Note: I’m so happy to announce that my book, “The End of Self-Help: Discovering Peace and Happiness Right at the Heart of Your Messy, Scary, Brilliant Life” will be published this Thursday, April 16. If you’ve been helped at all by anything you’ve read on this blog, you can help others by purchasing a copy on Amazon.com. As people start buying it now, Amazon will promote it to an even wider audience who will hear about its message—that peace is truly possible in any moment. This is what I’d love everyone to know!
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4, “Running and Staying.”
Always in love,
When you run from parts of yourself, you set up an inner war. Experiences appear—feelings, sensations in your body—yet you deny them. You turn away and pretend they don’t exist or you react to them with anger and resistance. Meanwhile, you’re preoccupied with your attention drawn into stories that make up your life circumstances, roles you play out, and behavior patterns that create the illusion of your limited identity. It’s a kind of violence. You’re fighting reality, evading the truth of the moment, cutting off a tender and valid experience that’s part of the totality. And you mistakenly believe you’re limited.
Yet, in our everyday world, this seems normal. As avoidance of feelings becomes a habit, our lives feel pressured and off-track. We have to keep moving because we’re afraid to be quiet or alone. Society constantly bombards us with messages that pull us away from ourselves—to buy more, do more, be more. And as soon as we’re unhappy, we think we need pills or the next self-help fad to fix it. We’re told that reality as we actually experience it is not okay. This is what we call life.
Every time you move away from the essence of your true nature, you avoid some aspect of your experience—and end up feeling fragmented. Part of you needs to stay hidden behind closed doors, while another part stands as sentry to make sure the secret feelings stay locked away. Meanwhile, you’re out in the world—or stuck in your head—compulsively keeping yourself occupied so you don’t feel the feelings. Life seems complex, disconnected, and confusing.
Things get even more complicated when these avoidance strategies turn into ways that you define yourself. You take on an identity: unworthy one, self-absorbed one, or one who is overwhelmed or depressed. You fall victim to these ways of being until you feel like you’re imprisoned in a steel trap, and you’re completely distracted from your essential core as aware presence. Yes, you’re breathing, and the days pass. But who are you? Whose life is this? Were you meant to search and hope forever? You must be in there, somewhere.
The Root Cause of Habits
Take any problem you have—anything you do or any tendency you play out that doesn’t serve you. If you unwind it back to its source, you’ll find a feeling that you’ve been avoiding. And it’s this unexamined feeling that makes you think you’re separate. Say that you tend to be a people-pleaser. Shining a light on this tendency, you’ll notice that sometimes you feel obligated to do what others want you to do. You might tell yourself a familiar story about what you have to do or what’s expected of you. But if you look more directly at this feeling of obligation, you’ll become aware of some inner discomfort, a sense of being ill at ease. And if you investigate even more closely, you might find feelings of fear, sadness, lack, or emptiness.
So there you are, out in the world, living through the lens of believing you need to please others. You might even feel resentful or depleted because of it. All your efforts are about trying to come to a place of peace within yourself, reasoning, “If I make them happy, they’ll finally love and accept me.” But with your attention outside yourself, grasping what you think you need, you’re avoiding your innermost feelings. And you don’t realize that the deepest peace is available, right here in any moment, by turning your kind and spacious attention toward understanding the nature of these feelings. Here is where you can discover that you’re already whole, and here’s where the possibility for seeing through this painful way of being resides.
Consider addictions, self-defeating behavior patterns, or interpersonal strife—avoidance of feelings is the culprit whenever you’re suffering. Take a look at any area of your life that isn’t working for you, and you’ll surely find some challenging feelings lurking.
- Do you limit your expression in the world? Fear is driving you.
- Do you drink or eat too much? Some feeling is eating away at you or drowning you.
- Do you complain? You’re likely to be irritated or disappointed.
- Are you emotionally triggered by certain people? Do you continually make self- defeating choices? You haven’t yet discovered the feelings hidden outside your conscious awareness.
This is why you feel like a hamster on a wheel. When feelings are suppressed, they don’t disappear. Instead, they run the show from behind the scenes. You’re like a puppet, with unexplored emotions pulling your strings. These feelings push you to engage in behaviors and thought processes that falsely define you—and block the happiness you desire.
The journey back to wholeness, beyond the fragments and cut-off places within you, involves shining the light of presence on emotions that have been hiding out in the shadows. You realize pure presence—not to heal or fix anything, or to change your behavior, or become a better person—because the truth of you has never been broken. These are traps that reinforce the false belief about who you are—and miss the possibility of resting in presence, available right now.
Instead, you reclaim these forgotten realms of unexplored feeling because they’re here, real, and valid. They’re an aspect of pure reality that takes shape as feelings, a sacred manifestation of the whole of life to be honored, not shunned.
What About You?
Are unexamined feelings driving you? What happens when you welcome them in? I’d love to hear… And if you’re reading by email, please click here to visit GailBrenner.com and to comment.