Getting Used to Feeling Things

I was talking with a friend tonight and he was telling me about his experience of what it felt like to sit with a feeling. He was talking about the kind of feelings that are uncomfortable for him like sadness or anger or disappointment. He was saying how it used to be impossible for him to feel them because he'd get overwhelmed and then he'd do something to escape from the feelings like get drunk or go out and buy things. But he recognized that he could never truly get away from what he felt. So lately he'd been sitting with these feelings. He said when he wasn't running away, they weren't that bad. He could be with some sadness until it faded away.

I was thinking that we are encouraged to buy or do things to avoid our uncomfortable feelings. Most of the ads we see, read and hear are about someone who is in pain in some way or another. Then they get a particular product and they become happy. The music swells, the actor smiles, the voice over says the tag line. It's presented to us as instant relief. It's a powerful and persuasive presentation because we naturally don't like being in pain. It's easy to sell relief. Most of us at one point or another are experiencing some kind of pain. We might feel frustrated at work or in a relationship. We might be angry about our financial situation. We could be sad about someone we were close to passing away. We could be over-exhausted from trying to raise a family. It's easy to be pulled into the allure of, "If I get __________, then I'll be okay again." We are trained to think and believe this. I know I've thought this many times.

However, either the stuff doesn't make us feel better, or it's a very temporary relief. Then those feelings that we don't like are back. I remember once feeling really sad and thinking, "I need a pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia." Ben and Jerry look really happy. And there's all those bright psychedelic colors on the container. And I was familiar with the restorative qualities of sugar. So I got a pint and ate the whole thing and felt so much better. It was like magic. I thought, "This is great!" The next morning it wasn't all that great, and later in the day it was worse. I felt sad again, and tired. So I got another pint from my friends Ben and Jerry. This flavor was double chocolate something or another. I ate that and felt good. Not great. An hour later I felt sad again and my stomach hurt. I didn't get any more ice cream. I also gave up trying to run away. I got an intuitive feeling that it was actually impossible to get away from me.

I think we're lucky when we get the sense that the presence of our stuff is not making us happy. I don't think that's our stuff's job. We can enjoy our things. They can make our lives easier. But to hope that stuff has the power to remove our sadness and make us a better person will just bring us disappointment and eventually despair.

So maybe we feel sad for a little bit. Maybe the anger remains with us for a moment. We sit with it. We can maybe even notice the feelings with some curiosity. They can become like leaves that have fallen off a tree. They're not bright green, but they have an interesting orange, yellow, brown color. Meanwhile we're not going and getting something to distract ourselves from what we're feeling. Then the feeling has a chance to pass naturally.