You wake up in the morning, and feel strangely uncomfortable in your mind. You know there is nothing really wrong in your life, but nevertheless you are overcome by a feeling that something bad might happen, or that you might be doing something wrong.
You have, on the face of it, a good relationship with your partner. But somehow you feel dissatisfied. You know you shouldn’t – that there is nothing formally wrong with your relationship right now. But you are plagued by a feeling that something’s not right.
You have, for once, a bit of time to yourself. Everyone else has gone, and you can do anything you want; anything. But all that seems to happen is that you feel awkward and uncertain, unsure exactly what to do next. It seems that there are ten things you could do, but no ways of deciding which one to do. You end up, if you are honest, in a bit of a heap, just waiting for some company.
I would guess that the above are familiar feelings to the majority of us. An uncomfortable feeling that something is wrong, and uncertainty as to what to do.
REACHING FOR AN ANSWER
The most common way for us to react to such moods, is to reach immediately for something to soothe the feeling of discomfort. Typical things people reach for include alcohol, drugs, social media, food… the idea is that, once the mind is occupied with a chemical distortion, or bathed in distraction, or rewarded with pleasure, then we gain temporary relief from unease.
You can see it in politics. Uncomfortable with uncertainty, many people start posting online assertions of certainty, taking up apparently definite positions. This enables them to gain a temporary exhilaration from asserting themselves, from sounding definite. But sometimes there is collateral damage. Their opponents are insuted by their polarising claims, and in turn assert themselves on the other side of the argument.
Reaching too quickly for an answer has the short term benefit of relieving immediate suffering. But, whether it is food, drugs, distraction or argument we indulge in, this kind of immoderation has a way of coming back to haunt us. We get fat, we get addicted, we lose focus, we make enemies. If this is in our interests, then great. But I suspect it isn’t.
Let’s stay with that feeling of discomfort for a bit longer. You wake up in the morning, and are overwhelmed by a feeling of dread. Something is wrong, but you don’t know what.
I would like to suggest to you that at the root of your feeling is confusion. It is an unfashionable suggestion, because we like to think that the answer to an emotional problem is an emotional answer. And in a sense I agree, I do think it comes back to emotion. But indulge me a moment.
Suppose your feeling of dread on waking, or unease in your relationship, or indecision when alone… suppose those feelings were caused not by the world’s oppression, but by your own ignorance and confusion. Again, ignorance is an unfashionable word, but by that I mean things you don’t know yet; and by confusion, I mean things you aren’t yet seeing clearly.
Psychologically, I am suggesting that at the root of much distress is cognitive confusion. (Cognitive is just a posh word for thinking, so cognitive confusion is really just muddy thinking.)
STEP ONE: TRUST YOUR OWN CONFUSION
There is wisdom in your discomfort. You may try to throw it away with food or drugs or distraction… but when you experience discomfort, it is your mind telling you that your thinking is wrong, and inviting you to see more clearly.
So trust that feeling of dread, dissatisfaction, uncertainty. Stay with it. It has a voice, if you will only listen. You try to dull it and deny it, but it is telling you that you have something to learn. How much you learn depends exactly on how long you are prepared to be compassionate towards yourself, and hear its message.
STEP TWO: SIT AND LISTEN
Sit with the feelings you are experiencing. Give them time to speak. What is it about waking up that puts you on the defensive with the world immediately? What is it about being in a relationship that gives rise to your discomfort? What is it about being alone that panics you?
STEP THREE: QUESTION YOUR ASSUMPTIONS
After giving yourself quite a while to express yourself, you might want to challenge a few of your assumptions. This requires technique, in the sense that your thought patterns will only change if they are strongly reinforced in new ways. But one way to begin, is to understand that most of the thoughts and feelings we have are based on self-cherishing – on an inflated sense of our own importance. So try this: when you feel unease or dread, challenge yourself with the idea that you are probably suffering from an exaggerated sense of your own importance, and undervaluing compassion towards others.
Just for today, try to catch yourself when you are in a bad mood. Just for today, interpret that bad mood as a misunderstanding. Assume that you are confused. Certainly listen to that bad mood – see what it has to say. Give it time to express itself. But then try challenging yourself with the understanding that you might be slightly over-cherishing yourself, being a bit self-important about things. Try dropping this illusion, this confusion, and try looking outwards, even caring for others if you want to be ambitious.
Many people respond to their own discomfort by reaching for food, drugs, distraction or argument. But perhaps that discomfort is simply the confusion created by a selfish mind. If so, perhaps it would be easier to cure that confusion by dropping the self-importance and caring for others. Try it. A warning: it could result in becoming healthier, more focused, and more peaceful. Only try this if you want that to happen.