Mailbag: Mother Issues and Practising Happiness
One of my students emailed me the following question. Note that he has been practising concentration meditation for the last year or so.
Hey, I woke up today and was feeling kinda shitty but then had some coffee and felt much better. As I was about to head to the library and do some homework, my mom walked into the house and greeted me in a completely non-confrontational way and I instantly got really really pissed off. I had the sudden realization that I frequently get pissed off when she talks to me, even if whatever manner she addressed me in is completely neutral, and this time I had this feeling where I got so pissed off I could actually feel tears forming behind my eyes (I almost never cry.) Any idea what this means, or any thoughts on it?
It’s normal. This is your “stuff” rising up. It can be worked through. I cannot advise a “general” method for working through such things, because I only have my own experience. However, I can tell you exactly how I did it.
Firstly, when the pattern fires that makes you feel upset with her, immediately relieve it using a “fall”, particularly on the abdomen and upper legs: https://www.personalpowermeditation.com/basic-anxiety/#2-fall-muscles. If you have trouble getting tensed muscles to “fall”, practise a visualization in your spare time of yourself being pushed backwards out of an aeroplane.
You should feel a tingling sensation in your face while falling. There will also probably be some REM. This is suspending the old response pattern. After a few falls, particularly while interacting with my mother, I found the old pattern was eroded enough to begin building a new one. In its place you want “being happy” and “not minding her”. So, smile and interact as though she is not pissing you off, often while continuing to fall the old pattern.
I don’t know how better to explain the above; it is exactly how I did it. I was able to tangibly turn around my relationship with my mother.
I don’t know if you or anyone else will be able to copy that method. The “fall” however is one of the best interrupts I have found for digging out and destroying old patterns. I wiped huge swathes of negative responses including tons of anxiety, in many different situations, in just a few days after figuring out that tech. It is one of my best techs, and everyone should give it a huge, dedicated try if they are trying to mash up or remove old unhelpful emotional response patterns.
Secondly, to repair the relationship with my mum, I went through lots of difficult times together with her, such as my stepdad dying. Since I had already suspended the “resentful child” patterns (using the above tech), I could build new ones which related to her as a person. I think everyone needs to move through phases of relating to their parents. Ultimately you want to move out of the “child” views and come to see them as just people — then eventually come back in with the ability to choose how you relate to them. To be able to view your parents as “just people” requires suspending the old child relationship patterns. The above is exactly how I did. It takes time to arrive at a new relationship. I doubt I would have been able to do it without that fall tech though — that was the gateway to lots of rewiring, for me.
A few weeks ago I had an in-depth conversation with Vick in the comments section of my last Mailbag. It started out discussing nootropics but then moved onto deeper life issues. That thread is worth a read and provides the background for the below, where I would like to answer Vick’s final question here in this week’s Mailbag. Here are the pertinent snippets:
Normally I just feel fatigue, foggy mind, “wobbly” attention during meditation almost as if I’m drifting to sleep.
If I go out to the mall or just run errands I feel completely drained afterwards.
Even while at the gym and lifting weights I still feel mentally tired.
I think those symptoms are just a lack of the reward circuit being turned on regularly enough. I think this is also the cause of “ME” (chronic fatigue syndrome).
I had to completely reprogram my worldview before beginning to experience the pleasure circuit regularly, i.e, from waking onwards throughout the day. For me this came from realizations like, “This is it.” There had to come some ability to take pleasure in the most mundane aspects of reality. Even up until 7 weeks ago I was still searching for that in substances. Now I’m happy every day without them.
I think basic premises — the fundamental assumptions one makes about reality — are the basis of a happy life.
True, I don’t find much pleasure in life.
How does one find pleasure in the most mundane aspects of reality?
Again, I cannot give a general method here, but only describe exactly how I achieved this — and hope that others can apply it.
Firstly, there are a couple of mantras I picked up from PPM members. These are things I had started to realize but which were put incredibly succinctly by those members to the extent that I could begin using them as the basis of a new worldview.
“This is it.”
Lampa used to take lots of LSD and meditate regularly until she got the message that “this is it” — meaning, as far as the human experience goes, what you have right now is the extent of it. When it comes to running away from the present and trying to get to a safer/better/more satisfying future, this mantra stops you dead. It is also said by Ingram repeatedly in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.
