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The Positive Approach - Lesson 19

Difficult Times

By Peter Shepherd

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When painful events happen in life, such as losing a job, breakdown of a relationship, illness or when one fails at an important task, this is naturally distressing. Like the pain we feel when we fall to the ground, it is a reality of life that we need to accept, then pick ourselves up and continue a little wiser.

Because of the pain, we may be tempted to avoid the reality of life through resistance and denial. Something bad happens, and we look the other way. We pretend that we don't have a problem when we do - "It's not my problem the sales figures have collapsed," "I'm not upset she's left, good riddance." But the problem doesn't just go away, and neither do our suppressed feelings - they build up and fester inside, causing anxiety, tension, depression, and a host of stress-related problems. The emotional energy these suppressed feelings create eventually drives you to behave in ways you don't like or understand, and that you cannot control.

Another way of avoiding reality is through exaggeration. This is when you make the situation out to be worse than it is, to justify your resistance. Whenever anything mildly unpleasant happens, you start imagining all the bad possibilities of what may go wrong, as if they were real and already happening. So of course you cannot face up to this and you 'blow up' or lose your temper to relieve the pressure of the accumulated emotions. This can feel good because it puts the feeling into action - but it doesn't change the reality of the situation that you are still not confronting.

A third common way to cope with feelings is by attempting to avoid the issue altogether by attending instead to distractions - by talking, watching TV, eating, smoking, drinking, taking drugs, having sex, etc. But despite our attempts to escape them, the real issue and our feelings about it are still there - and still take their toll in the form of stress.

But there is another option for handling a feeling - you can focus on it, fully experience it, and then let go of it: release it, discharge it, as we described in lesson 10. Release requires acceptance; acceptance occurs when we no longer resist - no longer look at things in terms of black and white, no longer judge. When we tap into our capacity for unconditional love, including love for ourselves.

Whenever you are experiencing any kind of discomfort, you are resisting the fact that some person, situation, or thing is the way it is. You may be doing so unconsciously and automatically, but nonetheless, all suffering, all discomfort, all pain, comes from not allowing what is to be what it is. If you could be totally nonresistant to what is, life would flow easily and happily, without discomfort, no matter what the external circumstances.

This does not mean you can't take action in order to make things different. It just means that when faced with something that is the way it is, and cannot be changed, you do not, as a result, suffer over it.

Do what you can to create what you want, but don't become attached to the outcome; that way your level of well-being can remain the same, regardless of the outcome. Your happiness comes from inside, not from what does or does not happen around you.

When you want to change yourself or help others to change, you need to gather information, the noticeable parts of a problem, the symptoms one is uncomfortable with. This is the present state.

There will also be a desired state: an outcome that is the goal of change. There will be the resources that will help to achieve this outcome and also side effects to reaching it, for oneself and others. There will of course be the barriers and difficulties. But if it is a worrisome problem and not simply an interesting challenge, there will also be underlying reasons that create it as a problem: what does the person keep having to do that maintains the problem, and why? What is not being faced up to? These causes are inevitably to do with resistance, the denial or exaggeration of a reality, and the suppression of accompanying emotions.

The element of conflict is intrinsic to problems and the trick of solving them is to be able to spot the counter element to one's own intention, and to recognize that one does indeed have a causative contribution to the situation, otherwise it would not be intention versus counter-intention - a problem! The 'solution' to the problem is simply a realization of the structure of the problem itself. To accept and no longer resist the honest truth of the reality of the situation. To recognize the denial or exaggeration that has been going on, and the emotional attachment to an outcome. The emotional charge or confusion of the problem will then drop away, and appropriate actions may be taken.

The amount a person suffers in their life is directly related to how much they are resisting the fact that "things are the way they are," because they are not as they are "supposed to be." Attachment to things being different than they are needs to be "upgraded" to a preference. This means that when "what is" is not what you want, you do not suffer over it (get angry, sad, fearful, anxious, and so on), and your happiness and peace are therefore not controlled by forces outside of your control. You then have the clarity needed to much better be able to actually improve the situation.

As you go about your day, notice when you are feeling resistance or feel that what is happening is not acceptable to you. Then switch your viewpoint to: "I'd prefer it to be different but I can accept this as a starting point, really it's OK." See what you learn about yourself and if it actually empowers you to be both happier and more effective.

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