“Observe the peculiar pleasure you derive from being unhappy. Observe the compulsion to talk or think about it.” -Eckhart Tolle
Have you noticed?
We want to be free of pain, but there is a part of us that which takes a peculiar pleasure from reveling in suffering.
I had two decades of depression and anxiety before I came to awakening. Some of the episodes were so debilitating that all I could do was atrophy behind a black cloud and watch my life crumble—watching helplessly, as once again, career, relationships, goals, and very zest for living snap apart. I would have done anything to come out of the dread and try to salvage whatever was left, but also, absurdly, a part of me didn’t want to get better. It’s the feeling that if I get better, nothing inside me will really change. Maybe my outer life will go a little smoother, but it will still be absent of joy, so what’s the point?
When we’re angry, we want to be angry. When we are sad, depressed, lonely, anxious, guilty, fearful—whatever it is, there is a part of us which wants to feel this way. Sometimes we would rather suffer than forgive. We want to run the same painful thought-stories over and over again in our heads. We want to feel the anger and humiliation and unworthiness. We may even create more fearful beliefs and fantasies so we can continue to with the pain.
We see this absurdity frequently in unrequited romantic relationships. In rejection, or in the longing for someone, or even in disagreement with a loved one, the pain and humiliation seems to last a very long time–much longer than many other more serious setbacks.
We see it in the clinging to anger when we think someone has wronged us.
We see it in our patterns. We see it in people who remain in abusive relationships, we see it in the generational cycle of violence, we see it in self-destructive behaviors, we see it in our seeking out the same things we had in the past.
For many of us, the future is always a variation of the past, because we hold on to pain.
If I look at my own patterns of clinging to pain, I see it in long cycles of depression, in anxiety, in addictions, in the drama of romantic relationships, in the need to be right, in longing, and in the emotions that arise from rejection, and in self-destructive behaviors.
Why do we hold on to pain?
Why do we take pleasure in pain?
It is simply because of habituated mind-patterns. Eckhart Tolle calls it the pain-body. The ancients in India called it samskara; in Buddha’s Pali, it’s sankhara. I think of it simply as grooves left in the mind and body from past reactions.
The pleasure comes from allowing the mind to run through its usual grooves. The mind is fast habit-computer, and allowing it to run through its grooves, even painful grooves, feels easier than to stop it.
This is quite a paradox, because the truth is that overcoming misery is far easier and simpler than letting the mind run through its conditioned grooves. We think it is hard because we have forgotten how to release the conditioning.
What can we do?
Using the beyond-karma release method
In Asia, they use this clever trick to catch monkeys. There is a circular shackle or a hole through which the monkey puts her hand to grab a banana on the other side. The hole is just big enough to let in an open hand, but not big enough to let out a fisted hand. The monkey cannot get her hand out if she holds on to the banana. This is exactly what we do with emotions. We grasp them.
Releasing emotions is as easy as opening your hand.
When you experience an emotion, big or small:
Can I make a lot of space for this emotion?
Am I able to let it go?
Let it go
The questions and answers are non-verbal. They help us see the structure of emotion, and this helps us easily release. See the article “How to Release Big and Small Emotions” and the ebook “Awareness and Release” for more.
The ego’s resistance is a tricky thing. This method is very simple—there isn’t much to learn or to do. It takes about ten seconds. It can be done at anytime. And for everyone who I know personally who has tried this, and for the many people who give me feedback on this website, it has worked.
Yet there will be resistance. I resisted it as well, just as I have resisted many aspects of waking up from the world of fear and sadness.
“It’s too simple.”
“If I knew how to let go of emotions, I would have done it already.”
“How can this work?”
“What is the mechanism?”
“I can’t use this until I understand more.”
I have no intellectual explanations.
Just try it.
Other release methods
There are other good release methods. CBT takes a reasoning approach to change our understanding of beliefs. Byron Katie asks us to carefully consider whether our beliefs are really true. The Sedona Method is very similar to the beyond-karma method. EFT is interesting—it is a tapping version of acupuncture and its beauty is it can be self-administered in a few seconds.
A side-note on addictions and obesity
These days I exploring how to use awakening to help us with some of the usual struggles of living, such as addictions and obesity.
Addiction to substances such as alcohol and other drugs is a little different from addiction to behavior and belief and thinking patterns. The release method will help with releasing strong emotions that come up when overcoming addictions.
If you are trying to get past an addiction, my best recommendation is Rational Recovery. Don’t stop trying.
And I feel there is an awakening solution to addictions and obesity. My experience with this is not deep enough and I am not yet able to articulate it as a technique.
Getting back to compulsion of painful patterns, it’s your turn: Can you see the phenomenon of holding on to patterns of pain in you? What do you consider your biggest emotional problem? Fear? Sadness? Grief? Misery over breakup? Anxiety? Depression? Money? Insecurity? Loneliness? Your weight? Addictions? Health? Are you not able to forgive? Are you despondent over desires?
Whatever it is, can you see that a part of you is very resistant and wants to hold on to the suffering? Do you sometimes feel the reluctance to let go of painful stories?