Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Busting the Myth of "Once and for All" and "From Now On..."

 When it comes to changing undesirable habits, there are three kinds of people in the world: those who don’t even try, those who are realistic in their expectations, and those (magical thinkers) who say things like, “Starting tomorrow, I will never eat sugar again,” and, “I am giving up complaining, once and for all.” 

Personally, I've always been of the magical thinker ilk, but lately it’s been dawning on me that all-or-nothing, perfectionist thinking is not my friend, and can actually be a set-up for inner drama and repeated failure. When we renounce the unrenounceable (like sugar, or the occasional complaint, or 95% of the things we routinely do), we are assuming that the conviction we might be experiencing in that moment is somehow permanent, in spite of a life-long history of ups and downs that should serve as evidence to the contrary.

I recently read the following quote by the Buddhist teacher, Pema Chӧdrӧn:
We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy…..Thinking that we can find some lasting pleasure and avoid pain is what in Buddhism is called samsara, a hopeless cycle that goes round and round endlessly and causes us to suffer greatly.
You might think this sounds negative and underachiever-ish, like if you’re an alcoholic you might as well just keep on drinking. But that’s not the point. The point is that everything’s a process, and ups and downs are to be expected. Just because you stop drinking or smoking or popping M&Ms, doesn't mean you’re home free. Finding the strength to halt destructive behavior is huge, yes, but it’s just one step on the path. Other steps will follow, and they won't all be easy. We just need to hang in there with the gritty day-to-day process. We don’t really have a choice.

I loved reading this quote, though, because it gave me permission to dispense with the magical thinking that has been driving me crazy all my life. (Thank goodness I’ll never do that again, right?) The funny thing is that we modern-day Westerners are rarely exposed to such even keeled advice. Maybe it’s because nonstop advertisements have us believing that we can having lasting love, success, happiness, and youth just by buying a certain brand of toothpaste. Or maybe it's the fairy tales that always end with "And they lived happily ever after." 

This week I invite you to examine your objectives and notice how they are affecting your life. Are you expecting too much, too little, or approaching life in a balanced and realistic way? Maybe it's time to find a deeper level of acceptance of ourselves and life itself.