Thursday, January 9, 2014

“Why My Life Doesn’t Work”

During a recent Open Air show we had a discussion about content and process that I’ve returned to with some regularity. Yes, we speak often about content and process, but the specifics of this particular conversation I’ve found helpful to explore.

The suggestion was that, with minor variations in phrasing, each of us has spent a good deal (probably most) of our life force in a story of “I want X, I’m not getting X, that’s why my life doesn’t work, that’s why I’m unhappy.”

The content may be something as apparently insignificant as forgetting to buy milk for my morning coffee or something bigger such as gaining several unwanted pounds or bigger yet, a fear of not having enough money to pay my bills or something huge like the breakup of an important relationship, losing a job, or having a life-threatening illness.

The content, though compelling in the moment, is essentially irrelevant, while the process, a constant state of mild to severe suffering in a story of “something wrong, not enough,” is the consistent point.   “This is what I want (right now), I’m not getting it, I’m unhappy (right now) because I’m not getting what I want and that’s why my life isn’t working.” The content is temporary, but the conclusion-- “my life isn’t working”--though rarely in conscious awareness, becomes permanent and global.

We’re conditioned to see the current content as riveting, and we’re trained to unquestioningly believe the current story we’re hearing.  Thus, we fail to notice that our state of dissatisfaction is a perpetual undercurrent. We don’t recognize this “bottom line” because our attention is constantly drawn to temporary content rather than the underlying process.

An example: I’m unhappy in my job. I obsess about staying or going.  Finally I decide to go. I find a new job but before long I don’t like it. I start hearing how this one is no better than the old one and maybe I should have just stayed with that one.  I’ve gone through this whole drama for nothing.

Initially I may have had a clear awareness of a situation: I really am unhappy in this job. But rather than stay with a spirit of inquiry that will explore what’s going on with me—in and out of the content of the job—conditioned mind becomes obsessive with thoughts about “the problem,” rapid-fire thoughts that conclude in a mental state of fear, anxiety, and urgency. The result is an action that feeds and perpetuates the process of dissatisfaction.

In that conversation on Open Air, we speculated that each of us, going back over our lives, could see this process of dissatisfaction being played out with content after content. My teacher in first grade picked on me and I wasn’t good at sports and I wasn’t as popular as my best friend and my clothes weren’t right and my grades were never good enough and my parents wouldn’t buy me a car and I didn’t get into the school I wanted and my partner was too ____ and there was not enough ____ and I couldn’t afford ____.  And now…?