Seeking pleasure ignores whatever is happening now. If we do experience pleasure, we try to cling to it. It ends anyway, and then we mourn it.
Avoiding pain ignores whatever is happening now, especially when it’s pain. Avoiding what is actually happening causes suffering because we want pleasure and have its opposite. We crave pleasure. This makes the pain worse, creates the suffering.
We create suffering so much when, in fact, much of life is neutral. First-world humans have become pleasure junkies. This may not be front-page news.
But this mind doesn’t seem to follow the pain-avoidance path. This is not, in fact, creating less suffering for us. It may be guaranteeing more suffering.
This body isn’t addicted to media, food, substances, sex. Were addicted to looking for danger (ostensibly to avoid it). The pathway between our amygdala (part of brain that applies emotional tags to experiences) and the reptilian part of our brain (fight, flight, freeze, etc.) is as strong and predictable as gravity on Earth.
We spent hours almost every night of our childhood–years and years–listening for danger: murderers, robbers, one of our perpetrators. All these dangers seemed possible because we lived in a world without rules, without boundaries.
We communicated to our parents that we needed nighttime nurturing. We were rejected, shamed, even thrown out of the house in the middle of the night as a small child–door locked–because of our incessant expression of our need for nurturing.
Our parents didn’t know we were being sexually abused. Does that excuse them? Therapists say it was the parenting style of the day to not have kids in your bed; and that our parents were not on their A-game.
The result for our present amygdala-reptilian brain Highway is the same even if we absolve parents. So let’s try to forgive them. Forgiveness breeds compassion, which we lack for self. Let’s stop complaining about how we got into this mess and focus on healing.
But what is this “middle way” that Buddhist texts and psychology books tout? How do we experience Now without identifying with it? without getting lost in it? Without clinging, avoiding, craving, deluding?
We are an “all or none” thinker. Middle–where most of life is–eludes us and, apparently, most humans.
We are going to read more about finding the middle way because we don’t know how to live it and our life is not working sufficiently to justify existing on its own merits. We’ll stay alive for our children and spouse. And we need the middle way in order to decrease our suffering.
Five years of therapy next month. Want more help on this topic.