An old saying states that even though we are guaranteed to experience trouble in life, suffering is optional—if we know how to cope with it. The tragedy is that most us do not know much about managing the major distresses of life, especially the anguish we create for ourself. This statement will shock those who are certain they know more than enough about their difficulties. Some may even be indignant about the thought that they have more to learn about issues that have plagued them for years. Yet many long-term sufferers have missed important insights and skills they need for their healing and coping with their long term challenges.
On closer examination, it is quite possible that much of what we “just know” about life and our problems is inadequate, incomplete, or plain wrong. Because our suffering demands our attention, we tend to observe and study it carefully and continually. While this seems logical, it leads to a dangerous imbalance of knowing much more about what is wrong, missing, sick, or undesirable in our life than what is right, available, healthy, or useful. For example, many of us know far more about what is wrong than what is right about our spouse, boss, or children. Or, we may know all about the symptoms and dangerous potential of a tumor or heart disease, but very little about what is needed for healing.
It is for these reasons that we need to become more informed about the basic principles of healing. Although most of us think we know these principles, we do not. We humans have a tendency to assume we “know enough”—even when we do not.
There are many healing practices to consider; each requires careful scrutiny to assess its effectiveness and long-term usefulness. First of all, we need to evalu- ate if we are just acting out our frustration or using a genuine healing technique. For instance, endless talking about what we do not like just vents annoyance—it doesn’t change anything. It declares to the world that we have been abused or neglected, and provides us attention, sympathy, and the illusion that we are doing something significant about our problem. In truth, however, it is just an idle spinning of our misery magnifiers. Its only result in the long run is to increase our frustration and strengthen our indignation. It is not a healing technique at all.
Sometimes we need what amounts to first aid for acute and serious distress. When we have just endured a terrible loss or very bad news, we may need sympathetic support and reassurance—even some brief pampering. This can be appropriate and very helpful. The problem is that some never get beyond this stage. They continue to insist on endless sympathy, reassurance, and nurturing support from others. They also withdraw from their usual activities in order to rest and recover. These “first aid” techniques are appropriate only for the early stages of emotional and physical injury or illness. Too much of this for too long can lead to an addiction to a continual need for sympathetic attention and pampering. Real healing will require attention to building confidence, courage, hope, and cheerful engagement in basic activities. At a deeper level, healing must be engaged at the level of our belief system, habits, and self-image.
The problem with first aid techniques is that they are designed only to provide care for immediate symptoms. An aspirin for a headache caused by a brain tumor will provide relief but not a cure. A pressure bandage for a deep flesh wound will stop the bleeding but not repair the injury. A splint for a broken arm will protect the injury but not heal the break. We need different methods to provide genuine repair and healing.
The genuine healing of psychic self-destruction can be difficult and require a great amount of work—and the sacrifice of self-serving ideas and habits. Unless we are careful, we can be lured into slick shortcuts that bypass the hard work of creating enduring health, con- fidence, and productivity. But the desire to “feel better without having to be better” is often irresistible. Many people will therefore try to get rid of anxiety or depression without having to give up any bad habits—such as being very critical. But it is not possible to become serene while still demanding perfection from others and life. We will never become confident if we insist on being treated as royalty, nor will we ever find a clear conscience if we try to ignore the consequences of our past behavior. Seeking these types of shortcuts by just “releasing” or denying our pain provides no permanent relief. What many of these shortcuts do is delay healing and bury our frustration deeper in our unconscious. From there they continue to fester and breed additional problems.
The healing we seek requires right understanding to be followed by right action. It is possible to become sidetracked by our intellectual inquiries into what is wrong about ourself and our situation. Understanding why we are so hurt or why our life has been so difficult has some value in terms of identifying beliefs, habits, and attitudes that need correction. However, our fascination with such analysis too easily leads to blaming outer events and others without doing anything to heal the wounds within us. Worse, this approach can misdirect us down the path of permanent resentment, defeat, and victim consciousness.
The healing of psychic self-destruction also requires us to study how to change our beliefs and become more positive, self-controlled, focused, and assertive. Unfortunately, it is possible to succumb to the illusion that just knowing about these ideas is enough. Somehow, we presume just “knowing the truth” automatically leads to a healing transformation. This rarely happens to any significant degree; it is magical thinking in its purest form. If it actually worked, then knowing there is money in banks would make us rich. Just believing that we can play the piano or violin could provide the ability to perform on these instruments.
Neither healing nor a successful life works this way. Right belief must be followed by right expectations and motivation. Right understanding must be followed by right behavior.
The very worst way to try to heal the frustrations and distress of our life is to accept and adjust our lives to them. This choice is tantamount to surrendering to grief and disappointment and letting them direct the rest of our life, incorporating lower standards for ourself and what we do. Additional misery becomes our “new normal,” and we adjust our lifestyle to accommodate it. We even modify our self-image and world outlook to include all of these limitations. From this point onward we have given up the struggle by resigning ourself to these choices.
By accommodating our suffering instead of overcoming it, we risk the major temptation of using our distress as a reason to expect less, do less, and be less in every dimension of our life. Having identified with our limitations, our interest in comfort turns to looking outward for the support of others. Our capacity for healing is corrupted into learning how to deny our healthy choices and manipulate others to provide the protection and comfort that we should be generating for ourself. This is what makes psychic self-destruction permanent in us.
We must not spend our life waiting to be rescued from our misery. We need to explore and engage in everything we can do to become more calm, joyful, insightful, and constructive. Genuine healing of these beliefs and habits requires careful discernment of better choices, persistent determination to do what is healthy, and a cheerful expectation to take charge of our life where it is possible to do so.