The reason this was so important for me is that it underlined the implicit drive behind much of human behaviour, especially in the modern world, which is one of assuming there is some other place out there — always an idealized version of reality where suffering does not exist– which you have to get to. Life becomes about escaping the place you are in and trying to flee to this grass-is-always-greener “other side”. Regular consumption of substances is a sure-fire symptom you are doing this: either the mental/emotional state induced by the drugs is the “greener pasture”, or you think they will somehow give you the skill or insight to help you reach that greener pasture. In this sense, drugs are viewed as a neurochemical key to a better kingdom. Buying lottery tickets, or pining after a special girl, are just another couple of examples of this “there is a better reality out there which I have to get to” thinking. But…
“This is it.”
It broke my heart when I started to really absorb that message. In fact, I believe the Dark Night stages of insight meditation are all connected to the dismantling and abandoning of these notions of a reality free from suffering accessible to you in your lifetime. (That’s not to say there aren’t some more amazing experiences available to you here — rather that trying to get at them from a place of fear is just going to extend an experience of fearful striving.)
When I started really, really absorbing this message, I would find myself cycling through the gloom of loss of the dream but then arriving at a mindset of spontaneous interest in the bizarre intricacies of the present moment. For example, while walking to work, I might find myself drifting into thoughts of a future fantasy-land, followed by my hopes being dashed upon remembering “this is it”, then followed by the strange mental prompt: “Well, if none of that stuff actually exists, what do we have right here, right now, then?” — followed by my looking down and taking note of a puddle at my feet in the road. Upon closer examination I might then find I could “see-feel” the molecules and all the weighty insight that made up that puddle. This was not done in a Dawkinsesque “marvelling at the wonders of science” kind of way, and in fact there was no mental effort involved at all. This way of seeing the world was rather a natural product of temporarily giving up mental preoccupations with the future. The puddle really looked like a hologram. It tended to shimmer. I found it fundamentally satisfying, like a dream is.
I’m not saying having strange visual phenomena is a prerequisite of happiness; but finding satisfaction with things in the present moment certainly is, because the experience of finding satisfaction is… the experience of finding satisfaction. Your experience right now is the experience you are having. With the future gone, you just have now. So experience being satisfied, and practise that. This brings me to the second mantra:
“You are what you repeat.”
–James, a.k.a. WetWaterDrop
We can take time out of the equation when speaking in non-dual about the present moment, but coming back to the human experience for practicality’s sake, an easy rule to remember is that what you experience regularly, you will tend to get more of. So feeling good regularly will tend to arise more situations where you feel good. This is a result of fractal causality. A fractal repeats, whether those repeats be in larger or smaller versions of themselves. The illusion of time arises from walking around the fractal’s edge. So the experience of feeling good intentionally may be a local smaller fractal form of a larger “feeling good” situation just around the corner.
Even if you don’t believe in any of this, on some level you probably realize that happy people tend to get more happiness, and you cannot deny that feeling good is better than feeling weak and shitty, so practising the former as a use of your time makes logical sense since the time is going to pass anyway. This decision led to my smile tech:
- Get in the Alexander Technique lying pose, exactly as the above.
- While smiling, breathe in through your nose (yellow arrow). Imagine the wave starting at your feet and pulling up through your entire body, filling your chest, and hitting the crown of your head on the inside of your skull.
- While smiling, breathe out through your mouth (red arrow) while whispering the word, “Ahhhhh!” Imagine the air passing out in a straight line upwards from your chest.
I began practising this for 20-30 minutes each day before going to work. I also continued practising this while walking on the way to work. This had profound effects in conditioning me towards smiling, feeling good and relaxing. It reconditions fascia into a “happy form”.
I also found this was an easy gateway to jhana. The attention is placed on the breath via the exercise of coordinating the breath in the above fashion. While doing this, the breath is naturally your “object”.
I added the “hit the crown of the head inside the skull” bit when I noticed that this, for me, triggered an Arising & Passing Away very easily. I have since gone on to begin mapping the body dynamics of each of the Stages of Insight in order that one’s experience is more customizable by using such triggers as one wishes.
This all came from just lying down to practise feeling good. There is plenty to learn from such things. And the habit of feeling good became ingrained very quickly. There is a lot that can be done in this area.
Regarding the future, my mindset has mellowed now. I have thoughts of an enjoyable future because creating such things is part of our experience here. However, the difference is I am not doing it from a mindset of fleeing and trying to get to somewhere better. I’m happy with the present moment and the future is more a series of “What if?” questions, which is the way it’s supposed to be.
The above is exactly how I answered the question, “I don’t find much pleasure in life. How does one find pleasure in the most mundane aspects of reality?” It is a choice and that is how I made and executed the choice. I hope it helps someone!