plenty of marketing slogans like "If it feels good, do it.' No wonder most humans are fucked up when it comes to our desires for food, sex, and shopping. 

I can't remember exactly when I began to notice the most dysfunctional trend of all, but I've seen it all around me ever since, and have been for years. It's obvious that people have beliefs about good behavior and bad behavior, good choices, and bad choices. They try to control themselves around these behaviors by reminding themselves which options before them fall into the good category and which do not, as though these artificial labels would be enough to propel them toward the honorable decisions and repel them from the rest. Maybe it works a little bit, for a little while, or even while we are little, but as a long term strategy intended to keep us on the straight and narrow, it fails miserably. 

For example, women who are attempting to control their weight and eating behavior are known for dividing their food choices into good foods and bad foods and will frequently refer to what kind of day they had by commenting on whether or not they adhered to their food plan. This belief system quickly descends from " I ate only good foods at Nadine's party" to "I was bad at the party." See the shaming language at work? After accepting that there are good foods and bad foods, it's a slippery slope right down to being bad when we eat bad foods. Now our proverbial goose is fully cooked. And we can't even enjoy the taste of it. Even when we do manage to be "good" with our eating behavior, we live in fear of the next slip up, knowing it's just a matter of time. 

Listen, I am not a weight loss coach, nor a self-love, body positivity, or mindful eating coach. I don't take a stand on weight, body shape, or what anyone else puts on their plate or in their mouth. It's none of my business and I honestly don't care. You do you. What I am is a mental wellness coach and former psychotherapist who is a staunch advocate for the elimination of unnecessary suffering. My belief system rests on the understanding that pain is a necessary condition of life, but suffering is optional and based on our thoughts. 

If we study how the mind and brain actually work, we can quickly come to an understanding of how much we torture ourselves with our unconscious thinking. The outstandingly good news is that the vast majority of these unconscious thinking patterns were learned in childhood and anything that is learned can be unlearned. It might not be easy to unlearn them, but unnecessary suffering isn't easy either.

The thoughts that are causing us automatic and unpleasant emotions can be identified, extinguished, and reprogrammed. If we are willing to do the work, with a little practice, the results can be life-changing.  Due to chronic pain from an auto accident, I was introduced to meditation and indirectly, to Buddhism, which ever so gradually became my philosophy of life, and now, my de facto religion. 

Buddhism makes so much sense to me, especially because I have studied the mind as a psychotherapist for more than twenty years. The only goal of Buddhism is to eliminate unnecessary suffering, by showing us the nature of mind. We experience the conditions of our life and the only thing that causes us to feel sadness, anger, grief or fear is the way we interpret those conditions. 

For example, let's say when we were elementary school age, we came home after school, let ourselves in the house, made a snack, did our homework, and then prepared dinner for our parents, who returned from work several hours later. One child experiencing these conditions might feel suffering because they told themselves they were a latch key kid, a victim of neglect, and felt lonely, angry, and resentful toward their parents.

Another child in the exact same conditions might tell herself that she is happy, independent, and grateful because she learned many skills at a young age and admires her parents for their work ethic and willingness to sacrifice to give her a good life. One story causes suffering, the other does not. The circumstances are the same. Buddhism, meditation, and cognitive-behavioral coaching all lead to the same conclusion. The mind is the solution to all of our suffering if we are willing to master it.

Attaching labels to our food causes us suffering whether we eat them or not. This makes no sense to me. Eat the cookie. Don't eat the cookie. Do what you decide to do with your whole heart and with pleasure. Deciding that you shouldn't eat the cookie because it is "bad", but then eating it anyway, causing guilt which prevents enjoyment is the epitome of unnecessary suffering. You are not morally superior if you don't eat the cookie and you are not morally inferior if you do. It's just a cookie. It is not inherently good or bad. You, on the other hand, are only good. Whether you have that cookie or not.


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