In my previous article (Being Here: Depression, Anxiety Stress and All (Part I)) I was arguing that we cannot truly make choices and therefore changes in our life, if we are not aware of, or conscious to, our own experiences. Since most people seem to think they are already quite aware, then either I am making a weak argument, or we are talking about very different things. This article focuses on my definition of this notion of being aware of our experiences, and also looks at some of the implications which flow from it.
To begin, let me ask a simple question; “Do you know what rain feels like on your face”?
I am betting you would probably say, “Of course I know what rain on my face feels like”. So let me push the question a little further; “When was the last time you chose to stand in the rain and let it fall on your face, so you could intentionally experience it”? Now I would guess that you may never have done that, or if you have, you haven’t done it very often.
I would guess, if you are like most people, what you were talking about when you said you “know” about the experience of rain on your face, was perhaps your experience of what happened when you unexpectedly got caught in the rain, and then reacted in some way so as not to have rain in your face.
My point is that there are many experiences which we say we “know”, or which we say we are familiar with, which should more appropriately be called, “experiences we tried not to have”.
Take sadness for example. Who doesn’t know what it feels like to be sad? But have you ever taken the time to really feel sad; intentionally, purposefully? Really sit with it and listen to it, hear how it speaks, where it lives in your body, what kind of memories come up and whatever else is connected to it?
I am trying to clarify that the quality of “sadness” one experiences when “Trying not to feel”, and the experiences of sadness which arises should one choose to “feel” it, are not the same experiences. “Trying not to feel” sad is an active attempt to suppress and alter that experience. “Feeling” sad opens up a whole range of experiences that simply do not and cannot exist otherwise.
My next guess is that reading about this, the idea of letting yourself feel your sadness, anger, your frustration, or any “negative” reaction, actually seems strange, if not questionable to you. After all, these experiences hurt, they are painful. And if there is anything our evolutionarily programmed survival system does well, it is too move us away from pain, usually before we even have to think about it.
But most likely, when you think of the painful experiences what you are thinking of are those “Trying not to feel” experiences, which I am suggesting actually have different qualities to them than when we allow ourself to be aware of our experiences. Expressed another way, moving away from, or trying not to have, an experience has more painful and complicated effects than when we move towards it.
I would think most people do this suppression/avoiding thing most of the time. There is nothing odd in doing this. But I believe there are many unfortunate consequence which arise from doing so.
It is my opinion that “trying not feel” over an extended period of time, especially when our experiences are powerful and highly charged, leads to depression, anxiety, and stress, just to name a few. Further, as I have discussed in other articles, “trying not to feel”, also characterized as avoiding our experiences, can also lead to other complications such as gambling, drinking and other addictions.
Finding our way back once we have gone down one of those roads is remarkably difficult. So I really only see one of two options. Either we begin to learn how to actually have our experiences, to begin the practice of Mindfulness, or we cross our fingers that we are going to find something else that is going to work that we haven’t been able to accomplish for our self.