Giving Perspective to Our Suffering

Upon reading the Art of Happiness, there have been many points of enlightenment I have been able to take away and apply to my own life. Yesterday, I did not experience a very positive day at work and overall. I found myself ranting about some people who I feel had wronged me, being stuck in situations I can ultimately change, etc. In the moment, I was not so aware of these trivial “sufferings” I allowed to shift the energy of my day until I transitioned perspective. There is an idea in the book, the name of the meditation escapes me now, but it is essentially an exercise to visualize the sufferings of another person. Perhaps this is someone without a home, plagued with a terminal illness, or abused by the society in which they live. The Dali Lama encourages us to visualize and feel the suffering of these people in order to give perspective to your own suffering.

My visualization had specifically been that of a young girl living in a third-world country. She lives in, not a home, but a tent without running water or plumbing, having no access to professional opportunity for herself, or even in the least, sanitary working conditions. This visualization made me feel shamed and ungrateful for the life I live and the woes of this day which had irked me. To make a trade in my suffering for hers, would I yearn for what I deem my current “suffering?!” Of course. In fact, this young girl probably wishes she had the problems I had. I live in a safe community and sanitary conditions, in the least. I have a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, an education and job to allow me to be finically well and able.

Ultimately, I found this practice to be beneficial today, specifically, to begin a new day on a more positive and reflective note. Where is that girl right now, I wonder? Is she sitting comfortably at a desk job, writing a blog post she has time to peacefully write, garbed in clean and sleek clothing? I doubt it.

So, whatever may bother you today, meditate on the sufferings of another bring perspective to our own lives.

Practicing Detachment

Recently I began to better understand what Buddhists and philosophers, such as Alan Watts, have explained as detachment. The meaning of detachment is not being attached to a particular feeling or pleasure (Also my interpretive definition). Conversely, we are encouraged to accept our feelings and let them pass, without having to question or reason them. We are not attached. They are not us. They are simply a feeling in the present time and only in the present time. Thus, it will also soon pass.

As advocates of this practice suggest, being attached to a positive feeling or an indulgent pleasure, for example, can only lead to disappointment due to our desire to infinitely feel this elation. Think about how often our feelings change in just a day’s time. We are constantly experiencing the fluctuation, yet rather than accepting this as normal, we beat ourselves up over not maintaining ecstasy.

I would have to argue that life would be much easier if we could recognize, accept and let go of the need to feel good all of the time. I mean, it would put so much less pressure on ourselves if we can understand that feelings are not infinite, they are contrarily meant to last for only a short period of time.

If we can detach ourselves from this unrealistic expectation we set for feelings we can often not control, we can have peace, be free from worry and even better, free from thought. Perhaps some might argue this is “setting low expectations” for our lives, and maybe it does sound that way. But rather it is about not having expectation AT ALL. Being free from expectation, not to have them low or high, just to not have it at all.

Expectation is a product of perception, something we anticipate, try to predict and try to fabricate as a result of this attachment to a desire to feel satisfied. Let me ask you a few questions….

How many times did something or someone not meet your expectations? I’ll take a guess and say….

Hundred, thousands of times.

How many times DID something or someone meet your expectations? I would assume…

Far less often.

Were you more satisfied in the achievement of reaching an expectation or more disappointed by not meeting an expectation? I’ll take one last guess and say…

It felt much worse experiencing that disappointment than it felt good to meet expectation because of how much more intensely it is in our nature to remember a negative emotion greater than the positive.

With all of this being said…

What was the culprit of this feeling you so greatly tried to avoid all along?

Expectation and our attachment to the desire for it to be fulfilled.

Conclusion to this thought is, once again easier said than done, the practice of detaching from our feelings and pleasures allows us to just experience and move forward without judgment, thought or question.

An Everyday Retreat.

Wherever you go, there you are.”- Jon Kabat-Zinn (Quote taken from Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Stoic)

Currently, (as I write this post in my journal), it is 4AM, and I am on a business trip to Puerto Rico. Though I am here for business and do not have much time for beach, sunshine and play, it is a retreat for me nonetheless. However, it is not a retreat due to location but rather my waking alone in my hotel room, reflecting in my journal, being present in this time of solace.

One then comes to question, “What does make a vacation a ‘retreat’ to most?” Perhaps we perceive a vacation to be somewhere where we have the opportunity to take a moment to reflect on our surroundings and appreciate the silence away from our ordinary every day. Well, the additional perk, at least for me right now, is being able to enjoy the view of the beach from my window and the heat of the sun, while my family in New Jersey has frigid weather and snow (Sorry, Mom).

But, then you come to realize, if that feeling is what truly makes a vacation a “retreat” from everyday life, we can create this every single day!

I never thought of my (ideal) 4AM wake-ups as a vacation, per se, but it is in a sense! It is a time away from the world, a time before the world can disrupt the flow of thought, a time where you can enjoy silence and appreciate the moment. In a bit, I will be taking a walk to the beach to sit and watch the sunrise.

Ahhhh. Although my current retreat in my hotel room is wonderful, meditating on the sound of the waves, the feel of the sand, and the warmth of the air is riveting. Sunrise is at 6:21AM, so I have about 2 hours.

I encourage you to find just a moment, even if it is those 5 minutes on the toilet, alone in the stall, to become present and embrace this as your 5 minute retreat. A vacation to the bathroom? Never thought the bathroom could be so glorious, right? Take a moment. For you. Enjoy.

UPDATE: 6AM Sunrise in Puerto Rico: (Follow @the4amhour on Instagram)

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Gratitude.

Expressing gratitude can be one of the most powerful and mind-priming practices one can do to begin the day. As so accurately claimed by Tony Robbins, we cannot be angry or sad if we are simultaneously expressing gratitude, what we are thankful for. With this in mind, each day I begin journaling three things I am grateful for the moment I wake up. Oftentimes, I find myself writing on and on, becoming of a scroll of gratitude.

I know… Many of you might be saying, “Oh my gosh, how LAMEE. It is not possible to be happy all of the time. What a joke. This can never work for me. I have too much hurt in my life.” Well, you are right. We cannot be happy all of the time. However, no matter how much hurt or difficultly we might be experiencing in life, how much of that is being experienced in this very moment? You might be surprised to realize…. Not much. Before we let the world get to us, we should recognize all we have in the moment. Not all of the ruckus that we might experience in the day to come, all we lack in our lives. What good does it do to start the day with the anticipation of traffic, annoying co-workers, angry cashiers, and the multitude of frustrations inevitability to come.

Instead follow this similar practice. Gratitude. In the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, she even encourages keeping a Gratitude Journal. However, in reality, we can express gratitude just by taking a moment while sitting in that traffic or brushing our teeth to think about all we have to be thankful for. Personally, I keep a journal.

This is mine for today….

Three Things I’m Grateful For:

  1. I have loving and supporting family and friends.
  2. Having the opportunity to travel for work. (Currently in Puerto Rico- Check out my Instagram @the4amhour)
  3. Publishing my first post on The 4AM Hour!