We all know suffering in some form. Maybe it’s an emotional trauma from our childhoods. Maybe it’s extreme stress to make enough money to support a family. Maybe it’s a heartbreak. Maybe it’s depression. Whatever form it takes, we have all known suffering.
Some of us, at some point, decide that we want less suffering. That’s what I did. And that decision took me down many paths. Some were helpful, others weren’t.
It started with me deciding that I am the master of my experience, I am the creator of my reality. That’s what all the self-help stuff was saying anyway. It was up to me to make things better — and if they weren’t better, I was doing it wrong.
Eventually I found out that isn’t a very sustainable approach. I made tiny amounts of progress (I guess it was better than feeling like the victim of my circumstances) and then floundered about for a while.
Now I understand why. It’s because the statement “I’m the creator of my reality” is true in one sense, and not true in another. It is true in the sense that we each have a different experience of life depending our unique individuality and perspective. It’s not true in the sense that we are in charge of our reality.
With this refined knowledge, I renewed my search for reduced suffering.
After more dead ends and more learning, I arrived (with the help of various teachers, sages, and religions) at the fundamental role thought plays in our experience of life. That’s the topic of this post (and it’s an essential building block to what I discuss here, so check it out if you’re interested).
There is a particularly beautiful benefit that comes from tuning into the fact that our thinking is what we experience. The benefit is that the more we see that fact, the more we naturally align with a system that works in our favor.
“The kindness of the design”
Before I describe why there is a kindness to the design of how we experience life that works in our favor, I know there are skeptics out there who would disagree.
There’s a strong case to be made, as was done in this epic post, that “the universe doesn’t give a flying fuck about you.” And interestingly, I don’t think he and I are in disagreement. His point is that at the end of the day, it’s silly not to go for our dreams. Even if we fail spectacularly. The universe is impartial as to whether you succeed or fail; whether you try or hide in the shadows.
My point is about something entirely different.
It’s that by waking up to the fact of thought, certain changes begin to happen organically in our lives. They happen with less effort and without needing to set an intention to make them happen. And they are very positive changes.
Relationships improve. Things that used to stress us no longer do. We appreciate what we have more.
It’s because we’re in sync with the way things work. And when we’re in sync, we’re not under the illusion that we are the ones in charge of our thoughts. We’re not under the illusion that we have to initiate and implement change in order to fix ourselves. Simply put, we’re out of own way.
And when we’re out of the way, there’s space for something new to come through.
What comes through comes from a place uncontaminated by our personal thinking — our desires, insecurities, fears, and vices. The space beyond our personal thinking is the source from which it all flows. When we’ve cleared away the log jam that impedes that flow, we’re touching a space of peace and love much more directly.
The more we get familiar with this place — and that’s not something that we have to do, it’s just something that happens when we tune into the system — the less we fight the current.
Imagine what would happen if you were swimming upstream your entire life, and then someone told you, “hey, you know you can swim downstream, right? It’s actually a lot easier.”
You’d have so much more energy. Life would seem so much easier. And then, the river of life actually starts to boost you forward, because you’ve aligned yourself with the direction the river was already flowing. You can harness it’s power to swim really fast and do things with an ease you hadn’t known before. You’d almost start to think there’s an inherent kindness to the river…
And that’s what happens psychologically when we start dancing with (instead of against) the natural features of the system.
For example, since I have looked in the direction of mind, consciousness, and thought as the origins of my experience, my dreams have gotten better. For a long time, I used to almost exclusively have dreams that ranged from neutral to extremely unpleasant. Now I have dreams that really feel like dreams: I get to do crazy things with no consequences, and explore made-up worlds with curiosity.
I’ve found myself naturally and effortlessly being really grateful for my life. The content of my life hasn’t changed drastically, but what I have seems so much more wonderful. (A huge trend in positive psychology right now is instructing people to make lists of what they’re grateful for to increase happiness. That’s great and I’m not knocking that one bit. Still, it has been cool to notice that it also works the other way around: that gratitude is a natural result of getting our minds in tune with psychological principles — no list-making necessary.)
And one of my favorites has to do with the content of my thoughts. Perhaps the single most common strategy in classic self-help and mainstream psychology involves looking at our thoughts and then trying to improve the content of our thoughts. In self-help lingo it’s “positive thinking.” Everyone is correct when they note that positive thinking is a great way to have a better experience of life. But it is usually followed by the imperative that we must control our thoughts by thinking only positive ones. Good luck!
So it was exciting when I recently noticed that the content of my thoughts had become more positive without me doing anything to make it so.
I know that I’ll suffer and drop back into believing my thinking again — it’s not like I beat the game and became a robot alien super guru.
But the prospect of negative thought is less scary than it used to be, because I know it’s not my job to get myself out of it.