We all want to be happy, which, at the simplest level, means that we want our life to be filled with experiences that we like and enjoy. There is nothing more inborn to the human being than the desire to want what is happening to indeed be happening. In service to this basic drive, we do everything we can to create lives that contain experiences that we want. The drive to create a life we like is a most healthy drive.
When we get what we want in our lives, there isn't much that needs to be said or done. We might want to learn how to more fully enjoy the desired experiences or be more present or grateful, but such changes are fun and relatively stress-free. We are working with life's good stuff, trying to figure out how to feel the good a little more intensely, or make the good stuff into great stuff. But the question that every human being at some point in their lives needs to answer is not what to do with the experiences that they want, but rather what to do with the experiences that they don't want. No matter how hard we try to create a life that contains only what we want, life always includes the full menu. The fact that our life contains undesirable aspects simply means that we are human.
The question is not whether we can prevent unwanted experiences, we can't, but rather how to live and relate to the experiences that we consider unwanted or painful. Can we live those experiences, in a new way such that they are not so painful, scary and derailing?
We have been conditioned to view unwanted experiences as personal failings. We believe that there is always something that we could have done differently to make that experience not happen, and if we could have done that thing, we would be a better person with a better life. But what if you were to choose to relate to your unwanted experiences as nothing out of the ordinary, simply a normal part of every human life? Could you throw out all ideas of the unwanted as representing some personal failure or success? What if the undesired aspects of life could just be what they are and not about your personal worthiness? What if you were to choose to relate to difficult experiences as opportunities to embrace yourself in compassion instead of assaulting yourself with blame?
In addition, we relate to unwanted experiences as dangerous to our well-being. We believe that if we allow ourselves to accept or look into such experiences more deeply, we will be harmed. In truth, we have a choice as to what kind of relationship we want to conduct with our unwanted experiences, and ourselves when we are inside them. We can choose to turn towards the unwanted experiences, and get curious about the ways that our mind and body respond when in contact with the unwanted. As counterintuitive as it is to our conditioning, we can welcome unwanted experiences (when they have chosen to arrive despite our wishes) as fertile ground for discovery and enlightenment, a chance to get to know ourselves more deeply and truthfully, to honestly meet who we are. Could you get interested in whatever experience is arising in your awareness right now, to welcome the comfortable and the uncomfortable as equal opportunities for self-awareness and discovery? Could you decide to turn your attention to the thoughts, feelings and sensations that are happening inside you even if they are not what you normally consider pleasurable?
We have a lot more choice than we believe in how we live our individual experiences. While we are conditioned to believe that negative experiences must be experienced negatively and positive ones, positively, we can shift this belief with a different attitude towards the purpose and meaning of experiences and what, ultimately, they are here to offer us.
Try shifting your perspective for a day. You can always abandon the practice. Nothing will be lost. Imagine getting interested in whatever is arising inside you, whatever is happening in response to your present experience. Choose to investigate your own experience, even when it is uncomfortable, and relate to it as an intimate doorway into your own mind and consciousness. You can opt to view all experience as just this. When all experiences are opportunities to deepen your relationship with your own being, to know your self, you can stop being so afraid of and rejecting of the experiences that you don't want.
We will never stop trying to create experiences that we want. It is who we are as human beings. Until we are enlightened we will always prefer and wish for experiences that we like over those that we don't. But when experiences do arrive at our doorstep (as they always will) that we have not invited, that we would never choose to bring into our house, it is best to find a way to relate to them without fear, and turn them into houseguests if we can. All experiences, welcomed, are opportunities to see and know the truth of ourselves more clearly. With this attitude, we can relate to our whole life, the sweet and the bitter, as enlightening, not necessarily wanted, but enlightening nonetheless, and in that light, meaningful.
Copyright 2014 Nancy Colier