Driving through pain towards happiness

Some of you know that life’s been tough for me in the last few months. I’ve been swimming through physical and emotional pain like a mock turtle swimming around in a hot pot of turtle soup.

What is a mock turtle anyway?

When I tell people that its been tough for me some seem surprised, or brush over it as if I should be immune to pain, or have some secret weapon against it, perhaps because I’m a psychologist and have written a book.

Maybe they look surprised for some other secret reason that I can’t see because of my blond spot. That’s a typo, I meant to write blind spot but my fingers wrote blonde spot, though grey spot would be more accurate.

I don’t like stepping out of my usual personas because it’s uncomfortable standing up in public without my thick skins of roles and responsibility, and those familiar warm layers of what I know, or should know, how I’m always ok, or should know how to be ok. But here I go doing it anyway, showing you my shivering white under skins that hurt and bruise and bleed, just like yours.

One thing I know for sure is that life is painful….. and yes, sometimes fabulous, exciting and wild and wonderful, beautiful and everything else in between.

I also know that life changes, constantly.

We all know this but for some reason we keep forgetting or pretending that life should be constant, not only that, but it should be constantly happy. Then we act shocked when some random event rips us out of our lovely soft bed of fantasy that life is happy ever after as we come face to face with the ugly beast of reality. Oh this is life we say and run the other way looking for our soft dreams.

Ok here’s my point, knowing how to move through pain is key to happiness.

This is like first base, home base and the foundation of how to build happiness. If you don’t get this it’s like building a house without foundations. It’s likely to fall down in the first big wind or when the wolf comes knocking at your door and all you can door is run for cover.

But don’t worry there is plenty of time to learn it because life is your classroom and lessons run right up until the end. Aka death.

Yeah I know it’s a bummer. I agree life should be happy all the time…. well…. er … actually you know what, its when I’ve turned to face my pain or grief or some dark lonely place inside me that I find some lost treasure, or a treasure I didn’t know I had in there.

It seems that through pain I remember who I am or who I could be, even though my potential self looks more like the bag lady or a hungry ghost than a nice person you’d want to meet.

Most people, like you, probably have nice potential selves, not a mad Lilith to contend with as I do. Or perhaps you do. Perhaps we all have a wilderness out there beyond the dark heart, or within it, just waiting to be explored, but first we have to learn how to navigate the darkness.

Through facing my pain, and stepping into the unknown, even though it’s dark and has a moldy smell, I remember what’s important to me.

When life is easy I just drift along on easy street looking in the windows and dreaming of what I could wear or eat, whistling a happy sort of tune.

And you know what else, my creative juice is in there too, in those dark slippery places, between the cracks of my pain and misery. Bummer I know.

In those darkest places when I am willing to dive down into the murk, holding my own hand for company, because I’m scared, really scared, trembling because I don’t know what’s down there and it’s very very dark, I find some treasure.

Yes, for me always, though it can take some time to find it (months or years even), there is gold in the shadows. I spy something lovely buried in the mud. Sometimes it’s so small as to seem worthless. But I clean it off and sit it on my windowsill. And when it catches the morning light it seems to come alive for a moment, like a diamond dancing in sunlight. And I feel a strange kind of happiness that makes my heart hum a little tune. My heart gave up trying to whistle some times ago.

And what’s all this got to the do with happiness?

Well what I’ve found is that the foundation of Sustainable Happiness (which I talk about in detail in chapter 22, p255, of my book, i-brainmap, freeing your brain for happiness) is learning how to hold your pain firmly and gently and to keep moving through it.

Perhaps learning how to not be undone by pain or whatever life throws at us is the real treasure we discover when we don’t run and hide. When we can stand and face whatever comes, it gives the brain the message that everything is ok and it doesn’t need to keep running, or playing that same dreadful wailing song because its the only one.

I’m not pretending it’s smooth or easy to walk with your pain holding your own hand. Sometimes you need to be an emotional acrobat to manage it, or an octopus trying to grab hold of all the pains coming at you like daggers in a circus trick, to protect your underbelly.

The way through hard pain is the middle path as the Buddha called it. Middle path or middle ground sounds safe and stable but its not. It’s more like a wild ride. It requires flexibility and faith in yourself to keep going, or a friendly hand to steady you when you lose faith, when everything disappears from beneath you.

To avoid or to give into your pain tells your brain to keep playing that same old loop, or bad song that you’ve been hearing in the back of your head since you were three and half. “Oh no, this is dreadful, I cant bear it, I have to stop it, get me outa here,” the brain reads this response as alarm, a threat, and keeps playing it to try to protect you.

On the other side of the middle path, if you give up and drop into a kind of frozen defeat, like a depression, the brain gets stuck on a loop of hopelessness drifting along, pushed and pulled by life’s currents.

This perpetuates a belief that you are powerless, and that misery is your lot in life and you can’t do anything about it.

Somewhere between the two we learn to face the icy splash of reality that life throws at us. Instead of fighting it we ride through it, in it, with it, like a surfer, or riding in our little dinghy for those of us who are more mature. But also as a diver who knows when to duck and weave.

Yes living is a bit like being in the Olympics, it requires Herculean strength and the sharp wit of Hermes, or perhaps the daring of a silver fish darting between the waves.

Sure you’ll get dumped and rolled and may end up in the belly of the whale, but oh what a ride. Better than sitting on your soggy towel on the beach complaining about the sand.

Oh yes, the other key to happiness. Well perhaps I’d better leave that for next time. It’s much easier that the one I’ve just talked about.

When?

See how you race ahead of yourself trying to work it all out, chasing happiness.

When you do that you’re giving the brain the message that there is something wrong here, now. The brain is likely to read that as a wild animal at your heels, so you keep running and keep trying to find something up ahead. That is not one of the keys to sustainable happiness.

Why not slow down and see how much you already know, hold things gently, even your need to be happy or work it all out.

And don’t forget to bring a towel.

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